Musings + Essays

What Does Your Internal Voice Sound Like?

By: Jen Shoop

One morning last fall, I was on the final leg of my favorite running circuit in Central Park, and as I pushed up the slight incline of the bridle trail running along the west side of Jackie O. Reservoir, I mumbled to myself: “Hurry up, slowploke!” It was a strange moment, in that I actually whispered the words out loud, made even stranger by the realization that I was talking to myself in a fairly denigratory tone. I started to wonder whether I always spoke to myself like that, carping at the quick at every fault and line gone slack. The next few runs, I found myself more self-aware about my internal dialogue. When I’d find myself leaning almost subconsciously into chastisement, I’d interrupt myself and rephrase: “You got this,” and “Keep going,” and “You’re almost there.” Truth be told, I’m too close-up to know whether these modifications have done me any good in the categories of achievement or self-worth, but I was frankly appalled by the way I’d caught myself talking to myself. I haven’t found myself using that tone in other areas of my life, so maybe it was isolated to the exercise sphere — a sort of internal tough-love to muscle through the most strenuous parts of the workout — but still. I would never speak that way to anyone else — why was I so comfortable directing that tone inwardly, even if only while running?

Yesterday, I came across the apt excerpt below in the devotional I’ve been working through. (I promise I won’t make this blog a sequence of replies to its every prompt, but some of the messages have truly stirred something in me.)

“What if we had a transcript of all the conversations we have with ourselves? If our thoughts were typed out for all to see, what conclusions would be drawn? What do we tend to focus on, think about, and struggle with? When does out mind tend to race without cautious and get anxious inside? What keeps us up at night or motivates us to stay on the treadmill? Are we usually dealing with an inner critic or a kindness coach?”

The last question in particular struck a chord. The answer for me came easy: my internal voice is undoubtedly more often a critic than a kindness coach. But what does this mean? I think sometimes having high expectations — for yourself, for others — is perceived to be a bad thing, but I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. I have often found it healthful and productive to set the bar high, to sit in reflection about where I could have done better and what I will do differently next time to achieve a different outcome. For example, I think being hyper critical of my own work has made me a better writer. I have looked back on my writing from years past with the eyes of a landscaper: oo, trim that foliage way back! and yuck, weeds here. And I can’t speak to the efficacy of my parenting writ-large, but I know I have improved in patience and calm as a mother given many, many nights of tearful reflection on moments of frustration and shortcoming. But then maybe I am permitting “constructive feedback” to subsume the neighboring “unduly harsh criticism,” because I also know for certain that some of my self-reproach in the areas of creative output, fitness, and especially motherhood are overly heavy-handed.

So where to go from here?

For me, perhaps it begins with a deliberate pause when I am reflecting on losing my patience with my children, hitting publish on a half-formed essay whose conclusion I just couldn’t quite mold, or putting in a half-assed effort on my morning run. I think asking myself: is this the nasty critic or the kindness coach speaking? will be instructive. Maybe the criticism is earned. But maybe I also need to give myself some grace, or to cheerlead, or to simply say: “Yep, that was rough. Moving on.”

What about you? What does your internal voice sound like? Have you caught yourself using a tone you wouldn’t use with anyone else, too?


+On mom guilt.

+On difficult ages.

+On finding optimism after a really tough parenting stretch.

+Words of wisdom on failure from the luminous Patti Smith.

Shopping Break.

+Mr. Magpie and I have a few copper cookware pieces from Mauviel that we treasure. I find that copper conducts heat quickly and evenly, and I just love the “French kitchen” vibes. I was just eyeing this beautiful copper kitchen bowl, which would be great for making swiss meringue over simmering water — or just, mixing up salad!

+These popular clogs are on sale through today only!

+Some of my favorite pajamas in long-sleeved format — ultra soft, would work great for nursing mamas.

+I’d never have thought to switch out sheeting fabrics seasonally but how fun would this nutcracker print sheeting be for a little one around the holidays?! And I’m kind of in love with this Santa toile

+Speaking of holidays, I LOVE these plates.

+This pink floral puffer vest for a baby girl!

+These Rue de Verneuil bags are majorly appealing to me — make me want to go back to school and wear tweed and read in libraries with stained glass windows! Super love this oversized tweed clutch to pair with anything corduroy…I now have this Boden dress and just added this to my cart from J. Crew!

+Love this dark floral dress with black suede boots.

+This cardigan from Le Lion’s collaboration with Julia Berolzheimer is just spectacular.

+Speaking of fabulous sweaters, Gilt just further discounted some ultra-chic knits from LoveShackFancy, including this pale pink alpaca (only $119 now!) and this gorgeous patchwork style.

+This chic, dramatic blouse is currently on sale!

+This bed blanket is hands-down my favorite element of our bedding — it is super soft, affords just the right level of weight over sheets and under a duvet, and adds interesting depth to the overall “bedscape.” I just noticed Pottery Barn launched a super similar product for about half the price. Such a great upgrade to your bed for winter especially!

+This velvet chair is in-sahhhhn.

+Another fab fall everyday dress. Would work with bump or while nursing, too — pair with velvet mules or clogs for an on-trend moment.

+Burgundy. velvet. dress. YES.

+Super into fair-isle at the moment, and Mango has some amazing and affordable options — do I need this turtleneck vest?! Would be so good over a contrasting-print dress or white blouse. Also love this cardigan and this one, too!

+Oo la la, intaglio earrings!

+I have been eyeing this Sandro dress forever, and it just cropped up at The Outnet. SO chic. Would work for so many festive occasions, like baby showers, bridal teas, receptions, etc. Conservative but not.

+Both of my children absolutely loved these ultra-soft blankets as babies. Hill still sleeps with his every night!

+Use these on your existing juice glasses for a chic coastal vibe next time you’re hosting brunch.

+Such a gorgeous velvet holiday dress for a little love — mini had a very similar one in the same moody blue hue from Sal e Pimenta last year that was just spectacular. Works for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas! Love the baby sister match, too.

+I just live for turtlenecks.

+These boots are fabulous.

+Cute reusable plastic cups for your Halloween gathering – thinking of ordering these for a little party we’re hosting!

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12 thoughts on “What Does Your Internal Voice Sound Like?

  1. Ah this spoke to me! I also have a self-critical inner voice and I have been working on softening it. I am intentional and thoughtful about how I speak to others because I firmly believe words matter and how we talk to each other matters. It was when I realized that I often chastise myself in a manner that I would never use with someone else that I thought ?? What is that about?? Why am I not approaching my conversation with myself with the same intention and care? It almost feels strangely hypocritical of me?? I appreciate that I have high standards for myself, but now I am trying to express those standards more thoughtfully than my usual “get your freaking sh*t together, Kat!!!” haha and use more of a “you got this, girlfriend.” It’s all a practice!

    1. So interesting that so many of us have had similar “aha!” moments along these lines! Agree that it’s really eye-opening to consider how you’d talk to people you love versus yourself!


  2. Slightly off topic, but a few years ago, it somehow came up that my husband has NO internal voice — apparently about 10% of people don’t! This completely bowled me over, because I cannot imagine life without my inner monologue, which is typically running ahead of or, more often, in parallel to my IRL words and actions. I think it (she?) used to be more critical in the manner you described, but these days, nearly all its dealings with the self are logistical, practical, surface-level (gulp). I find her a more engaging companion when she turns to what I’ve learning from/observing/engaging with. Heady + meta things to think about on a Tuesday morning — thank you!

    1. My mind is blown – I had assumed an “inner voice” just came with the package. How did he even come to this conclusion? I’m so curious about this! And what is an inner voice anyway? Now I’m wondering if that internal intuition/tug is an inner voice or something else? Like, is instinct part of an inner voice or something different entirely?

      Now I’m heady with thought too…


    2. Also no inner voice! the official word is called aphantasia, it’s crazy to me that people DO have an inner voice!

      1. Thank you for chiming in – so interesting! Had never heard of this. Thank you for opening my eyes.


    3. I know; it’s wild to me! He says it’s more emotions but no fully-formed thoughts prior to actually speaking (and he’s a good, very comfortable public speaker). His twin doesn’t have one either! He was listening to a podcast about it quite by chance and only just then learned that most people DO have one.

  3. Ooooh how I love your running conclusions! Shortly before the pandemic, I was finishing up training for my first half marathon and, just about at mile eight on the nine mile run, I got to the top of a hill and had to stop. As I typically did when I ran slower than I’d like or had to walk for several moments, I admonished myself. But that day, I caught myself — why? Who was I competing against? Would anyone know if, after eight hard miles, I had to walk for a minute or two? And even if they did, would that fact alter their perception of me? I realized that I am in fact my own harshest critic.

    And as someone who often writes and edits professionally, I often find myself making small alterations that — in my view — improve a speech or an op-ed or what have you. I brace myself when I email it back around — is it going to come across as helpful tinkering, of wanting something to be the absolute best it can be? Or annoyingly nit-picking? And I sometimes question whether my edits are necessary — but leaving something unedited always leaves me feeling lazy.

    As always, you’ve given me a lot to wrestle with!

    1. Hi Elizabeth! It sounds like we drew very similar conclusions in our twin running incidents. To your point: “Why? Who was I competing against?!”

      I’m with you on the tinkering side of things, too, always straddling the desire for continuous improvement and never wanting to fall into the trap of “letting perfect be the enemy of good enough.” Hard balance to strike!


  4. Hmm! I am definitely thinking about this today. I went to an all-girls’ school for high school, and during that time, in my anthropology class, I read a book called Schoolgirls, which essentially discussed how girls and young women participate less in classes with boys or young men, based on the fact that they think their opinions have “less value” than their male counterparts. Ever since then, I’ve tried to be kinder to myself, though I will admit that it’s not very easy sometimes!

    1. So interesting, Sarah! I definitely feel that attending a competitive all-girls high school helped build my confidence when I eventually matriculated to a co-ed university — I was “over the hump” in terms of worrying about how my participation/thoughts would be received by that point.


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