Stacy’s Book Note on Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It

Stacy’s Book Note on Chatter summarizes key take-aways that she deems most helpful to smart and caring women. Aside from the affiliate links on this page, she does not benefit financially from writing about or mentioning this or any book.

Smart women already know how debilitating ruminating can be. In his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, Ethan Kross, Professor and Director of the Emotion and Self Control Lab at the University of Michigan provides some concrete advice.

As always in my Book Notes, I try to summarize key take-aways so you don’t have to read the book unless you want to.

What I found most helpful is what Dr. Kross has to say about

  1. Negative self-talk, and
  2. Venting.
Stacy's Book Note on Chatter
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Why our self-talk is important

There are two main reasons why we should pay attention to our inner voices. First, research shows that our thoughts at a given moment is a better predictor of our feelings than the activity we’re engaged in:

“Your mood is defined not by what you did but by what you thought about.”

Second, repetitive streams of anxious and negative thoughts, or “chatter,” not only make us feel bad, but it is a “marvelous saboteur” of our focus. According to Dr. Kross, studies have shown that chatter causes students to perform worse on tests, artistic performers to get stage fright, and negotiators to make less lucrative deals.

How to mitgate chatter

Thankfully, Dr. Kross gives us tools to mitigate the negative self-talk. He suggests, “distanced self-talk”:

“When you’re trying to work through a difficult experience, use your name and the second-person “you” to refer to yourself. Doing so is linked with less activation in brain networks associated with rumination and leads to improved performance under stress, wiser thinking and less negative emotion.”

How venting can make things worse

When bad things happen, we’re often told we should talk things out. But, how we do this matters.

First, when we vent too much, we can push people away.

“Many of us have a limited threshold for how much venting we can listen to, even from the people we love, as well as how often we can tolerate this venting while not feeling listened to ourselves. Relationships thrive on reciprocity.”

Unfortunately, from my experience, I find that smart and caring women are usually conscientious and know not to overburden others. Instead, they find themselves on the receiving end of someone else venting!

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Dr. Kross argues that, in some cases, describing what happened bad and how it made us feel can make us feel worse, even when we’re talking to someone who cares about us:

“In practice, co-rumination amounts to tossing fresh logs onto the fire of an already flaming inner voice. The rehashing of the narrative revives the unpleasantness and keeps us brooding. While we feel more connected and supported by those who engage us this way, it doesn’t help us generate a plan or creatively reframe the problem at hand. Instead, it fuels our negative emotions and biological threat response.”

How to get more effective help

Dr. Kross recommends that we can make better choices when selecting people to help us. He recommends that we look for someone who can make us feel validated and understood (providing emotional needs) while also guiding us to broaden our perspectives so that we can begin to see some practical solutions (providing cognitive needs).

This usually means going to specific people for specific kinds of problems (similar to what I’ve referred to as a personal board of directors):

“Research indicates that people who diversify their sources of support–turning to different relationships for different needs–benefit the most.”

This is also why I personally think talking to a professional can be immensely helpful. Sometimes family or friends have a vested interest in how we view things, while coaches and therapists, ideally, should only be helping you (and not themselves).

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