How to Find Our Inner Voice: The “Top-Down” and “Bottom-up” Processing

I closed “Embracing Being Neurodivergent” with a big word: “Listen;” I was hoping you’d get the goosebumps and start digging deeper within you to find your purpose; but I keep imagining you opening your eyes wider, lifting your head up a little bit to your right and thinking: “Nope; I don’t hear a thing.”

I wrote on how to find purpose years ago, but since I’ve seen a lot of us struggling to finding our “inner voice” I thought about – let’s say- a different approach.

Finding our inner voice is not hard; it may take some time to hear it clearly, but it’s not that hard and we don’t need to seek for weird psychological strategies to do so, like, “Look at yourself at the mirror, what do you see?” I see grey hairs and I think about calling my mother to fix that mess!

So, how did I find my inner voice? How could you find yours? Science!

“Listen to Your Heart”

When I was a teenager, I started feeling that I was “smart, but stupid;” and I used to think, “How could that be? How can I make such unreasonable dumb choices when I’m smart?! What’s wrong with me?”

Like Indiana Jones in the final puzzle of the “Last crusade,” I used to jump from “doubt” to “probably yeah,” and then to “nope” and “maybe if I,” to “Oops, I did it again.”

My mother, friends and people would tell me, “Listen to your heart,” and I would snap replying, “What does it mean? It’s a freaking muscle! Give me a proper answer! Is it something I need to feel?” And let me tell you, Roxette coming out with the “listen to your heart, when he is calling for you,” made me consider my musical choices.

When I’d have to make a decision, I used to have this issue:

  • Something in me was telling me “I really want this!”
  • While other thing was saying, “Mmm; better don’t do that”

Were there two inner voices? If so, which one was right?

Processing Information: Purpose and Passion (And Science Stuff!)

Let’s pretend two things: one, that we can wrap up all the information our brain has in two categories: purpose and passion; and two: that “purpose” holds what we voluntarily want to do, while “passion” holds what we automatically want to do. 

Now, guess what? Those two “categories” are in two different parts of our brain and they compete.

“How does the brain process information” © Based on Dr. Klijnjan’s “Bases neurobiológicas implicadas en el comportamiento” [PPT] Carrera de Posgrado en Psiquiatría

When we are trying to make a decision, those two parts start chatting with each other; the “bottom-up processing” says, “go for it, now!”, and the “top-down processing” says (hopefully), “wait; let me check if I agree with you.

Therefore, I had in fact – and still do – two voices.

There is a lot more to it, specially regarding ADHD brains because – as I’ll eventually address in detail – the executive functions located in the prefrontal cortex are – let’s say- compromised, which does not mean that we can not control what’s coming from the bottom part of our brain.

An Example: Nana, mama and the aunties Vs. Madonna

I grew up in the 80s surrounded by women who’d tell me (teach me) that, “Men can be bad, and cheat; and we – as women – must put up with that; it’s the way it is and has been.” So, every time I’d meet a gorgeous bad boy, he’d become the project I could fix and the torture I’d have to endure. Those “teachings”, took root in the back of my brain becoming a habit for my behavior.

But then, during my teenage years, when I started listening to Madonna telling me to “express myself!”, to be strong, I wanted to follow her advice because it seemed according to my own beliefs of how a woman should live her life; however, “old habits die hard”… So, even though a little voice within me started saying, “Choose the good boy,” I couldn’t answer to it.

Needless to say, it took me a long time to erase what the women in my life had taught me and to embrace my own beliefs, my own way of living and my path to happiness.

Purpose Is Always Needed; Passions Are Not Always Bad

“Top-Down” and “Bottom-up” processing are scientific terms to explain how our brain processes information (according to most scientists)

  • Knowing what information we hold in both parts and how they fight when we try to make a decision is critical;
  • Being aware of how our brain processes information, will set us off to a good start.

Bear in mind two things:

  • the back-bottom part of our brain is not always compelling us to take the wrong path; and,
  • what the the upper-front holds should be like a post-it in our forehead.

Quick example: Let’s say I went to a party and now I’m in the middle of the night, twenty blocks away from home; my instinct says “danger, call a taxi” but one of my objectives is to save as much money as I can, thus I think “I’ll just walk.”

Would that be a good choice? No… So how would I get out from that crossroad? By avoiding it in the first place.

What I have needed to do first, is to pay attention to my forehead’s post-it: my objective of saving money. I should have had some extra money, leave the party early or don’t attend the party at all.

To Sum It Up

Whenever I need to make a decision and I feel the two parts in my brain are driving me insane, I let them talk… and I wait… And when I feel at peace with the result of that chit-chat, when I feel there is no more doubt, that is when I act.

But what if we need to make a decision “now”? The answer is in this post.

Stay tuned for more on our inner voice, and a coaching exercise! Not so long ago I had to make – what could have been – a very difficult decision regarding a job, but it didn’t feel difficult at all. I’ll tell you all about it!

Laly York. Neurodivergent Gen-X writer / B.Ed. / Lawyer. Writing, coding and taking pics. From Jupiter, living in a soap opera; flying on the web with three blogs.

So what do you think?