“I want this. I want it now, and you can’t stop me!”
“I want a cookie!” At least that’s how it starts. There are times, more than I care to admit, that I find myself having an argument in my head. It’s as if there are two distinct voices. One voice is that of a mature adult. You know the one who is responsible, the one that helps you stay on track with all your commitments. The other voice is that of a child. This one basically always says some version of, “I want this. I want it now, and you can’t stop me!” Though the ages may differ, I think everyone has some version of this. So, let’s talk about those voices, how each one has its place, and how to best manage the struggle between the two.
Like I said it starts with something like, “I want a cookie,” or “I want a donut.” It seems to come out of nowhere. One second I’m backing out of the garage, and the next moment I’m plotting which direction to go so that I can stop by Casey’s (convenience store). It doesn’t always sound like a 5-year-old. Sometimes it’s a little more like a teenager with something like, “I’m an adult, I can do what I want!” Either way, when I don’t take a moment to notice that voice and question it, no doubt I would soon find myself finishing of a cookie as I drive down the road. Often, literally seconds after or just before completing my goodie, the adult voice chimes in.
“You really could have made a better choice!”
“Wow! That took you less than a minute to eat that,” says the adult voice. “Was it really worth it? How many miles are you going to run to work that off? You really could have made a better choice!” I don’t want this to sound overly critical, but that’s closer to the voice I hear. The adult. The voice I hear when I’m contemplating taking on a new commitment or goal. This voice wants to accomplish something. Get in shape, run a marathon, lose twenty pounds. Whatever it is, you want to get that confidence that comes with a sense of accomplishment. The obvious choice is to only listen to the mature voice…. but I don’t think it’s that simple.
I am a firm believer in doing what makes you happy and doing what gives you your ultimate quality of life. That’s different for everyone, but one of the things that brings me joy is sometimes letting that little kid out. I love to play games. I like to jump in the puddles after a rain. I like to be straight up silly sometimes. The kid in me lives right now! What’s fun right now. What’s sounds good to eat right now! The kid in me runs for the sake of running. Now I’m not saying that you can’t have these things as an adult, but I think it’s ok to just let yourself be a kid sometimes… But not all the time!
The adult in me is much more disciplined. The adult sets goals and puts work on schedules to progress toward those goals. The adult understands that sometimes it is advantageous to do something today that may not be fun at all, but will provide a greater payoff in the future. The adult in me runs today to set a personal best marathon time, three months from now. The adult can be burdened by so much focus on what will be someday, but miss what’s right here today. Maybe there is a middle ground.
If I let my inner child control everything, I’ll eat what I want, do what I want with little regard for the future. If I let the adult control everything, I run the risk of draining all the fun and joy from today to accomplish something that might not even happen in the future. So, I suggest that you look for a way to make a truce between these two voices.
The first thing to do is try and catch yourself.
The first thing to do is try and catch yourself. Really pay attention to what you are saying to yourself in your head. How old is the person that’s telling me what to do in this moment? Is there an argument between differing points of view? It’s not easy, and it takes some being honest with yourself in a way that may not be comfortable with at first. For example, when I first wrote, “everyone has some version of this,” the voice in your head may have responded with something like, “Well, I’m an adult. There’s no little kid telling me what to do.” But if you think about it, that’s a kid’s voice. Adults don’t have to tell people they are adults. As you start to really hear what these different voices are telling you, you begin to really get a choice about whether you listen to them at any given time. They can work together.
Think about what is really important to you. Some things you may already have or do, and others are things you don’t have but would like to. Do you love to spend quality time with friends and family? Do you want to hike in the mountains? Do you like to paint? Would you like to run a marathon? There is no limit to what’s possible for you except your own imagination. You may find that those things that really call to you can be associated with the kid or the adult in you or even both! So now what?
Make a truce!
Make a truce! Maybe the adult sets up all the things you want to accomplish, but the kid gets to choose how you’re going to accomplish the goal for today. As it regards cookies. Maybe the best solution is to bargain between the two. Maybe the kid says, “I want a cookie, and I want it now” and the adult says, “No, because if you eat cookies you get fat!” These two are at extremes to each other. As you get clear about these voices, maybe you can alter them slightly where the kid says, “I would really like a cookie,” and the adult says, “If you have a cookie, you don’t get to complain about not meeting your goal when you expected to.” You may also notice that altering these voices changed how you see them. Now maybe the kid is a thoughtful teenager, and the adult is more of an understanding parent.
This is by no means an answer to fixing all your problems. There are some days that the kid is going to win and you won’t even bother to recognize it. Other times you may find yourself stressed out or depressed not paying attention to the fact that the super controlling adult has been fully in charge for a while. Hopefully as you practice listening and moderating these interactions, you can live the life that you want AND have peace with how you do it.