How to Quiet Voices From Your Past

This weekend, my wife Sarah and I were cleaning out our storage closet and I found a box full of old cassette tapes from the 80s and 90s.


I found tapes from my alternative music days, my classic rock phase and even early “contemporary” Christian music (contemporary—really?). I even found a few “mix tapes” that Sarah had made for me. One was simply called Summer and another was titled For my Sweetest. Each mix tape was designed to tell me a story or to remind me of something.

It was a fun trip down memory lane for sure. With every song, distinct memories—people, places and choices—came rushing back to me. Truth is, we all have certain “mix tapes” from our past that we replay from time to time. Certain voices that have shaped and continue to shape who we are. For good or bad, these internal narratives form our opinion of ourselves and often either propel us toward success or keep us from becoming the best version of ourselves. Here’s what happens.

1. We listen to the music

Even though words have no impact unless we listen to them, some voices from our youth were unescapable. It’s usually the voices of the ones we love or the ones that were supposed to love us, that tend to have the greatest impact on how we see ourselves. To be sure, many of us were blessed to have people in our lives who spoke life into us, while others of us weren’t so lucky. Most of us had a mix of the two.

My parent’s made a special effort to remind me that I could do anything. My mom was almost obnoxious about it, in a good way. It reminds me of Picasso’s mother who famously said, “If you are a monk, you’ll be the Pope and if you’re a soldier, you’ll be a General.” Turns out he was an artist and became Picasso. But not everyone loves us like a mother. I had a few coaches growing up that did a good job of bringing me back down to Earth.

Truth is, the sometimes vicious echoes of our parents, teachers, friends, coaches, pastors, etc have an amazing way of coming back to haunt us at some of our lowest moments. You know the setlist…

  • “You’ll never amount to anything”
  • “You’re just like your father”
  • “You always…”
  • “You never…”
  • “You just don’t have the talent”
  • “You’re too fat, too thin, too…”

2. We begin to believe it

Part of growing up is learning to process through the opinions of others and separating fact from fiction. Unfortunately, often we end up internalizing other people’s words to the point that we actually begin to believe them for ourselves. This is when we add our own voice to the voices of others. And that’s a deadly combination.

Rather than simply realizing that some people say things they don’t really mean or that some people are simply mean, inevitably we find ourselves accepting untrue words that someone else has said about us. The moment that we begin to believe them, the destructive internal narrative begins to actually shape who we are and dictate what we do.

3. We adjust our actions

Believing negative words will not just affect the way you think, it will affect the way you act. After all, we’re just the sum-total of our past, right? (No, that not true!) Those old “songs” will lie to you about your own limitations, they will make you lazy, unmotivated and uninspired. Bottom line, this untrue belief system is the Enemy of all creative endeavors. It’s what stops would-be authors, entrepreneurs and artists in their tracks. It’s the most insidious force in the universe.

As a Christian, I think these negative beliefs come from the darkest place you can imagine. Just a note here: it’s important to separate a dark season in life with an untrue, destructive self-narrative. We all go through valleys. In fact, we’ll spend more time going up or down the mountain or in the valley than at the top of the mountain. And these moments can, and have, inspired some of the most beautiful and meaningful art in history.

What I’m talking about it is listening to the ongoing messages that seek to sabotage us. So, how do we quiet the voices from our past? There’s only one way that I know of.

We have to change the setlist

In order to get out of the mire of the past, we have to find new voices to listen to and believe. That comes by reading the right books and blogs, spending time with the right people, meditating (I like to take time to pray and read the Bible every morning), and beginning to swap out the old story about you with a brand-new one.

Bottom line, we have to begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Not for who we were. Not for who others say we are. But for who God says we are and who we are becoming. How about you? How do you deal with the negative words that try to steal your time, emotions and energy?

  • Milton Friesen

    Nice! Sometimes we go beyond just believing and agreeing with those negative playlist. Then we end up making commitments or covenants with those beliefs. Recently I had a dear older lady point one out in my life. And consciuosly confessing and rejecting that covenant was incredibly liberating!

    • John Bolin

      Great insight, Milton! Totally agree. I believe breaking agreements & covenants that we have made is so important. Appreciate your words.

  • Mark Rogers

    Yeah, writing over the top of aspects of the past that hold us back is really important. It can also be healing to realize that not all of our memories are exact and true representations of what really happened.

    • John Bolin

      This is so true, Mark. Thanks for the comment.

  • Mary Finn Infante

    I have been working on this for years. I am just now finding those right people, blogs an inspirations to help me along. Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to say to myself all this time!!!

    • John Bolin

      You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by and interacting. Its so important to find communities where you can share your heart and be vulnerable. I so appreciate it!

  • snafubar

    When I first saw the title my first thoughts were “What? Voices in your head? Two words, my friend: Tiinfoil hat. Works wonders cutting out all them voices, well for me anyway.”…..then I read the rest of the story.

    Tho I can flashback to memories, good and bad, I don’t have a problem keeping them in their place. They are there, but I don’t let them bother me in the least. I will use them when needed, but only if…..otherwise, I banish them and tbh I have many more important things to “clutter” my mind with than “voices of our past”.

    Biggest difference I see is your belief in a god…..a man-made one, imho….that I don’t have. Me and your god have an understanding…..had one for decades…’s all good.

    Off-topic….nice D-104.

    • John Bolin

      Ha! Tinfoil hat — love it. I definitely agree that we can leverage our memories, both good and bad, to our advantage. So true. Totally respect your view on god, too. Thanks for dropping by!

      • snafubar

        Yeah, was no reflection on your