Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

by: Ethan Kross (0)

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • An award-winning psychologist reveals the hidden power of our inner voice and shows how to harness it to combat anxiety, improve physical and mental health, and deepen our relationships with others.

LONGLISTED FOR THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD • “A masterpiece.”—Angela Duckworth, bestselling author of Grit • Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Adam Grant, and Daniel H. Pink’s Next Big Idea Club Winter 2021 Winning Selection

One of the best new books of the year—The Washington Post, BBC, USA Today, CNN Underscored, Shape, Behavioral Scientist, PopSugarKirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness starred reviews

Tell a stranger that you talk to yourself, and you’re likely to get written off as eccentric. But the truth is that we all have a voice in our head. When we talk to ourselves, we often hope to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead. When we’re facing a tough task, our inner coach can buoy us up: Focus—you can do this. But, just as often, our inner critic sinks us entirely: I’m going to fail. They’ll all laugh at me. What’s the use?

In
Chatter, acclaimed psychologist Ethan Kross explores the silent conversations we have with ourselves. Interweaving groundbreaking behavioral and brain research from his own lab with real-world case studies—from a pitcher who forgets how to pitch, to a Harvard undergrad negotiating her double life as a spy—Kross explains how these conversations shape our lives, work, and relationships. He warns that giving in to negative and disorienting self-talk—what he calls “chatter”—can tank our health, sink our moods, strain our social connections, and cause us to fold under pressure.

But the good news is that we’re already equipped with the tools we need to make our inner voice work in our favor. These tools are often hidden in plain sight—in the words we use to think about ourselves, the technologies we embrace, the diaries we keep in our drawers, the conversations we have with our loved ones, and the cultures we create in our schools and workplaces.

Brilliantly argued, expertly researched, and filled with compelling stories,
Chatter gives us the power to change the most important conversation we have each day: the one we have with ourselves.

The Reviews

I recently read an interview Ethan Kross did with a magazine publication (I can't remember which? The Atlantic?) where he shared some of his techniques to deal with inner chatter. At the end of the article it stated that his new book would be released on January 26. I was excited. I counted down the days until it was on the shelves and picked it up from Barnes & Noble the day it was released.I had been scouring the internet for a psychology book that dealt with the topic of self-talk. I didn't want it to be overly-complicated nor overly-simplified (I tend to find that pop psychology often falls into the latter category.) What Kross offers is an entertaining, light-science, intelligent, and incredibly useful book to deal with the internal conversations we have with ourselves. It was exactly the book I had been trying to find on the subject. Kross's ability to use clear, easy-to-understand examples but not draw them out too long is perfect. Many authors unfortunately commit the common sin of using examples that drag on and on until tedium turns into disinterest and you're forced to put the book down. Not with Kross. He is keenly aware of how to pace his writing, knows when to use an example and how to bring it around to his point with a sharp and effective edge. He also plays the fiction writer's game of leaving cliff-hangers at the end of chapters to keep momentum. Smart.Chatter, in its entirety, is a book of substance. Every sentence counts, every point coheres, and every tip and tool are practical. Instead of summarizing at the end of each chapter, Kross summarizes his main points after the conclusion of the book--a nice touch in my opinion.The primary take-away from Kross' book is how you can reframe how you talk to yourself and the incredible effect that can have on your (and others') well-being, especially during hard times. I would have liked to see a chapter on actual examples of positive things you can say, affirmative action statements, statements of willingness etc, but he leaves what you say kind of up to you.All in all I am very pleased with Chatter. I'm glad I spent the money on it and look forward to any future work he might release.

Ethan Kross is an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist who specializes in emotion regulation. He is a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory, where he studies the science of the silent conversations or how we talk to ourselves.His book is divided into seven chapters and an appendix outlining the specific tools discussed in the book to reduce anxiety and offer hope.Much of the talk we say to ourselves is helpful. We plan for an interview; we think about what we want to say in a presentation; we rehearse our conversation with our mother-in-law before Thanksgiving Day dinner; we talk to ourselves about how to apologize to our spouse for our rude behavior and irritability.Professor Kross, and other neuroscientists, have discovered that we are the authors of our life stories; our brain secretes interpretations of the world to help us create a coherent, sensible, explanation for events and our experiences.Professor Kross estimates we spend about one-third to one-half of our waking hours talking to ourselves. He says people can think to themselves at a rate that is equal to speaking 4,000 words per-minute out loud.Sometimes what we say to ourselves backfires. We may catastrophize problems; ruminate through redundant loops of irrational thinking; bombard ourselves with negative thoughts, sabotage our ability to think clearly, and gain access to reams of negative self-talk ---- called chatter.This chatter can negatively affect our relationships, our work, and our physical health.Effective psychological therapy helps us to acknowledge our feelings and experiences, helps us bear our feelings and experiences without distorting reality, and helps us put our feelings and experiences into perspective.Through peer reviewed research, Professor Kross and his colleagues from all over the world, have identified methods or tools to expand our abilities to acknowledge, bear, and put into perspective our negative self-talk.These are times that test our mental health. If you are not anxious now, there is something wrong with you: the uncertainty of the pandemic --- sickness, death, loss; isolation from family and friends; the closing of schools requiring remote learning, a process new to teachers and students, often interfering with a parents’ ability to earn a living and children getting a proper education this year. Economic uncertainty – Will I be able to find another job? Will my business survive? When will I get the vaccine against the Corona virus? Political polarization. I’m not used to staying home with my spouse and children for twenty-four hours a day. I thought marital relationships are for better or worse, but not for lunch. These are only a few of the burdens and stresses preoccupying millions of citizens.My lawyer colleagues tell me filings for divorce have increased. Child protective service workers report an increase in domestic violence. Mental maladies such as depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and the horrors of suicide have increased.Professor Kross offers an array of techniques aimed to reduce stress and anxiety, and to help you put these challenges into perspective. Not all of these tools work for everybody, but you are likely to find some methods that work for you.Someone said life is like climbing one mountain after another ---- the lifetime challenge is to enjoy mountain climbing.An underlying theme of Professor Kross’ creative, eloquent work, is to change your thinking to steady your emotions - to promote more rational thinking, self-control, self-confidence, reduce emotional distress, and find ways to enjoy mountain climbing.When he was a boy growing up, Professor Kross said whenever he faced a problem, his father would tell him, “to go inside,” to introspect, and a solution will occur to him. This fatherly advice, helped a lot.Yet, when Professor Kross took his first psychology class, to his chagrin, he learned the complexities of introspection. He wanted to know more about how to study the benefits of introspection and self-talk.In his book, Professor Kross takes us on a tour of tools generated from his lab and those of colleagues, that illuminate research-based methods to use introspection, to drop a bomb, so to speak, to stop self-talk gone crazy.These tools, such as distance self-talk, coach us through problems --- talking to ourselves using our own name (not out loud), rather than the pronoun “I” to work through predicaments. Professor Kross has found examples of highly successful people – athletes, courageous young activists, and others who spontaneously make use of this seemingly simple technique.Another tool is called temporal distancing or mental time travel --- taking our minds into the future, telling ourselves that this pandemic will end, we will see our friends and family, we will get back to a more normal life.Professor Kross mentions some tools that many of us use that at first, we would not associate with reducing anxiety: cleaning our desk, organizing our clothes in the closet, cleaning the pots and pans. Controlling your outside environment helps us take charge of the internal chatter.Another tool that may reduce the backfiring chatter in our mind, is the experience of awe ---- we look up at the stars in the sky and realize we are one of billions of planets – maybe our problems are not so overwhelming after all.Research studies in Professor Kross’ lab tells us we benefit from emotional support when we share our internal chatter with understanding family or friends. But talking about our feelings may bring us closer to the listening friend, but unless we learn ways to broaden our perspective, to reframe our experiences, this venting of chatter may not help.No matter how good we get at using the creative, research-based tools in this book, coping with inevitable predicaments, moral dilemmas, atrocities, tragedies, fear, rejection, betrayal and more, maintaining mental stability is an ongoing challenge and process through life.Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.Should your mental maladies interfere with your daily life, these psychological tools are some of the building blocks of effective psychological therapy.Psychological therapy may help reduce this negative chatter. You begin to acknowledge and understand the sources of your emotional distress, enhance your coping strategies, and recognize the breadth of your strengths. With increased knowledge and emotional learning, you not only put your life into a more coherent perspective, but you also learn to face life-predicaments with acceptance, flexibility, courage, tolerance, and the ability to take responsibility for your actions. Your self-talk will reflect these changes.Psychological therapy and reducing your chatter will not enable a life of contentment. Contentment is for cows. Getting control of your negative chatter may help you start to enjoy mountain climbing.Most psychological self-help books fit under the category of fiction. Dr. Kross’ book, “Chatter,” is that rare researched based psychology book that gets filed under nonfiction. Do yourself a favor, read this book. You will say to yourself, "thank you."

I couldn't put this book down. It's engaging and relatable but also provides rock-solid, concrete directives for how to implement its teachings in real life. It made me understand why some people get bogged down in unproductive negative lines of thought and others don't, and how to slay the negativity dragon. Examples from clinical studies, references to pop culture, and anecdotes from the author's personal life are seamlessly woven into the narrative to anchor its teachings in reality. Having read this book is going to fundamentally change how I deal with conflict and adversity, and how I approach interpersonal relationships.

Fantastic book to helping understand and redirect that incessant chatter we have going on in our minds. Particularly after a year when it feels non-stop! Easy and quick read with valuable information.

This book was phenomenal! It answered so many questions and helped me understand the brain more than I could ever imagine. It is easy to understand and incredibly well written. By far, the best book I’ve read in the last five years. I hope Dr Kross has a follow up book planned!!

This book is amazing. It explains so much interesting science in a way that is easy to follow. More importantly, it is really funny - the author has great stories. I am also finding it very helpful in my own life. I would highly recommend reading this book!

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It
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