People in My Head

Posted on December 7, 2011

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I am fascinated with how people make decisions. This is one of those meta-questions that applies to personal life, work situations, or even spiritual commitments. Why do different people, put in the same situation, make such various choices? Why are some people risk-averse while other people seem to thrive on taking chances? To what extent are we self-aware to why we choose what we do? Conversely, how does our self-delusion serve or hinder our ability to live a richer, fuller life?

I think this is an important question for Christians to consider because we have historically chosen one of two approaches toward pushing people to commit their lives to following Christ, either the rational, argumentative approach or the more emotional turn-or-burn method. The first is too abstract, the second, too fleeting. But I’m digressing from the main point of this post.

I was recently skimming through How We Decide, when I began to think about the voices in my head. We all have voices in our heads, even if we’re not aware of them. Usual suspects include the voices of parents, teachers, pastors, grandparents, spouses, bullies, or our child-selves. They are, at best, the embodiment of our hopes, at worst, a vision of our deepest fears.

But I think we can learn to control the voices we listen to. The following is an exercise that can help us embody the best of who we want to be, while ignoring fears that might otherwise influence our behavior. It is an exercise in assembling a decision-making crew. A “best-of-the-best” team in who you would want to help you make decisions about anything from where to eat a dinner out to whether to quit your job. Imagine an Ocean’s 11 of choosing. This will let you kick out that kid who used to call you names in Middle School and replace him with, say, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, or your nice uncle Bill.

Imagine entering a room and closing the door behind you. There are no people in the room yet, only a large table and accompanying chairs. (You can only choose between 7-9 chairs to fill.) One by one, invite people into serve on your mental council. Don’t worry about choosing because this can be a standing group, or you can move people in and out. Don’t worry, since they are only in your head, they won’t get offended if you ask them to leave. They can be living or dead. They can be a character from a book or a movie. You can know them or not. (Be forewarned, the people you choose will say something about you, about what particular hang-ups you may need to compensate for. I’ll let you draw whatever conclusions about you want from my list.)

Here it is, my A-Team of advice, presented in no particular order. I’ll list them and try to give a little description about why I picked them.

1. Paulo Coelho

A writer who encourages me to take risks and not always choose the safe and secure route because often those are illusions anyway.

2. Bono

The reason so many people think he’s awesome is because he’s awesome. He doesn’t seem to care what people think, but cares about people. He knows who he is, and is therefore able to work with a lot of different people both in musical collaborations as well to accomplish social goals.

3. Mr. Rogers

No one embodies the love of Jesus Christ better. His simple kindness always reminds me of the true fundamentals of life.

4. Anthony Bourdain

This Travel Challenge host acts like a tough guy, and truly doesn’t like a lot of pretension, but it is clear that at his heart he is really a very caring person.

5. Madeline L’Engle

A wonderful writer who never felt the need to force her experiences into an orthodox theology in order to justify having them.

6. Malcolm X

He was extreme, passionate, and articulate. He would be a valuable addition to anyone’s list. I’ve invited him to the table because his life was so different from mine and I need his clarity of vision.

7. Mark Twain

Because I need his wit and his ability to reframe an issue.

So who would be on your mental council?

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