How to Hear Your Inner Voice

Are you someone who struggles to cut through all the noise in your mind to find what you really need from your inner voice and intuition? It’s not uncommon, especially for people with a history of trauma who have become hypervigilant to others’ emotional cues.

In trauma, we learned to be aware of the slightest shift in others’ energy, because it might mean punishment or an abusive outburst if we didn’t tiptoe on the eggshells.

If you’re constantly on the lookout for other people’s frustrations, fears, and emotions, your mind can get cluttered with the ceaseless chatter of everyone else’s thoughts and feelings, and your own thoughts about what those other people are thinking and feeling, leaving you feeling totally lost when it comes to tuning in to your own inner voice.

And your voice is in there, deep down, knowing what you need.

I remember one of the biggest culture shocks of visiting the UK for the first time — the TV was always on and people were having multiple conversations in the same room. It put me into meltdown mode and I had to leave the room or the house several times due to the overstimulation of all that noise happening at once.

It’s happened at work too, when I worked in a large shared office space. One coworker would often call another on speakerphone, despite being only a few paces away. I could hardly concentrate on my own work when there were so many conversations happening around me.

That’s what it’s like when you’re trying to listen to your inner voice and everything else is taking up the valuable space in your mind.

It might be your own surface level thoughts, about what to make for dinner or what needs to go on the grocery list or something nagging you from your to-do list that you keep putting off. I often have trouble sleeping because I can’t stop thinking

It might be deeper thoughts about things that have happened to you or grief or replaying a conversation in your head that you wish had gone differently.

It might be thoughts about other people, either worrying about them or feeling their own energy and mood affecting yours, or even wondering what they would think of your decision about something.

So when it comes time to reflect on what you really truly want or need, cutting through all these layers of thoughts can feel impossible.

For instance, I quit my full time job earlier this year. I had been struggling with the decision for a while, because I felt like I had to exhaust my options trying to deal with a management problem before I called it quits. I thought about what others would think of me quitting, what my team would think, what my partner would think, even what my mom would think (and I don’t even talk to my mom).

Quitting would mean giving up a great salary, letting go of the on-again-off-again promise of a promotion and raise, leaving a great team that I had been mentoring and was so proud to lead, and feeling like I was starting over all over again.

Finally, a last straw moment happened for me and I knew without a doubt that I had to leave the company. My inner voice became so loud that no amount of other thoughts could muffle it, and I started looking for a new job. I set myself a deadline on giving my notice whether or not I had something else lined up, and on June 30 I gave my notice.

I have never regretted it, because I know that it was the right thing to do as my next step in life.

Here’s how to access your inner voice:

Ready for the big, huge, life changing secret? Here it is: It varies from person to person and there’s no one way to do it.

Did you think I was going to say meditate? I am bad at meditating, so I am not going to tout it as the best way for you to access your inner knowing. But for some, meditating might be the perfect way to allow the surface thoughts to drift away, quieting the mind in order to access what is beneath. If you want to meditate, try a guided meditation from YouTube or an app like Headspace to get the basics down.

You might also benefit from journaling, letting yourself push through the surface thoughts, the deeper thoughts, all the way down to the truth in the pit of your stomach about the next right thing to do.

Maybe your thing is tarot, oracle readings, runes, or another spiritual ritual. If you have trouble sorting out the noise in your thoughts, spend some time with your cards or runes focusing on your inner wisdom. Burn some incense (not sage, palo santo, or anything else appropriated from other cultures’ sacred practices) to cleanse away those surface thoughts and your thoughts about others. This is a time just for you. Then pull your cards and trust that they are from your innermost knowing.

As you notice that something feels like it’s tugging on something deeper, pull on the thread and follow it. You might find associations from your more surface level thoughts (“I’m angry about this breakup because he never apologized to me for hurting me”) down to related experiences (“My parents never apologized for hurting me either”) further down into a more fundamental truth that will help shape your future experiences (“For me, someone needs to have the same apology language as I do if a long-term relationship is going to work out, and it’s okay to have that boundary.”)

There are as many ways to disconnect from all that brain-noise as there are people in the world, so try several ideas and see what works for you. Here are some other ideas:

  • Call a friend or family member and just talk and listen to each other. Sometimes deep knowing comes out when you’re connecting with others and listening to them. I’ve had big “WOW moments” when talking to others that are as helpful me as they are to them.
  • Watch a candle or incense burn. This is meditation-adjacent, but just watching a candle or an incense stick burn can give you something to focus your surface attention on, letting your mind wander and process things while your attention is occupied.
  • Exercise. When I used to run, I often let my mind wander and process things in the background. It happened most often when I ran outside (something about being among trees and nature with fresh air is really good for feeling disconnected from brain-noise) but I had a few great runs at the gym too. Also, yoga can be a great way to access inner knowing, as the breath focus in yoga and holding certain poses can open up mindfulness and meditative calm. There’s something about relaxing into a pretzel shape and just being cool with it that helps you untangle the pretzel of your thoughts as well.
  • Create your own ritual. Take bits and pieces of different ideas here to create your own inner voice ritual. Drink a certain kind of tea, journal in a certain notebook, burn a certain scent of candle or incense. The more you practice with these ritual elements, the quicker you can get into the “inner voice” mindset when you use them.

In all these situations, disconnecting from technology for a while can do wonders for quieting the mind. We’re so used to being “on” all the time (I’ve been known to open up Facebook on my phone when I’m literally already on Facebook on my laptop, just out of habit) that putting our phones down, turning off music or TV, and just being quiet feels strange.

But in that quiet, you can finally cut through all the noise in your mind to hear what’s underneath.

Subscribe and Listen!

This blog is a companion to Run Like Hell Toward Happy episode 6, “How to Connect with Your Inner Voice.” Subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and listen for a more in-depth look at how to connect with your intuition and inner wisdom.

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