Your life has a story, and that story has a narrator. The voices in your head comprise this inner grand narrator around thought (GNAT). The voices are not who you are. They are parts of your current thinking habits.

The Voices in Our Heads

In Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul, he refers to this voice phenomenon as the “roommate.” Singer writes, “Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to bring this thing with you everywhere you go. Real spiritual growth is about getting out of this predicament. But first you have to realize that you’ve been locked in there with a maniac.”

Everyone has these voices, but people vary in their ability to recognize them and detach enough from them to understand that the voices are not actually them. Instead, they are expressions of parts of them. This narration has a knack for being extremely self-critical. It is phenomenally self-absorbed. That’s its default state.

This collection of voices the grand narrator around thought (GNAT). The GNAT is the collective chorus of voices that lives in your head and is incessantly buzzing around. It wants you to be likable, acceptable, and, evolutionarily speaking, part of a tribe. It wants you to be safe. This perception of safety is often sought through replaying a constant feed of thoughts about making sure you’ve done things to keep you socially acceptable, trying to catch things that you may have done wrong or bad, or reminding you of painful things that have happened to you in the past so they won’t be repeated. In these ways, it tends to focus on chatting about all kinds of negative things.

The GNAT believes its own judgments and conclusions. Part of the conclusion is believing that you are alone in your life experiences and that no one else could possibly think the things you have thought or feel the things you have felt about yourself or your behaviors. “You’re a terrible person, and because of what you’ve done, no one will like you—and you’ll be abandoned.”

Negativity as a Survival Mechanism

In its constant attempts to keep you from being criticized, excluded, rejected, or left for dead, the GNAT tries to get you to conform and behave how it thinks you’re supposed to behave in order to be accepted. When it perceives that you have done something, said something, or thought something that people would judge negatively—many moons ago, this would have likely meant being ostracized from the tribe and likely eaten, frozen, or starved—you will have an emotional response like fear, anger, guilt, or shame.

These emotions are designed to keep you in check. These emotions are a response to the thoughts that are being produced. They are not actually a response to what you’ve done; they are a response to the thoughts about what you’ve done.

The GNAT has a tendency to focus on the negative behaviors you’ve engaged in, and then it rehearses negative thoughts about it all, thereby creating a negative self-perception. It rehearses those memories and creates a narrative that believes its own disempowerment that you need to stay shameful and small in order to stay safe and not abandoned. It can believe that your worst fears will come true if people really know you or what you’ve done.

The GNAT also tends to be terrified of the future. Unless modified, the concept of the future is generally still based on assumptions from the past. The GNAT anticipates all kinds of ideas in its attempts to predict the future—which is, by definition, uncertain—so that you are prepared for potential danger. By continually dredging up your past and attempting to foresee and control your future, it is constantly trying to keep you safe. However, these perspectives can keep you stuck in a mental prison of what you’ve already experienced and what you haven’t experienced yet, and both will likely generate and rehearse fear.

Taming Your GNAT

You can learn to train the narration. By speaking about your past from an empowered perspective and anticipating your future as fruitful and abundant, you can teach the GNAT in your head to work for you as opposed to against you.

The GNAT’s negative perceptions tend to be based on assumptions that are inaccurate, misinformed, and misleading. You are most likely safe and secure just as you are right now. You are whole right now. You are certainly not defective.

With specific strategies, you can learn how to use the GNAT to your advantage. Through experimenting with opposites, you can learn how to teach the GNAT to work in your favor. Instead of fearing the future, you can learn to assume the best about the future, which is a doorway to understanding your potential. With continued practice, that state of presence can become familiar, and that familiarity can become a new worldview. Chronic fear, anger, and shame can be unnecessary. Peace can become apparent. The GNAT can be tamed.

Experiencing a GNAT that is focused on past painful memories or future scary scenarios that haven’t yet occurred does not feel good. Thoughts that don’t feel good are rehearsed and then become beliefs. Practiced beliefs become worldviews, and the coinciding rehearsed negative feelings become mood states. This then feels like “life,” and you assume that this reality is true— but it’s not.

Anything that has happened in the past—or might happen in the future—is your imagination at play. The goal is to train your GNAT to focus on aspects of life that drive thriving, such as respect, compassion, acceptance, honesty, forgiveness, self-restraint, and tenacity. Deliberate practice leads to results.

This post is excerpted from Adam’s book, Be Your Advocate: Learn to Accept the Experience of Addiction as a Path to Uncover Your Potential.

Join Adam Schilling on Tuesday, June 4, at 12:00 pm ET, for a webinar titled “The Power of Positive Psychology on Addictive Behaviors,” as part of the WBI/JCC Positive Psychology Hour series. Register here.

Adam Schilling, Ed.D., MS

Adam Schilling, Ed.D., MS

Adam Schilling, Ed.D., MS, holds a doctoral degree in higher education and social change, a master’s degree in marital and family therapy, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A graduate of Wholebeing Institute, Dr. Schilling is in private practice as a coach in positive psychology, relationships, and addiction treatment. He is the author of Be Your Advocate: Learn to Accept the Experience of Addiction as a Path to Uncover Your Potential. Learn more at and