Meet Your Inner Family (all nine of you)

By: Margaret Moore, aka Coach Meg
Co-author, Harvard Health book, Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life


Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

— Walt Whitman

While there aren't really nine of you, as we learned from the Oscar-winning Pixar movie Inside Out, multiplicity of mind is natural and normal. It's messy, but not a mess. In our new Harvard Health book Organize your Emotions, Optimize Your Life, which I co-authored with Harvard Medical School professor Eddie Phillips and writer John Hanc, we propose a new model of the human psyche that is an adult version of Inside Out, positing that the human psyche has nine internal life forces sculpted by evolution, speaking as our inner "voices," with distinct needs, agendas and emotions.

I do a daily roll call every morning to decode and settle the mixed emotional weather report that greets my day, landing with the wisdom of the Meaning Maker, the wise inner coach. While you may not be ready for a daily roll call, I'm delighted to introduce you to your inner family:

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675386651. Let's start with the voice of Autonomy. This life force is the captain of the proverbial human ship. It is concerned most about marching to our own drummers, being authentic and free to make the choices which best serve our values and interests, and control our destiny. As Sammy Davis Jr. sang beautifully, "I gotta be me." Or maybe you prefer Frank Sinatra singing, "I did it my way." Autonomy is the master of self-interest, prone to rebelling when others, particularly those who do not "get us" or share our values, tell us what to do.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675414422.The next voice is the Standard Setter, responsible for performance and achievement, setting ambitious goals and meeting them. It also tracks external standards to make sure we get respect, appreciation, and validation. It is competitive; it can be a hard taskmaster and a tough (inner and outer) critic. It is our source of grit, making us persevere through ups and downs to accomplish big things. It cares about what others think and how we compare to others. It leads us to reach our potential.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675453693.Now on to the voice of Confidence, dedicated to being strong, competent, and confident. It is the lion on the team, showing off its knowledge and skill. Hope and optimism spring from confidence in oneself and others relative to the challenges ahead. Low Confidence or self-doubt can result from a too-high performance standard by the Standard Setter, and lead Confidence to procrastinate.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675495244. Let's tune into the Relational voice who exists to serve others and puts others first, showing genuine empathy and concern. The Relational is good at getting and giving support, being loyal and trustworthy. It's our team player, looking out for the good of everyone on the team. The Relational serves others in our many roles — child, parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or colleague.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675540935. Enter the voice of the Curious Adventurer, the fearless explorer, tuning into opportunities, realities, and surprises with an open and curious mind. Enjoying novelty, the Adventurer is inquisitive, inviting and embracing change and risk. Its ever-ready supply of curious energy is a vital source of resilience when things don't go well, helping us recover and adapt quickly.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675574886Let's check in with the Creative voice which loves to play and have fun, to generate, create, and invent. It functions well in chaos and enjoys spontaneity, finding brilliant ideas just in time. The Creative life force delivers out-of-the-box approaches and innovations, with a good dose of creative humor, to address challenges.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675605457. The Executive Manager is the voice of your inner organizer, planner, analyst, and strategist. The Executive Manager can stay clear and calm in the face of a too-long to-do list. It can get us organized, keep us on track. It likes to simplify and declutter. It focuses deeply on one thing at a time, and juggles lots of balls in life.


ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef8162072675708428. Second to last is the voice of the Body Regulator, focused on not just health, but stability and balance, including physical and mental health. The Body Regulator is down-to-earth and grounded. It values sustainability, for self, others, and our planet. It's your source of "body intelligence." Just listen to its wisdom on what will work best for you.

ebfd9236-9b35-468a-84bb-2b32a940fef816207267574649. Last is the voice of the Meaning Maker, which tunes into meaning and purpose, zooming in to consider the import of a small moment or zooming out to find patterns and make sense of large moments. It channels the greater good, the transcendent dimension, asking "what is the larger lesson of this situation?" and "how will being healthier help us improve the world?" The Meaning Maker is the wise mentor, mature sage, and inner coach, offering gratitude and awe when we need to lift out of self-concern, and nudging us to consider all perspectives.



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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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