Ethan Kross breaks down the science behind negative self-talk and how to change the way you engage with your inner voice.
- How chatter takes over and undermines us
- Four simple ways to put a stop to chatter
- Why venting hurts more than helps
Ethan Kross is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. An award-winning professor and bestselling author in the University of Michigan’s top ranked Psychology Department and its Ross School of Business, he studies how the conversations people have with themselves impact their health, performance, decisions and relationships.
Ethan’s research has been published in Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. He has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed on CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition. His pioneering research has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, The Economist, The Atlantic, Forbes, and Time.
Ethan lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two daughters.
- Ethan’s book: Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It
- Ethan’s website: http://www.EthanKross.com
- Ethan’s study: “Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain”
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Ethan, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation.
Oh, me, too. Me, too. I’ve been listening to your book and I think maybe the place we need to start is with you sharing a bit of the backstory behind why you did a Google search for bodyguards for professors.
Well, I think I need to add the clarification that I considered the Google search. There was that word in the book. I did type it out and did not hit send because, in the moment, I thought that might lead to some negative consequences. So, the backstory here, the very quick version of this story is about 10 years ago, my colleagues and I published a paper that ended up getting a lot of attention.
It was a neuroscience experiment in which we showed that the overlap between the experience of emotional pain, so the pain you might feel when you’re socially rejected or, to use the more technical term, you’re dumped, that that emotional experience resembled, to some degree, the experience of physical pain when you look at underlying neural activity in the brain.
And so, I did a bunch of interviews on this. One of them, or a few of them, were on TV, and life was really exciting for a couple of days. And then, about a week after, all of the press surrounding this study subsided, I walked into my department, checked my mailbox, and there was a letter hand-addressed to me that, when I opened it, I discovered it was a pretty ugly threatening message – letter – directed at me. The kind of letter that I showed to a few colleagues and the recommendation was to go to the police and ask them what to do.
So, it was a pretty significant event that really got my inner monologue or the negative side of it, the chatter, brewing. And I’ll never forget, I think I mentioned this in the book, that when I spoke to the police officer after showing them the letter, the first thing they said to me was, “Well, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about this. This happens every now and again when someone gets in the spotlight but, just to be safe, you might want to make sure you drive home from work a different way each day for the next two weeks.”
And the irony there is that, at the time, I lived about four or five blocks away from my office, so there weren’t that many routes that I could actually take home. So, for the next two or three nights I spent the early morning hours not sleeping and, instead, pacing the house with a baseball bat. My wife and I just had our first child, and I was on protector duty, and really concerned about their welfare.
And, at a moment of real anxiety at two or three in the morning, I had this epiphany that, “Hey, maybe I should do a little Google search for bodyguards for academics.” And as soon as I typed that out, there was actually a turning point, I realized, I actually said, “Ethan, what are you doing? This is lunacy.” And I thought through the situation in my head that way. And that helped snap me out of it, for reasons we’ll maybe talk about a little bit later.
I had stumbled on a tool, in that moment, for managing my chatter that ended up being quite effective and led me to put the baseball bat away. Though, you should know, it still resides beneath our bed in our bedroom, just in case.
Well, there’s a lot there and, yeah, it does tee up a great tool that we’ll talk about, that third person, and using your own name there, and how that helps gain distance, but I would love to zoom out a little bit. So, when you say chatter, how precisely do you define it? And just what’s at stake here when it comes to our internal monologues going well or not so well? How much of a big deal is that for folks?
Quite precisely, chatter is the dark side of the inner voice. And, specifically, what I mean when I use the term chatter, I use that term to describe getting stuck in a negative thought loop. So, you’re experiencing some kind of adversity in your life, whether it be in your personal life, your relationships, work, and many people, when they experience problems, they reflexively turn their attention inward to make sense of the situation, to come up with a solution for how to respond.
But rather than come up with a solution, rather than use this brain that we have to problem-solve, we end up getting stuck, thinking about the problem over and over again in ways that don’t make it better but actually just keep us where we were. That’s what chatter is. If it’s about the future, sometimes you can call that worry, if you’re perhaps worrying about the future and what might happen. If it’s about the past, people tend to call that rumination. The common theme is you’re looping over and over again, and you can’t stop thinking about it.
In terms of what is at stake here, I think this is one of the big problems that we face as a species, human beings. I think it’s one of our big problems. In the book, I talk about the three domains that chatter targets and really sinks us. So, first, it undermines our ability to think and perform at work, on the ballfield. We’ve got a limited amount of attention that we can devote to thinking through things at any given moment in time. When all of that attention is focused on our worries, guess what, there’s not a whole lot left over to do our jobs.
The real-world example I like to give people to really drive that point home is to ask people, ask listeners, to think about a time when they tried to read a few pages in a book when they were experiencing chatter. You’re sure you’ve read those pages, the words have crossed through your eye gaze, but you get to the end and you don’t remember anything you’ve read. The reason that happens is an incredibly common experience. It’s because chatter was consuming our attention. We’re not actually focusing on what we were doing. So, it could be a huge problem at work.
We also know that chatter can undermine our relationships with other people, and it can do so through a few different pathways. One issue that we see happening is when people are experiencing chatter, they’re intensely motivated to talk about it with other people to get help from them. But one of the problems is, once you find a person to talk to, you keep talking about the problem over and over and over again, and that can, unfortunately, push away other people, even those people who really want to help. There’s often just so much that another person can endure.
There’s also the related situation of listening to another person tell something to you but your mind is somewhere else. So, you’re sitting at the dinner table with your family, your kids are telling you about all the fun they had during the day, and they get to the end of the story and you, then, would say, “Hey, so what happened today?” They’ve told you about what was happening in their life, you were there, but you really weren’t engaged and you really weren’t listening. We know chatter can create friction in social relationships as a result.
Then the final domain that it impacts is our physical health and, here, the effects can be quite profound. So, we often hear that stress kills, I’d like to say that that’s a bit of a misnomer. Stress can actually be really helpful in small doses. Our stress response mobilizes us to deal with a threat in our environment. When stress becomes toxic is when it becomes chronic, so when our stress response goes up and then it remains chronically elevated over time.
And that’s what chatter does because we experience something stressful in our life or we imagine something stressful, and then we keep on harping on it over and over and over again. The chatter in that situation, what it’s doing, is it is maintaining our stress response, and that’s how you get things, get to situations where you get links between chronic stress and disorders of the body, like problems of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain kinds of inflammation.
So, if we zoom out, you asked me, “What’s at stake here?” Our ability to think and perform, our relationships, and our health. I think these are three of the domains that really make life worth living for many of us and chatter exerts its tentacles around all of them, which is a big part of why I’ve devoted my career towards trying to figure out what you can do to regain control of your inner voice, your inner monologue when chatter strikes. And the good news is that there are, in fact, lots of things you can do, lots of science-based tools people can implement.
Well, Pete Mockaitis wants to understand these tools. And how about we start with the third person or talking to yourself with “you”? What’s the story here? And how does it work?
Well, so just to give listeners a framework, because I think these frameworks help organize these tools so there are lots and lots of tools that exists, that scientists have discovered. And I like to organize and it’s thrown into three buckets – things you can do on your own, ways of harnessing your relationships, and ways of interacting with physical spaces.
The tool that you just mentioned, what we call distance self-talk, what that involves is trying to coach yourself through a problem using your name and the second-person pronoun “you” rather than thinking through your problems as we normally do in the first person. So, “Alright, Ethan, how are you going to manage a situation?” rather than thinking, “What am I going to do? How am I going to manage a situation?”
One of the things we know from lots of research is that it is much easier for us to advise other people, to give wise advice to other people, than it is for us to follow our own advice. And what this tool does is it harnesses the structure of language to shift our perspective, to get us to, in a certain sense, communicate with ourselves like we were communicating with another person, like a friend who we’re trying to advise.
We did lots of experiments on this over the years, and there’s a finding that really sticks out to me, which is we’ll often have people think about really painful events in their lives, things that have happened in the past that they’ve really struggled to resolve, or future events that they’re really worried about. And, in certain conditions or studies, we’ll ask people to just report what’s going through their head when they’re thinking about the problems in the first person.
And when you look at what people report, it’s astounding. People are thinking things about themselves that they would never say to another human being. Some of the thoughts, they’re really dark, they’re really ugly thoughts, and I’m not talking about vulnerable populations per se. I’m talking about everyday just people living their lives that we recruit off the street to participate in this study. Sometimes, people don’t actually feel comfortable articulating what they’re thinking about their situation because it’s so embarrassing. They don’t want to admit what they’re actually thinking to themselves.
And then we looked at how people talk to themselves when they use their own name, and we see the tenor of those conversations really shift. Now they’re giving themselves advice like they would give to their best friend. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re being very warm and jovial with themselves all the time. Sometimes they are, “It’s going to be fine. You’re a good person,” but, in many situations, the advice takes the form of, “Would you stop this silliness? Get your act together. Do it and then move on,” like a stern authority figure.
And we find that that linguistic shift, going from “I” to using your name to coach yourself through the problem, it’s an easy-to-use tool and it’s something that helps people perform well under stress and regulate their emotions.
Well, I love that so much because, yes, it is easy, it is well within everyone’s grasp to do so, and it makes a big impact. So, that’s gold. Lay some more on us. You’ve got three categories – things you could by yourself, and then relationships, then the environment. Can we have a couple more of things that we can just do in our own brains?
So, another thing you can do is something called temporal distancing or you could think about this as mental time travel. And this is a tool that’s often really useful for dealing with an acute stressor. What it involves doing is thinking about how you’re going to feel about the situation you’re grappling with down the road a day from now, a week from now, a year from now.
This is a tool that I relied on to help me manage the threat of COVID and the misery it brought upon me and my family, like, “Not fun. Not fun.” I mean, there were some moments of fun with COVID but, for the most part, much better to be vaccinated and have it behind us or moving in that direction.
One thing that’s important to point out about chatter is when we experience chatter, we tend to zoom in on the problem at hand, tunnel vision about what it is that’s driving us nuts. Being at home, in the case of COVID, my kids doing their homework at my ankles while I’m doing a podcast interview, sometimes flicking me at the same time.
And so, when you’re experiencing chatter, you zoom in on that situation. What can often be really useful is to do the opposite. Zoom out. Take a step back. And mental time travel provides us with one tool to do that. So, what often happens when you think about, “Well, all right. Dealing with COVID right now stinks, but how am I going to feel six months from now when my family is vaccinated and we’re traveling again and seeing family?”
What engaging in that mental simulation does, that mental time travel, it makes it clear that, as awful as the current situation is right now, it’s temporary. It will get better. And once we have that recognition, that often gives us hope, and we know that hope can be a powerful tool for helping us manage chatter. Now you can travel into the future, you can also travel into the past. So, I often also thought about like the pandemic of 1918, which was worse in terms of its public health impact and our ability to grapple with it.
And what I would remind myself is, “Yeah, things stink now but let me think. How did we deal with it back then? Hey, we got through it and we actually really persevered. Roaring ‘20s, we came back.” And so, those mental shifts, easy things to do, break you out of the immediacy of the situation, and give you access to the bigger picture. Oftentimes, when we step back and think about the bigger picture, we can find solutions to help us through our current adversity. So, that’s another quick thing you could do. And you could do both of those things interchangeably.
Well, so when you talk about zooming out, that’s cool. We’ve got the time travel approach. What are some other ways we can get that distance and zoom out?
Well, distant self-talk would be another way of doing that. Writing expressively about what you’re going through. So, sitting down for 15 to 20 minutes to write a story that explains your predicament, that’s another zoom out technique. When you’re writing a story, when you’re journaling about your experience, the interesting thing is that stories have a character when you’re writing about yourself. You become that character so you’re put into the mode of a narrator when you’re writing expressively. That’s another zoom out technique.
A fourth would be something called adopting a fly-on-the-wall perspective. So,
Sometimes we think visually in terms of images. And when you think about painful experiences, rather than replay them happening through your own eyes, which we tend to do for any intense emotional events, you could distance in your imagination, and actually see yourself in the experience interacting with another person, let’s say it was an argument. Adopt the fly-on-the-wall perspective and then try to sort through, “Hey, why did I react the way I did? Was it appropriate? Why did my distant-self person over there do what he or she did?” That’s another way of getting distance. So, there are lots of tools that can help you do it.
Another way of doing it, which is a good segue to the second bucket of tools, is to talk to other people who are particularly adept at helping to broaden your perspective, people who can help you zoom out, so to speak. And, interestingly enough, many people don’t reflexively look to have those kinds of conversations when they’re dealing with chatter, even though science would suggest that they can be really, really helpful.
Many people think that when they’re experiencing chatter, the thing you want to do is find someone to just vent your emotions, to just find someone who’s willing to listen and then unload, let it out. There’s been a lot of research on this over the years, and what we’ve learned is that venting can be really good for strengthening the friendship bonds between two people. It can be comforting to know that there’s someone out there who’s willing to take the time to listen, to validate what we’re experiencing, to empathically connect.
But if all you do is vent in a conversation, that leads to something that we call co-rumination. It’s like throwing fuel on a burning fire. You’re just getting people to rehash all the aversive futures of that experience, so what ends up happening is you leave those conversations feeling really good about your relationship with the person you just vented to, but you haven’t done anything in that conversation to reframe how you’re thinking about the problem.
So, the best kinds of conversations do actually do two things when it comes to chatter. First, the person you’re talking to does allow you to express your feelings to a certain degree. But, at a certain point of the conversation, they try to help broaden your perspective, they try to help you zoom out, “So, Pete, you had a really inarticulate obnoxious guest on the show the other day. I mean, I get that that was really challenging, but let’s put things in perspective. You’ve done 500 plus interviews and the overall majority of them have been great, and so let’s chop this one up to a bad day.”
Or, “Here’s what I do when I interview someone and it’s not going well…” and so forth and so on. You want, at some point, shift from just listening to trying to help that person zoom out so they can ultimately work through the problem effectively.
That’s good. And I’m thinking here, I’m thinking about Michael Sorensen, we got to get him on the show – validation – that you want to start with the listening and not go too quickly, I imagine, to the brainstorming, problem-solving, distance-making.
That’s right. There’s an art to doing this. And, it’s funny, as a scientist talking about art, because we scientists like to be able to timestamp things down with millisecond precision. So, I wish I could tell you that, “Here is the magic formula for being an amazing chatter advisor to someone else. Listen for one minute and 36 seconds, and then transition to helping reframe.” It’s not that simple. Depending on the person and the situation, some people are going to need more time expressing their emotions before they are ready, before they are receptive to having their perspective be broadened by you, and so you want to feel this out during the situation.
Sometimes a person will say, “Please, just help me. How can I think differently about it?” Like, that’s happened to me on many occasions, people call me with that kind of request for help. Those people are ready to launch right into the perspective broadening. In other situations, people want to talk for a while, and I’ll ask them, “Hey, do you want to just keep going or do you want me to, also, could I give you my take on this? Or do you want to keep going? Either way is fine. Just tell me what you want.” And I think people appreciate you asking them what they need, and then trying to satisfy those needs in the context of the conversation. So, there is an art to doing this well.
But let me just say, I think there’s real value in knowing about these two elements that describe what makes conversations about chatter really productive. Because what they allow you to do with someone who is experiencing chatter is they allow you to think really carefully about, “Hey, who should I go to for support? Who’s really good at both listening and they’re good at helping me broaden my perspective?”
Sometimes, the people we reflexively turn to, the people that we love and that love us, don’t fit that mold. So, I think it allows us to think carefully about who we should talk to. And, on the flipside, it gives us a rubric for how to help others when they seek out our support and how to be better advisors to others that we care about.
Lovely. Well, any other thoughts when it comes to relationships and engaging in these conversations?
The other quick thought is that there is a caveat that I like to attach to everything I just told you about how to talk to other people about their chatter. Those principles apply to instances in which another person comes to you and explicitly asks you for support. They want to talk about their chatter. There are going to be many instances in which you and listeners see other people in your lives, whether they be colleagues or friends, loved ones, and so forth, you know they’re experiencing chatter, they’re struggling, but they don’t actually ask you explicitly for support.
Research shows that in those situations, you want to be careful about volunteering advice. Unsolicited advice in those circumstances can often backfire quite dramatically. And the reason for that is when you volunteer support and someone else doesn’t ask for it, you’re essentially, the message you’re conveying to the person you’re talking to is, “You don’t have your stuff together, so here’s what you could do.” And that can threaten a person’s sense of autonomy and what we call self-efficacy, the idea that a person is capable, they have agency to succeed in life on their own.
So, this happens a lot to parents. There’s an anecdote in the book I described which is highly relevant in my own life. I’ll see one of my daughters struggling with their homework, I’ll go, “Hey, sweetie, can I help with that problem? You know, I teach for a living. I do this stuff. Here’s another way to think about it.” And, instantly, they give me the death stare.
So, they look at me, and then it’s, “Did I ask you for help? Do you think I can’t do this myself?” Then they call my wife to get involved, and then I’m in deep trouble. So, that’s an instance where a well-intentioned act has backfired because of my misunderstanding of the social calculus about how to calibrate the way I’m interacting with this person.
So, in those instances where you see someone struggling but they don’t ask you for help, the good news is there are still things you can do to help them. We call this invisible support. And what it involves is providing those individuals with help but without making it clear that you’re doing it because they’re struggling.
So, here are a couple of concrete examples. If I see my wife just really stressed out about something happening at work, lots of chatter, I can do things like just volunteer to take care of the dry cleaning or pick up the groceries, do things to make her life easier to ease her burden. That’s one way of helping invisibly. I’m not saying, “Hey, do you want me to do stuff? I see you’re stressed out.” I’m just doing it. And by doing it, I’m taking one or two things off of her work plate that makes life easier for her.
Another concrete thing you can do is let’s say someone on your team is really struggling with a skill. So, let’s say it’s someone in my lab group their presentations, they’re not nailing it in a variety of ways. Their presentation skills are off. Rather than pulling them aside and saying, “Hey, we have to help you improve in this regard because you need to do yourself and the science…the research isn’t being communicated in a way that does it justice,” blah, blah, blah. Rather than doing something like that, which is a pretty heavy-handed intervention, I can do things like email the group and say, “Hey, I just came across these resources. I found them really useful, in case anyone wants to take a look.”
Or, if I see someone is giving a presentation on how to talk about science more effectively, I’ll send a message to the group, say, “Hey, why don’t we all go as a group? That’s really interesting. It can help us all.” I’m getting that person the information but I’m not shining a spotlight on them, and saying, “Hey, you’re not performing well in this context.” So, those are a couple kinds of invisible support.
Cool. All right. Well, then let’s hear a little bit about the environment then.
So, the environments are really fun, and I just think I had so much fun researching this for the book. It was really eye-opening in many ways. In short, there are many tools that exist in the physical world around us that I was certainly blind to before doing some of this research and writing the book, and freely available things you could do to manage conversations you’re having with yourself when it becomes chatter-ific, to invent a new word.
So, one thing you can do is, well, organize a space. So, one thing that often characterizes chatter is we often feel like we’re not in control of our minds. Our minds are in control of us and our thoughts are chaotic and disordered. And what we’ve learned is you can compensate for that experience, that feeling of a lack of control and order, by exerting control around you. And one way to do that is to organize your spaces, clean up, tidy up. This is why you have a lot of people who, when they’re stressed out, reflexively turn to cleaning.
This is true, mind you, of not only those individuals who are, by their nature, like to be organized but even folks like myself who tend to be of a more take-your-clothing-off-and-leave-it-wherever-it-drops sort. Yet, when I’m experiencing chatter, I will carefully go through the house and make sure everything is put away and is well organized. Doing that provides me with a sense of control and that compensates for the lack of control that I’ll sometimes feel when I’m experiencing chatter. So, organizing your spaces, that’s one thing you can do.
Another related tool involves performing a ritual. So, ritual is a structured sequence of behaviors that we do the same way every time we engage in it, and that also provides us with a sense of order and control because those rituals are highly structured, they’re highly ordered. Research shows that rituals that are essentially transmitted to us through our culture, so religious rituals and cultural traditions, those can be useful, as can be our own idiosyncratic rituals, the ones we develop on our own.
Many athletes, for example, before they have to do something that is high stakes, like shoot a free throw or a goal kick, will perform a small ritual. And the research would suggest that the reason they do so is to provide them with that sense of control. So, those are two environments.
So, I guess the last one, to just very quickly communicate, involves interacting with nature, green spaces. Interacting with green spaces can be useful in a few different ways. One thing that going for a walk in a natural safe green space can do is restore your attention, which chatter often depletes. We spend so much time thinking about our problems, all our attention is devoted to the chatter. That can be exhausting. And what nature does is, in a very gradual gentle way, it captures our attention.
As we’re walking through the arboretums and the gardens and tree-lined streets, people’s attention tends to drift to the trees, the flowers, the shrubs. We’re not focusing really intently on, “How can I determine the chlorophyll structure of that leaf?” We’re just kind of taking it in in a gentle way and that diverts our attention away from the chatter, giving that limited resource our attention an opportunity to restore. That can be useful.
Nature also provides us with an opportunity to experience awe, an emotion that we experience when we’re in the presence of something vast and indescribable. So, many people have trouble understanding, for example, like, how a tree can exist for hundreds of years, or you stare out at an amazing sunset, or a view, like, “My God, this is remarkable. I can’t understand this natural beauty,” looking at the Grand Canyon or plug in your awe-inspiring scene.
What happens when we have that emotional experience is it leads to something called a shrinking of the self. We feel smaller when we’re contemplating something vast and indescribable. And when we feel smaller so does our chatter. And so, that’s another way that nature can help.
You know, what’s been on my mind lately, when you talked about nature restoring our attention in a gentle way, I’ve recently been learning about and experimenting with nature restoring my attention, in a not-so gentle way, with cold water. My barber started talking to me about Wim Hoff and I got on a kick researching all about it.
Any thoughts there with regard to just sort of like our physiological situation, I guess, in terms of like breathing and cold and nutrition? It’s almost like if our brain is like a soil and chatter is weeds, it’s like there seems to be certain conditions in our internal environment, that our external environments of course influence, that is super conducive to it and super not-so conducive to it.
Well, we know that there are certain kinds of breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, pranayama which is a breathing practice popular in certain meditative traditions, that can be useful for regulating stress and chatter. And there are physiological, we might call the pathway through which those activities work is I would call like a bottom-up, so you’re changing elements of your physiology, you’re sending signals to your brain that are activating the opposite of a stress response, and those can certainly be useful. There’s a lot of data on the value of exercise and nutrition as well, so there’s no question that those are other kinds of behaviors that could be helpful.
The cold water one is a really interesting one. I do not know the literature surrounding cold water. And I think it’s interesting for a variety of reasons. I think, first, the first thing that comes to mind is I’m not aware of an automatic pathway that’s activated when you’re in the presence of something cold that would instantly lead you to feel less chatter.
I suspect that there is some way in which that activity combines with your mindset to help you feel better. Let me give you an example. If my wife, if I were to say, “Go take a cold shower each morning to help you with your chatter,” that would be close to torture for her because she hates being cold, right? So, I think a lot of people who probably use this cold-water technique are doing so with a mindset that, “This is going to improve me in some way.”
In the book, I actually have a chapter. The last chapter of the book is called Mind Magic. And what that chapter focuses on is the power of the mind to heal itself and, in particular, the power of our expectations to help us when it comes to our chatter.
And in that chapter, I tell many stories of mesmerism, going way back in time, to crystals. There are many therapies out there that have some data associated with them suggesting that they do make people feel better. But the question is, “Is it something specific about those therapies or is it that people think that doing these things are going to make them feel better?” And it’s really the thinking process, the expectation that is driving their benefits.
And so, that would be a question that comes up when it comes to hydrotherapy. But I will say this, Pete, if the cold hydrotherapy is working for you and there are no real side effects, then just run with it.
Right on. Right on. Well, Ethan, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Well, if listeners found this interesting, they can learn more about the inner voice, what it is. I think what makes it so fascinating is that we all have this inner voice. It’s an experience that, on the one end, is very intimate but we don’t spend a whole lot talking about it with one another so it’s also shrouded in mystery. So, if you want to learn more about what it is and lots of other tools that you can use to manage it, check out my book Chatter. You could find info on it at my website www.EthanKross.com and I hope it helps.
All right. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
“He who has a why to live for can deal with almost any how,” which I believe Nietzsche was the first to come up with that phrase but Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, later requoted it.
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
I work with my mentor, who was Walter Mischel, the marshmallow man, the scientist who drew out the delayed gratification test. So, those marshmallow studies are among my favorites.
And a favorite book?
In this genre, I would say it is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the book that I took that quote from.
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
I really like distance self-talk. I rely on it a lot.
Okay. And maybe it’s almost the same thing. And a favorite habit?
I would say the most useful habit is that I have some chatter habits, which is the moment I detect chatter brewing, I automatically implement several rituals that I write about in the book, and it really helps me nip that chatter reaction in the bud.
So, right then and there, you’re saying, “You, Ethan,” doing some temporal distancing, time travel, writing, adopting fly on the wall perspective. Any unique twist or flavor you put into it when you’re doing it personally?
Yeah. Well, one interesting thing is there are 26 different tools, they’re summarized in the back of the book that I talk about. I don’t use all of those tools. I use subsets of them, and sometimes I use different combinations but there are some common ones, like distance self-talk, that I use and I do make out my own. Sometimes I’ll refer to myself not using my own name but rather the nickname that my wrestling coach gave to me in high school, which is not a particularly flattering nickname, but I will nonetheless refer to myself using that. And that, I tell you, that does the trick. That lets me muscle through most things.
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; it gets highlighted a lot in the book or retweeted frequently?
The distance self-talk one gets people connect to because a lot of people do it themselves or have observed other people do it and don’t really understand why, and so that’s certainly one. The bit on venting has been really informative I think to lots of people as well. So, those are two nuggets.
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
www.EthanKross.com. They could find lots of information about the book, my lab, and me right there.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Yeah, my call to action is to read about these tools and then start doing some self-experimentation to figure out which combinations of tools work best for you, given your unique circumstances. I think science has done a fairly good job at identifying individual tools. What we haven’t yet done, what we’re doing right now, is trying to figure out, “What are the specific blends that can be most optimally used to help people?” And while we’re wait for that science to happen, I think there’s an opportunity to start engaging that self-experimentation process on your own.
Well, Ethan, thank you. This has been a treat. I’ve been digging your book Chatter and I wish you many chatter-free days ahead.
Likewise. Thanks so much for having me on the show.