Chatter - September 2022 Newsletter Article

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to sit in on a class with Ethan Kross, Professor at the University of Michigan, and world leading expert at controlling the conscious mind. Ethan’s book, Chatter, is a New York Times best seller.

Much of his work, as described in Chatter, addresses the little voice in our head. As Ethan shares, we spend 1/3 to 1/2 of our lives not in the present. What are we doing the rest of the time? We are talking to ourselves. We are engaged in chatter.

Ethan teaches that we can ruminate with our inner voice about the past, and worry through our inner voice about the future. Chatter occurs when you get stuck in a thought loop and recognize that you are not making any progress. That is the bad side of our inner voice.

I was surprised to hear him say that we should not try to quiet the voice, which seemed like a natural extension of his research to me. Instead, we need to learn how to leverage our inner voice for more consistent positive reinforcement. There are lots of times when our ability to talk with ourselves is good. Ethan shared that he uses his inner voice when he forgets what he was supposed to get at the grocery store. He then begins talking to himself and reviewing the list in his head. The inner voice is an incredible problem-solving device. It also allows us to plan for the future. For example, if you are asked to teach or present, you can rehearse in your head what you are going to say, even anticipating questions from the audience.

During class, we listed examples of times when that voice has been our friend, and other times when it feels like the monster who is trying to pull us down. I didn’t have to reflect too long before I identified a negative example of chatter.

Before Ethan began his presentation, we completed an icebreaker exercise. One of the questions you could ask was if anyone had an experience with ghosts. Because we had a ghost in our house (longer story for another article), I chose that one. The facilitator asked if I could share the story with the room. I complied, and like many of my stories, this one is not super short. Halfway through relaying the story to a few hundred people, my inner voice asks: What are you doing?

We are here to listen to an internationally recognized expert, and you’re telling a long story about a ghost.

Like most times when your inner voice goes negative, it is not true. A dozen people came up to me and shared how much they enjoyed the story. And, when I shared with Ethan that I used my telling of the ghost story as a chatter example, he told me he loved that story and would always remember me as the “ghost guy.”

So, what can we do to more consistently harness our inner voice? One productive step is to use second-person language with your inner voice. Instead of saying something in the first-person like, I can’t believe I did that. Use second-person voice to say, you had the very best intention when you did that, or you made the best decision with the information you had at that time.

That technique reminds me of Brené Brown’s advice to talk with yourself like you would talk to your best friend. What would you say to that person if you heard them being overly negative or self-critical? We need to determine how to say what we would say to our best friends to ourselves.

We can also use ritual to bring out the very best in our inner voices. Doing things the same way gives our brains a sense of order and control, which our brains love.

Ethan consistently uses Rafael Nadal, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, as an example of ritual and control. Rafa has said that the hardest thing he has ever done, on the tennis court, is manage the voice in his own head. He accomplishes this by implementing rituals on the court. He enters the court with his tennis bag on the same shoulder, only waving with the same hand. He drinks one sip from his energy drink before placing it down in the exact same place. All of these rituals give Rafa a greater sense of control over his chatter.

What can we do in our own personal and professional lives with chatter? At EDSI, we know we can live our values and give ourselves, and one another, the maximum amount of grace.

What will your inner voice say today? Hopefully, you will establish some rituals and remind yourself that you’ve got this. You have accomplished so much in the past and you will again in the future. Use the power of your inner voice to elevate yourself and others.

Thank you for living our values so well. Please take great care of yourselves and one another.