Ethan Kross, author of the National Bestseller Chatter The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, and Professor of Psychology and Management & Organizations at the University of Michigan, he is the director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory.

442: Relisten: Befriend the Voice In Your Head(346)

Ethan Kross

Have you ever wondered why we have an inner voice?

Today, I talk to Ethan Kross, an award-winning psychologist and author of the national bestseller, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It. In our conversation, we discuss the benefits and pitfalls of having an inner voice. He also shares some tools on how to harness your inner voice to combat anxiety, improve physical and mental health, and deepen your relationships with others.

Relisten: Befriend the Voice In Your Head(346)[442]

Read the Transcript 🡮

*This is an auto-generated transcript*

[00:00:00] Hunter: Hey there, it's Hunter, and welcome to Throwback Thursday. Most Thursdays, we are going to re release one of my favorite episodes from the archives. So unless you're a longtime listener of the show, there's a good chance you haven't heard this one yet. And even if you had, chances are that you are going to get something new listening to it this time around.

[00:00:18] Ethan Kross: When I say, how am I going to feel about this problem, you know, six months from now? What that does is it makes it clear to me that whatever I'm experiencing, it will in all likelihood, get better because most things do. And that gives me hope. And that hope can be a powerful way of broadening our perspective too.

[00:00:36] Hunter: You're listening to the Mindful Mama podcast, episode number 346. Today, we're talking about how to befriend the voice in your head with Dr. Ethan Cross.

Welcome to the Mindful Parenting Podcast. Here it's about becoming a less irritable, more joyful parent. At Mindful Parenting, we know that you cannot give what you do not have, and when you have calm and peace within, then you can give it to your children. I'm your host, Hunter Clark Fields. I help smart, thoughtful parents stay calm so they can have strong, connected relationships with their children.

I've been practicing mindfulness for over 25 years, I'm the creator of the Mindful Parenting course, and I'm the author of the international bestseller, Raising Good Humans, and now, Raising Good Humans Every Day, 50 Simple Ways to Press Pause, Stay Present, and Connect with Your Kids. Welcome back to the Mindful Mama podcast, I am so glad you are here today.

Hey, listen, if you haven't, uh, done so yet, Please hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode. And if you've ever gotten any value from this podcast, just do me a quick favor. Go over to Apple Podcasts, leave us a rating and review. It just helps the podcast grow more. Feeds our algorithm. It takes 10 seconds.

I really would greatly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. In just a moment, I am going to be sitting down with Dr. Ethan Cross, author of the national bestseller Chatter, The Voice in Our Head and Why it Matters and How to Harness It. He's a professor of psychology and management and organizations at the University of Michigan, and he is the director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory.

We are talking to the expert on how, how to manage that voice in our head. And it's fascinating. And we're going to talk about like, why do we have that inner voice, right? We're going to talk about its benefits and the pitfalls. And we're going to talk also about some really great practical tools to harness your inner voice to combat anxiety.

Improve your physical health, your mental health, make your relationships better. And before we dive in, I want to let you know that the enrollment is open for the Mindful Parenting Teacher Training Program. This is the last program of 2022 that we'll be doing it. It's a very small group program. It might be for you if you want to bring the Mindful Parenting course to your community, you know, perhaps you're a.

Like, uh, you could be a teacher, a therapist, a doula, maybe you're just super passionate about parenting. You've listened to every single one of these podcasts. Then you might be perfect for the Mindful Parenting Teacher Training Program. It's a five month intensive program, can be done from anywhere around the world, and gives you literally everything you need to bring mindful parenting to your community.

So to learn more and apply to the program, go to mindfulparentingcourse. com slash teach. That's MindfulParentingCourse. com slash teach. Now join me at the table as I talk to Dr. Ethan Cross. I really am excited about your book and I'm fascinated by the brain, tension, and you talk about the voice in our head, which we have so many issues with.

And I would love to like just start. Off of the question of like, why, why do we talk to ourselves? Why can you tell us about the purpose of this? 

[00:04:03] Ethan Kross: Yeah, no, thank you for, for starting us off with that question. I think it's a great one because I think so many of us instantly think about the negative side of the voice in our head.

Oh my God, there it goes again. You know, the inner critic is unleashed or I ruminating, but the truth is we evolved this. Capacity to talk to ourselves because it serves us well, um, in many different contexts. So when I use the term inner voice, what I'm talking about is our ability to silently use language to reflect on our lives.

And it turns out that that's, that's a kind of superpower that we possess that lets us do many, many different things. I like to think about our inner voice as a type of Swiss army knife of the human mind. And so let me walk you through a couple of the, the positive features it provides for us at the most basic end of the spectrum.

Your inner voice lets you keep information active in your head. So I don't know about you, but I often will be tasked to go to the grocery store and will inevitably forget what my partner told me to buy. And so I'm walking down the aisle and halfway through, Oh, what did my wife tell me to get? And then I rehearsed the list.

Eggs, cheese. That's me using my inner voice. We use our inner voice to keep small bites of verbal information active in our head. So if I asked you to Repeat a phone number in your head. Memorize it. You'd be using your inner voice. And we rely on our inner voice for that purpose all the time. That is a very basic thing we do, right?

Like we try to keep information active in our heads. So that's one thing your inner voice lets you do. It also helps us simulate and plan like before a big presentation or an interview or a date. People will often Rehearse what they're going to say in their head. I sometimes take this to an extreme.

I'll, I'll rehearse what I'm going to say during a presentation. Then I'll imagine what the most obnoxious audience member could possibly ask me. And then I'll respond to them, usually quite aggressively. I'm much more aggressive in my, in my head than I am in real life. You're like, zing, gotcha. That's right.

I, I'll say the things I wish I would say in person, but would never have the audacity to do. You know, that's a, that's a, that's a tremendous capacity. This ability to simulate and plan how we're going to behave, what we're going to say. We use inner voice to do that. We use inner voice to coach ourselves along when we're trying to exercise self control.

So when I'm exercising, I'll count down how many reps I have left and motivate myself. Come on, you know, three more sets and then you get to go have breakfast. And I'm talking to myself as I do that. And then finally, and this is, you know, if I had to choose between my favorite functions of the inner voice, this last one I'm going to tell you about is probably my favorite.

Our inner voice lets us Tell stories about our lives that give shape to our understanding of who we are, so. We experience events that we don't really understand, like, why did that person say this to me? Or, you know, why was my kid excluded from that activity? When that happens, we tend to turn our attention inward to make sense of that, those experiences and, and essentially creates stories that, that give us a sense of understanding.

And your inner voice helps you do that. It helps storify our life and those stories, those, those really speak to our, our sense of self. They help shape our, our sense of who we are. So keeping information active in your heads, planning, controlling yourself, storytelling, your inner voice helps you do all of those things.

You would not want to live life without one. And yet there is this dark side, which is

[00:07:42] Hunter: Negativity bias, right? You're like, yeah, right.

[00:07:46] Ethan Kross: Totally. We, you know, adversity strikes, we turn our attention inward and we don't come up with very elegant stories and solutions to our problems and said, we, we start spinning, we ruminate, we worry, we catastrophize, which is what I call chatter.

And that's, that's really the dark side of the inner voice. And I think that's a big problem that we all struggle with. And the good news is that there's a lot of science that gives us tools to manage that chatter when it strikes. Yeah, I mean, it,

[00:08:13] Hunter: it's interesting because, you know, we're, the brain, like, we have so, you know, we have the animate body, like, we have all those senses, and then we have this conscious mind that feels like it's almost like on top of this animate body, right?

And the conscious mind is telling all these stories to kind of make sense of. What's happening in the body. I mean, do you, there's all those like twin studies, right? Where the, they talk about like how the conscious mind is like making up a story to, to make sense of the world is that's part of the, this whole process, right?

Of just sort of storytelling and meaning making. Yeah,

[00:08:49] Ethan Kross: we're, we're, we're, we're, we are, you know, storytelling machines. There's a famous quote. Um, uh, actually it's, it's from the Nietzsche, the philosopher, but. Uh, one of my favorite authors, Viktor Frankl, um, wrote Man's Search for Meaning, um, quoted Nietzsche in describing what allowed him to get through being a prisoner in a concentration camp II after his family was slaughtered.

And he says, he who has a why to live for can deal with any how. And, and the idea is if you can find a story and find that purpose in our experiences, that can be really Remarkable for allowing us to persevere through all sorts of of atrocities and there's a lot of research which shows that we tend to just navigate the world on autopilot and we just, you know, we, we, we experience things and then we, when we stumble on events or experiences that we have difficulty understanding, we stop.

We try to make sense of it. Oh, what's happening right now? And, and, and we start activating the storytelling machine in our mind. It's so remarkably useful for allowing us to make sense of the world. And we could learn from our experiences and then move on. The problem is that sometimes that story making apparatus, and the inner voices involved in it, sometimes it, it breaks down.

And, and that's when the chatter arises. And when the storytelling machine breaks down, we just freeze. We, we often just keep on struggling to get it to work, but that ends up sometimes digging ourselves into a, a greater hole than it does helping ourselves out.

[00:10:25] Hunter: Or it's even like digging its heel, you know, it's like spinning its wheels, right?

Like that would be kind of what ruminating is in some ways. I mean, I, sometimes I think about, so my. I, when I started a mindfulness meditation practice, up until that point in my life, I started when I was, uh, a steady practice when I was 27, finally after 10 years of reading about it. And up until that point, I had all these, you know, I would go into these, uh, you know, it's just emotionally like kind of highly sensitive, right?

And I would go into sort of these pits, uh, every week or two. And I, I, and then after I started my mindfulness practice, I didn't fall into those pits. Every week or two, it's really a remarkable difference for me, uh, a real game changer for me. And as I thought about it, and I've reflected on it over the years, like, what was it?

And I think that, I mean, it's not like, I have all the stressors, all the feelings, all the anxieties, all the different things that happen, but I'm not sure that I'd spin my wheels in the same way I used to, like, as far as the ruminating. As far as, like, I start to notice, oh, this is, this is non productive way of thinking and I'm able to stop it and change my mind and refocus on the present moment or let that go or whatever it is, right?

And, and is this is, this is where you're, you're talking about, like, the danger of chatter, right? Or the difficulty of chatter is, like, how, why, why it makes us suffer. Is this what you're talking about?

[00:11:53] Ethan Kross: Absolutely. And, you know, bravo to you for finding a solution to it. I love what you, the way you just described your experience, because, you know, I think nowadays we often have these goals out, these goals that society gives us, you know, that I think are unattainable and in some ways, You Not really, um, functional.

This idea that we should always be living a life free of any kind of negative experience. Just, just experience positivity. Like, A, I don't think it's possible. B, uh, what that directive misses is the fact that negative emotions in small doses are really, really useful. Right? Experiencing a small ping of anxiety before a big event.

This is helpful. There's tons of research which shows that that can energize us, lead us to prepare more effectively. Likewise, you know, experiencing some anger when you were threatened is, is not a bad thing. This, this, we evolve this capacity to experience negative emotions for a reason. What makes the negative emotions toxic?

And I use that term, um, Not liberally, but I mean truly toxic for our health, for our relationship, for our ability to think and perform, is when the negative emotions go up and then remain elevated over time. And that's exactly what the chatter, or the rumination, or the worry, you could choose your favorite phrase.

What chatter refers to is getting stuck in this cycle of negative thinking and feeling. You keep on harping on the experience that is causing you to feel upset to try to solve it, but you don't come up with those solutions. And in the process, As you said, you just dig your heels in further and further.

Now, I don't, I think the key to managing chatter is not to Rid yourself of any negative emotion, right? The key is figuring out what to do when those, when you sense that the chatter is beginning to percolate. And there are lots of tools that exist to help people nip it in the bud. The moment you can sense it coming on the horizon, it sounds like you've discovered several tools that work for you.

I know that I use a bunch of these science based tools and they really help me as well. It's not that I never Find myself on the precipice of worrying or ruminating. Sometimes I could see it coming, but I then have, I have a plan. I know exactly what I should do in those instances to nip it in the bud.

And, and I think that's a really valuable resource to have and one of the reasons I wrote the book.

[00:14:20] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

I'm excited. I'm excited to go over the tools, but we're gonna, like, hold those back for a minute because there are some really cool tools here. But, um, but I love this and I just was, as you were talking about this idea of worry, I was having this, I just wanted to share with you, I was having this conversation with my husband this morning.

He's reading a book about worry, apparently. Where they're postulating, you know, the, the, the worry, a lot of it maybe, may have come out more during when we stopped being hunter gatherers and moved into agricultural, uh, society as humans because then we would have to think ahead, right? We have to plan ahead more and think ahead more and, and kind of like do rather than, Living more day to day as a hunter gatherer, which is like a fascinating, I think, kind of like, way to, to kind of, to consider this, but you have, you have, um, you, I want to go into a little bit about like what brought you into this because you have a really interesting thing.

Um, it seems like you have a kind of an interesting relationship with sort of these thoughts in your head, um, from when you were little because you had a dad who really encouraged you. You said you wrote, he encouraged you to go inside if you had a problem and to ask yourself the question, which is such a cool.

It's not, I don't think everybody's dad gave us that, that, that instruction. Can you tell us about like, how old are you when he started to, uh, when he started to tell you, ask you to go inside to, to figure out your problems?

[00:15:58] Ethan Kross: Yeah, I think it was really, it's cool in retrospect. And when it was happening, I don't know that I was probably super annoyed.

I was mortified. Um, so, uh, from the time I was about three years old, my dad, who was a really, yeah, colorful characters, like on the one hand, non college grad, never held down a job for too long, watched the Yankees religiously, had a potty mouth. when he was driving on the road, curse other drivers out. So this is like this, you know, voluble kind of guy, very loud, big bushy mustache, thick Brooklyn accent, except when we were at home he'd be like reading Eastern philosophy, um, you know, the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Autobiography of a Yogi, and meditating, and talking to me as a little kid about everything he was reading.

And, and so one of the first, you know, lessons he gave me was, when something's bugging you. Go inside. You know, he's very corny in retrospect. I love him dearly, of course, but he would say, he would say things like, find the kernel, which is shorthand for the kernel of truth, you know, for a kid. But, but essentially the, the, the message was pretty clear.

Um, you know, introspect and use your mind to try Solve the issues that you're struggling with, find the answer within and really tap into that inner voice to help you do it. And that was a, a skill that I really value him, him impressing upon me from a young age. Um, I used it throughout my childhood and adolescence, whenever I'd get into an argument or I'd ask a girl on a date, they'd say, no, I go inside, wouldn't really sulk about it, I'd move on to another.

Girl asked them out, they'd say no, that cycle would keep on repeating and it was fine, like I never got really stuck. And then I got to college and took up, took my first psychology class and what I learned was on the one hand, this, this tool my dad had really given me was something that a lot of people, of course, used and benefited from in their lives, this ability to introspect.

It's a remarkable feature of the human mind that lets us do all sorts of amazing things like innovate and create and solve problems and learn from our mistakes. A lot of the time, this tool that we possess gets us into serious, serious trouble. It makes it hard for us to think and perform when we start ruminating and worrying as opposed to finding clear solutions.

And so, that ended up being a real, um, a real puzzle for me. Why is it that we have this ability to use this voice to work through problems? Do these remarkable things, but, but oftentimes it gets the best of us in, in pretty, pretty profoundly negative ways. And so I went to grad, graduate school to figure out how to use the tools of, of science and neuroscience to, to weigh in on that question.

[00:18:48] Hunter: All right. So we want to, we want to be able to deal with that. We want to appreciate it as a tool. Okay. The chatter, the inner, the ability to introspect rather than demonize it and, and say that it's the source of our mystery . Um, even though it may be causing some suffering. So it, it can have the, it can be powerful tool, both BOLs for, you know, positive benefit and but can also cause, cause people suffering.

What are, what are some of the ways that our chatter, uh, causes the suffering? And then let's start to like talk about some of those tools.

[00:19:22] Ethan Kross: Um, I'll break down the, the, it's, you know, you think of this as like the negative triad, the ways in which chatter can, can do us in. I think it's one of the big problems we face as a, as a culture.

And the reason for that is we know, on the one hand, when we experience chatter, it makes it really hard for us to think and perform. Thinking and performance. These are things we care a lot about. And just to give listeners, uh, you know, a couple of concrete examples there. One way that chatter makes it hard for us to think is, um, you know, just think about a time when you tried to read a couple of pages in a book and you read the words, you get to the end of the passage, but you don't remember anything that you've ever read.

Has this ever happened to you? Oh,

[00:20:04] Hunter: yeah. Yeah. I mean, that happened to be like reading a storybook to my daughter at that time. You know, I'm like, I read the words out loud and was like, Oh, what did I just read? Exactly. 

[00:20:16] Ethan Kross: What are Frag and Toad doing? You know, I, I, I've asked this question to literally tens of thousands of people and I never get hands that don't go up in response to this example.

And so what's happening there is we only have so much attention that we could focus on something at any given moment in time. And if all of your chatter is consumed, all of your attention is consumed by your chatter. It doesn't leave a whole lot left over to do the things that we often need to do to be successful in life or to be good partners or parents, right?

We're not being present for our kids because our mind is somewhere else. So that's one way that Chaturang does us in thinking. The other thing it can do is something called paralysis by analysis. It can lead us to engage in that. And what that's all about is this. A lot of the things that we do in our lives are complicated behaviors that we've learned to string together over time.

And And then execute without thinking. So when I, when I give public speeches, you know, I'll pace the stage, I'll use my hands, I'll gesticulate, I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll make sure to, um, look around the room and smile, do lots of different things. I'm varying my vocal tone. I'm not thinking about all of those individual elements of the performance.

I'm just doing them. I've learned how to string them together without thinking. What chatter leads us to do is zoom in very narrowly on the things we're worried about or ruminating about. And so if I'm experiencing chatter about my ability to perform in this context, what I end up doing is I start thinking as I'm talking, am I moving my hands enough?

Am I smiling sufficiently? And once you start hyper focusing on the individual elements of a behavior, the whole thing unravels. We saw this happening, um, happen on a grand scale this past summer in the Olympics when Simone Biles dropped out because of what she called the twisties, which is another name for chatter.

You know, here you have an athlete who is capable of doing these unbelievably complex routines. And what really threw her in a way that led her to drop out was she, as she's doing these performances, she's thinking about the individual elements. Am I twisting enough? Do I have enough momentum? And that can be really dangerous for a gymnast because.

When you start zooming in on the individual pieces of the behavior, that makes it hard to execute without thinking. So, that's how chatter does us in, in the thinking and performance domain. And that's pretty bad, but that's not all it does. Um, it also creates friction in our relationships with others. Uh, and there's a few ways it does that.

We already talked about one. It can remove us from the conversations we have with others because We're not present when they're telling, talking to us. I mean, I wish I could say I've never had the experience of sitting at the dinner table with my kids who want nothing more than to share their day with my wife and I, they literally compete to see who can, who can tell me, tell us first what happened to them, uh, even if nothing happens then by the way, they still want to go first just to, um, yeah.

[00:23:17] Hunter: And you know, you probably know how that is. Yeah. You got to hear the whole storyline of like even the My Little Pony show or whatever it is. 

[00:23:22] Ethan Kross: Yeah, that's right. That's right. That's right. Um, there'll be times when my mind's somewhere else. Um, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm consumed with something. And they get to the end of telling me about the day and then I'll turn to them.

So what happened today? Which, at which point they're not very happy and I get elbowed from my wife, who by the way is much better at doing, at not doing that than I am. But that's one way it can interfere with our relationships. We also know that when we experience chatter, we often want to talk to other people about it to get support.

But one of the problems is. We find people to talk to and then we keep on talking about it over and over and over again because it still percolates in our mind and that can have a really tragic consequence of pushing away people who really care about us but can only take so much before we start to bring them down and so that's how you get, um, chatter, predicting, um, you know, the kind of disintegration of relationships and people feeling rejected and lonely as a result as well.

So that's the relationship domain. And then the last thing is it interferes with our physical health. The effects of chatter, you know, they penetrate beneath the skin in the sense that what chatter does is it takes a negative experience that isn't harmful per se, and it prolongs that negative experience, right?

Because we don't just experience the transgression or the worry, the worrisome event, and then leave it behind. But we keep on replaying it over and over in our head. And that exerts a wear and tear on the body that over time predicts things like cardiovascular disease, problems of cancer, inflammation.

So thinking performance, relationships, health, these are, these are domains of life that I think many of us care a lot about and chatter address attacks them all.

[00:25:08] Hunter: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's everything there, you know, those are our relationships, everything we're doing, you know, it's interesting. And those are some of the things that.

Attracted me to mindfulness, obviously, you know, and I heard, I mean, I heard a story once of, uh, like some kind of monk, but out island and meditating and, and, and he had to, he told the story and he had to, I guess, tooth that was like having a problem, but he was on like a, who knows how long retreat, like by himself and like this in Thailand.

And he told the story about how he, he walked down to the shed and he. Pulled his own tooth and the way the way you described it was as I walked down to the shed I was present just walking wasn't anticipating pulling the tooth and It's so it's so to me. That's like incredibly hard to believe but you know I know that there's like these extreme abilities of people right then this ability to sort of be Present, and keep your attention in the present moment and not necessarily on the chatter.

And then while he pulled it, right, it hurt. And then when he walked away, you know, it just is so fascinating to think that there is that ability, but that's not realistic for the rest of us. I don't think I'm ever going to like, I don't really have major hopes of like completely eliminating my chatter, um, and that's fine.

It's okay. I'm happy with just sort of living more peacefully. You know, the, the listener, you know, you've heard me talk about mindfulness is what, is definitely a tool to, to, to help us handle this and, but you, Ethan, have a lot of other tools that don't involve sitting quietly and losing your breath, which isn't that appealing to everybody.

[00:27:03] Ethan Kross: That's right. You know, I think my, I'm, so another part of my, my history with my dad is, you know, Going along with his interest in Eastern philosophy were the contemplative practices that many Eastern philosophical traditions, um, really created and, and disseminated for the world. And so, uh, when I was 5 years old, I did not get what I wanted for my birthday, which was a new bicycle.

Instead, I got a mantra. And so I learned how to meditate. That's right. You know, so you could see the color to my dad. Um, so I have enormous respect for. The value of mindfulness. I've meditated on and off throughout my life. I've done research on, on it as well. I think mindfulness and meditation is one very effective tool for helping people with their chatter.

What I think we sometimes get wrong in our attempts to. Really just give very simple quick fixes to people is suggesting that that is the only tool because what we know is that there's a much broader toolbox of, of skills out there that people can benefit from and my feeling is why limit anyone, uh, any specific tool?

This is such a pernicious problem. So let's give people the entire toolbox and then let's figure out what are the combinations of tools that work best for people. It's not always possible. To sit down and meditate for five to 15 minutes. Like, how are you going to do that right before, you know, you've got to go on stage.

Maybe there are, you know, some breath work you could do, but there are just many, many more resources that exist. And we actually have some research that we just finished performing on anxiety surrounding COVID 19 and this is still in the pipeline. It's not published yet, hopefully soon. But what we found was the people who fared best through the pandemic in terms of their anxiety levels.

were people who used multiple combinations of healthy tools. They didn't limit themselves to just mindfulness or just, you know, any of the other tools I talk about in the book, it was people who use four or five tools in combination. Those are the ones who experienced the largest dips in their anxiety level.

And I think there's a really important message there that is somewhat different from the message we often hear in, in popular culture about how to manage our, our mind. So, so yeah, I'm a fan of. The tool, this toolbox approach, give people lots of different skills and, and then help people figure out which ones work best for them.

I talk about, uh, I think 26 different tools in, in the book. And one way to think about them is, there are lots of tools that you can use on your own. Ways of shifting your thinking or behavior that science shows can have, um, helpful consequences for your chatter. Then there are people tools, ways of interacting with other people in specific ways that can help you.

The caveat there is that not every way of, other people can be a really powerful asset or a liability when it comes to our chatter. That's another, another, I think, really important take home, right? Just talking about what you're feeling isn't always sufficient for getting better when it comes to our chatter.

[00:30:19] Hunter: Well, I mean, it's so interesting, even when you talked about that before, because. The idea that, right, like, part of, you know, the therapeutic model, for instance, is like, you talk about some issues, and so, you are able to sort of process them out loud, and the idea is that that helps you heal from them, but we also know that some people get mired in their, like, like you said, like, mired in their issues, and it's like, how do, how do we know the difference between whether we're processing something in a healthy way or we're kind of like, you know, like, Rehashing this anger again and again.

I mean, we, I, we know that like specifically things like anger can be, sometimes it's not helped by going and expressing that anger, right? Like it can make it worse, but sometimes it is. So how do we know when it is and helpful and when it isn't?

[00:31:05] Ethan Kross: Yeah, I think this is, um. I really enjoyed reviewing this research when I was, when I was writing, when I was writing Chatter, um, there's been a lot of work addressing this question, and I think they're very clear take homes, but they're not always conveyed.

So, we often hear that when you're experiencing chatter, when you're really angry or anxious or sad about something, what you should do is find someone to, to express your emotions, to just vent those feelings, get it out. This was an idea that dates back to Aristotle and it was popularized by Freud, and there's been a lot of research looking to see, does it actually help people with their chatter?

And the answer to that question is a resounding no. What venting your emotions does, um, is it, it enhances the friendship and relational bonds between two people. So, it feels good to know that you and I are now We're now friends. We have common roots. We talked about before we got on, on the show. I can call you up if I'm struggling with something and share my emotions with you.

Feels good to know that you're there willing to listen to me. But if all I do is tell you about what's driving me nuts, right? Oh, you wouldn't believe what this other person said to me. And they said, this email is totally ridiculous. And then you, that sounds awful. I've been really upset too. How'd you feel?

And we go back and forth like that. What that does is Makes me feel great about our relationship, but I leave the conversation just as upset as when I started. Because all we've done is keep those negative thoughts active and alive in my mind. We've essentially engaged in what scientists call co rumination.

We've been ruminating about a problem together. It turns out, That can predict lots of negative outcomes over time. So, what is the solution? Well, the solution is not that you don't want to express your emotions at all. It is important to share what you've gone through a little bit with the person you're talking to.

Useful for them to get a sense of what you're going through. It's useful for the person who has the problem to know you care, but at a certain point in the conversation, the person you're talking to ideally starts, starts nudging you to try to look at the bigger picture, right? The other, the other people in our life are in this ideal position to help us work through and reframe how we're thinking about our problems because Our problems are not happening to them.

They've got objectivity. So if you came to me with a problem, I'd take some time to listen and hear you out. And then at some point where I see an opening in the conversation, right? Well, you know, this happened to me once before. Here's how I addressed. I dealt with this or, um, well, you've dealt with this before.

How did you deal with this in the past? Or how do you think you could, you can manage this effectively?

[00:33:46] Hunter: Yeah. Let's not just get into a complaining fest. That's so interesting because so in Mindful Parenting, I teach one of the classic communication tools, which is like reflective listening, like helping to, because parents, a lot of us as parents, we tend to like go to let me just solve your problem immediately.

Right. And we skip over that step of I see you and I hear you and I want, and that's essential problem and that's essential. Right. But then we don't want to get stuck there. Right. We can offer this. Perspective. It's interesting because it makes me think of like, I don't know, sometimes like, I get, I get really frustrated with situations like if you go to the, go to the bus stop and you meet somebody you don't know very well and there's a lot of people out there who try to kind of like bond and make small talk by complaining, like, that combining by complaining drives me bananas.

I hate that, like, because I don't want to live in your complaints, like. 

[00:34:36] Ethan Kross: Stay off, stay off social media.

[00:34:39] Hunter: Right? Um, but, but that co rumination is not, it's maybe making a relationship, but it's

[00:34:44] Ethan Kross: not. And yes, and that is why it's so. It's so hard to deal with because there's this seductive allure to co ruminating because it feels good to be, to be, um, connecting with someone else over this misery that we're spewing.

Like, it does feel good sometimes to complain together about something with someone else. The problem is that, okay, you feel good about your relationship, but it doesn't help you deal with the problem. And so what you want to do is, is two things. You want to Do a little bit of that venting and expressing, and then switch into the problem solving perspective broadening mode.

Now there is an art to doing this well, and like I'm a scientist, I don't usually talk about art, I like objectivity. But there is art, because we're all different, and we're dealing with chat over different kinds of experiences. And so, what I mean by art is this, like sometimes my wife will come to me.

With some chatter to talk to me about it and she'll start, you know, just venting a little bit and I listen, it's terrible. I'm really actively engaged with her empathizing. And then at a certain point in the conversation, I'll say totally get it. Hey, can I, I got a thought. Can you, you want me to share it with you?

And sometimes she'll just like, look at me and be like, no. I'm not done. Just keep listening and then she'll keep going and okay, I take, I come back later on and try to get into the advice giving mode at other points in the other conversations. You know, I'll see the opening, I'll go for it. And I'm like, Hey, can I, can I offer you a suggestion?

I'm like, yes, please. This is exactly why I'm talking to you. So you want to feel that out. But the value here is knowing about the science here, knowing that there's these two phases. to giving good, to getting good support for your chatter. What that does for us is two really important things. Number one, it allows us to be deliberate about who we talk to about our chatter.

Who do you seek out support from? There are many people in my life that I am exceptionally close to. I'm, I'm related to them. Okay. I don't talk to them about my chatter because I know it's nothing, nothing on their part. Like they want to help. They just aren't going to do it well because they're just going to get me to vent about it.

And I don't want to be in that position. So I think really carefully, who are the people in my life that I could turn to for chatter support when it comes to relationship problems as opposed to, um, you know, professional issues. And I've got like three or four people for the personal stuff, five or six, Okay.

That is, it's kind of like having my own personal board of advisors that I can go to. What I'm experiencing in a chatter and it is an invaluable, it really serves me well. So that's one take home. The other take home.

[00:37:35] Hunter: Well, I want to just offer to the listener like this. I just want to go back to we had an episode with, uh, Aaron Huey, the director of the Fire Mountain Center for kids who are struggling with like suicide and drug issues and his number one.

Advice to parents to not get their kids into his center was to have exactly what you're describing, right? Is to like, just have friends, like have time away from your kid, like have other places to sort of vent and process and all those things that you're describing in a healthy way. And that ability to do that and then be present, you know, for your kid and whatever.

That's was his number one advice, even for this like incredibly challenging cases. So anyway,

[00:38:16] Ethan Kross: yeah, I mean, that's wonderful consistency. Yeah. And, and so then the question, so how you like, but who should your friends go to, to have those friends, right? Like this gives you a way to think about who to speak to, to build that

[00:38:37] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

[00:38:45] Ethan Kross: And then the other thing is, uh, knowing about the science, I think it puts us all in a better position to be better advisors to others, to our kids, to our loved ones when they come to us with a problem. So when a friend comes to me with an issue and they increasingly do, um, especially after they found out I wrote a book on this

[00:39:00] Hunter: topic, it's like, yeah, well, you're getting very skill about it.

[00:39:05] Ethan Kross: You're saying I have, can I offer, I've got some, I've got some chops now, right? Yeah. Yeah. Um, You know, it's funny. Um, a relative of mine is a, is a physician and gets called. Up from everyone in the community about, you know, everything from like a, a scratch on their need to more serious medical issues. Like they have a second job when they come home from work.

And I always thought to myself, you know, I don't have to worry about that, but, um, but it's actually quite fun to, uh, to, uh, to help folks, um, about these things. That, that is why I think why we're both in this space. The take home though, is this, we're in a better position to be good advisors to others, because I've got a game plan.

I know what to do. When someone comes to me, I'm not just listening and empathizing. I'm doing that plus also trying to help that other person reframe and, and, and move on to something else. 

[00:40:00] Hunter: Um, so. You're describing like perspective taking, which I think is really interesting because that's also an aspect of self awareness, right?

Of mindfulness is to be able to kind of like. Be able to see not just this, you know, awareness in general, right, like awareness is not only awareness of the present moment, but awareness of how maybe the past is feeding into an awareness of all these, you know, there's a huge umbrella, right, to that. And that in our relationships, you talked about sort of two ways, like, All the two sort of sets of tools.

People tools and solo tools. When these people, tools were saying, you know, we can offer this perspective. That's right. But But you also say like that's also one of the tools you offer for one of the solo tools too, right? Is to just like jump into this perspective ourselves. Like we can do this for ourselves as well.

[00:40:51] Ethan Kross: That's right. So here's how this all makes sense. Um, when we experience chatter, we zoom in really narrowly on the issues that we're perseverating on, like tunnel vision. All we can think about is this one issue that's consuming us. Um, we're not thinking about the bigger picture. And what's interesting about that is usually when you step back and look at the bigger picture, when you broaden your perspective, you can use your flexible mind to identify solutions to your problems.

Like There usually are solutions when you broaden your perspective. So one category of tools that you can use on your own are what we call these Perspective broadening tools. And there are lots of ways to do that. Lots of ways to, to get distance from your problems and to think about them more objectively, uh, just to rattle off a few, you can use language to help you distance.

We know that where people are much better at. Giving advice to other people than taking their own advice. And, um, one of the things we can do is you can engage in a strategy called distance self talk. So use your name and the second person pronoun you to try to coach yourself through a problem. All right, Ethan, how, how are you going to handle this situation?

We're so much better at advising other people what distance self talk does. It uses language to get us to, to relate to ourselves, like we were talking to another person. Like most of the time when we think about our own life, we think about I, me, my, how am I feeling, what am I, we virtually never use our own name, names, or what we used to think about and refer to other people, and so, The idea is when you use your own name to try to work through a problem, it, it, it makes, it, it, it thrusts you into this coaching mode, like you're now giving advice to your best friend.

It turns out we're much better able to do that when we're experiencing chatter than we are. to just advise ourselves. So here's your own name.

[00:42:48] Hunter: A gear shift, right, to do that. Occasionally I used to do that, like if I was having a dinner party with like some friends and I would say, Hunter something.

Exactly. It's like hilarious. It would just come out.

[00:43:00] Ethan Kross: There's a lot of research, there's research which looks at when people, when do people spontaneously do that? And it turns out they do it when they're trying to regulate or control themselves in some way. So we spontaneously shift into using it. All right, Ethan, what are you going to do?

Now that you know how this works, you don't have to wait to do it. You can do it proactively. So that's the first thing I do when I find chatter beginning to brew. I start coaching myself silently. You do want to do this silently, not out loud while walking down the city streets. You don't want to refer to yourself using your name in that context.

But, uh, Ethan. You know, how are you going to manage this? I'll, I'll start giving myself advice. Then I'll do another broadening tool. Um, I'll use another broadening tool called mental time travel. So I'll think about how am I going to feel about this a month from now or six months from now, this is something I do whenever I, I, you know, I occasionally will wake up at 2 a.

m. once a month with this kind of like terrifying chatter about something. And when that happens, it can, because your brain is basically sleeping at that, it can be hard to. Muster tools to get out of that funk. And this is something that many people experience. The moment that happens, I'll just remind myself, you're going to feel better about this when you wake up in the morning.

And that instantly takes the edge off and lets me go back to bed. What happens when we transport ourselves in time in our mind, when I say, how am I going to feel about this problem, you know, six months from now, what that does is it makes it clear to me that whatever I'm experiencing, it will in all likelihood get better because most things do.

And that gives me hope. And that hope can be a powerful way of broadening our perspective too. Um, so that's another kind of tool, but you know, there are close to a dozen others that I talk about. Um, the key is this ability to step back, broaden our perspective, and look at things more objectively, which we often just can't do when we're mired in chatter on our own.

But lots of different ways of helping people do that.

[00:45:03] Hunter:  I like these because it's kind of like shifting gears and sort of pulling yourself out of the gear. You know, you, you, one of the tools you offer is imagine yourself advising a friend and that overlaps a lot with the, you know, the research on self compassion, right, that Kristen Neff and David Germer teach and that I teach in Mindful Parenting, that piece about, you know, how would you talk to yourself, how would you talk to a good friend who's going through this?

Recently had to, I was in a, an intense moment where I had to use this. I, it was, uh, I was at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Um, with my daughter who's been suffering with an intense, uh, diagnosis recently. And so we were so lucky to like kind of get this appointment driven up and, you know, we had been waiting for like four weeks and get there and, um, and we got there and, and I got to the front desk and this lady was the person at the front desk.

I said, Oh, did you call and tell the doctors you were going to be late? Late? I'm right on time for my 10 o'clock appointment. She said it was at nine o'clock. And I was like, Oh. You know, and it was totally my fault, felt so awful, but so I really had to, you know, I felt it intensely. I had really effed it up, you know, big time.

And I had to shift into that piece about advising a friend, talking to myself as if it was, I was a good friend, you know, like, and, and I was very conscious about it. It was like a, if it really did feel like shifting gears.

[00:46:35] Ethan Kross: Yeah, I mean, I've used that metaphor too, I think it's very much, these are shifters.

These are ways of like, you know, when we get locked into this, these emotional states, these states of perseveration, what you want to do is find ways of shifting out of those harmful states into more adaptive ones.

[00:46:51] Hunter: Can we talk about one of the tools, I know we have like, that I think is Uh, really interesting.

You have tool number 11 is clutch a lucky charm or embrace a superstition, which I think is amazing because I, I find like I have a little, I have a little, uh, token that says lucky on it and it has an elephant, right? And I have this like little token and just shifting into, because I know that shifting in that mindset helps me, but tell me about this, this tool.

I was like, even, and then you say, even if you don't. Believe in Supernatural Forces. You can still benefit from this. I was like, phew.

[00:47:31] Ethan Kross: Yeah, this is, um, you know, this, this is an ancient, Chad, or fighting tool, if you will. And, um, I think it's a, it's a tool that many people stumble on in, in their lives. Uh, I, one of my favorite examples of this is I was on vacation several years ago and in Mexico, and my wife and I vi, um, visited this small village and we there these vendors selling these arts and crafts things and they had these like tiny little dolls, um, like, you know, a few inches.

And I asked the woman what they were. They were Worry Dolls. That's right. And so the idea is you take one of these little dolls, you put it under your pillow and it takes your worries away. And I gave it to one of my kids when we came back. Um, and you know, and those have been around as worry dolls for a long, long time.

What we know from lots of research is that. If you believe that something is going to make you feel better, uh, in many cases, simply having that belief or mindset you used, that phrase is sufficient for bringing that outcome to fruition. And so there's a lot of research on what we call, you know, placebos, placebo effects, which you may have talked about.

Uh, I'm not sure if you talked about it at your show, but what a placebo is is you, you basically give people an inert substance. You give them a sugar pill, but you, you tell them, Hey, um. Take this. It's going to make you feel better. It's going to reduce your anxiety. It's going to make you less sad. And research shows that if people believe that that's going to happen That the mind starts initiating that process to bring that outcome to fruition.

So how the heck does that actually work? Well, the brain is a prediction machine. So our brain is constantly trying to figure out what's going to happen next. Right. So, you know, like think about like, how do you get from. One end of your house to another. How do you determine like how, how high to lift your leg, or if your kids toys are in front of you, how to navigate over them, your brain is making predictions before you take that step over how far you have to go.

So it's making predictions about everything, including. Your emotional states, and it's using every bit of information available to it to inform those predictions. And so if a trusted source, a doctor tells you wearing a white coat, trust me, take this. It's going to make you feel better. And you believe that that's going to happen.

Research shows that that actually does happen in many cases. So that's how Lucky Charms can be helpful.

[00:50:06] Hunter: This, um. It's so interesting, like just these, these processes and you're just tapping into our natural ability and what kind of everything you're describing is just almost like being a, it's like the owner, good owner of our brain, right?

Like, yeah, totally. What the user's manual for this, and these are things that That really, I think, sort of should be taught in schools to, to help people. Um, then you have a, you have advice for people for, to help kids with their mindset, tell your kids to pretend they're a superhero. Um, and, and that helps them kind of like distance themselves from a situation if they're having difficulty, right?

[00:50:50] Ethan Kross: Yeah, there's a, there's a finding, um, that's called the Batman effect. And, and the idea here is when your kid is struggling with Big emotions, you know, trying to finish their homework or whatnot. One tool you could try with them is, um, ask them to pretend they're a superhero. And then to, to kind of give themselves advice and coach them through that situation in that superhero alter ego identity.

So I'll often tell my daughters, pretend you're a Wonder Woman in there. Would Wonder Woman give up right now? And for once you can your wonder woman and, and, and, you know, try to finish it up. Okay. You know, they muscle through the task as a result. And what's happening there is we're doing 2 things. We're giving people the kids some distance from.

They're emotions by having them assume a different identity, but they're also assuming an identity of someone who's really good at managing difficulty. Like superheroes don't give up when times are tough. Um, you know, I'll often say to my daughter, who's, who's, um, I guess a tween now. Amazing how time flies.

I might say to her, you know, what would mom or dad do? Imagine you're me. Like, I'll often say this to her when she's contemplating doing dangerous things, like, just ask yourself, what would daddy do in this situation? And so that's another way of broadening their perspective, getting them to shift. You know, one point that I want to definitely make sure I get in before, before we wrap up is.

There's no single tool that I know of that works for all people in all situations. Uh, the advice that I have for people if they're interested in these tools is to read about, learn about the tools. A lot of complex science went into identifying them, but most of these tools are really easy to try out.

Um, so Inform yourself and then start self experimenting. Start trying, Hey, I just tried this. Did it help me? Yeah. And keep doing it, you know, layer in another tool as well. See if you get additional bang for your buck. If a tool doesn't work for you, well, don't use it and move on to something else. I think having that kind of flexibility could be really helpful for folks.

[00:52:57] Hunter: I love that advice. You must feel like a, uh, um, a mind, a mind chatter. You must feel like, like sort of the Zen master of your mind chatter now.

[00:53:08] Ethan Kross: Um, I wish. Um, I can say that, uh, you know, I definitely still experience chatter ties, but I am really good at nipping it in the bud. When it's elicited. So I don't think I will ever live a life, as you said, without any chatter.

I don't know if that's actually possible, to be honest. Um, maybe, you know, anything's possible, I suppose. But, but I do think that if you have these tools, they really, they, they shorten the amount of time that you get stuck in those states. And the more we can help shorten the time people spend in chatter, um, the better off I think we'll all be as a society.

[00:53:47] Hunter: Thank you so much, Ethan. I've enjoyed this so much. You guys, get his book, Chatter, and so many tools, as you've heard. Also, we, we didn't get to talk about nearly all of them. So, so check, check it out. It's, uh, it's really fascinating. I think we need this, right? We need to be able to, um, be the, more the, you know, the driver, right?

Rather than, there's, uh, the sort of like. The, the elephant versus the driver metaphor that is sometimes used, like can we, can we actually steer the elephant? We want to be able to have some steering capacity for the elephant of our minds. Um, and this is a great book to help you do that. So, Chatter, great book.

So, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your time, sharing all this research and, and, thoughtfulness that went into this with us. I think it really is impactful in a lot of ways. So I appreciate it so much. Where can people find, uh, share their ahas with you or find out more about what you're doing?

[00:54:48] Ethan Kross: Uh, well, first of all, thanks. Thanks for having me for a really, really fun conversation. I really, uh, as a parent, I, I genuinely appreciate what you're doing. And, um, you know, I think if we could help ourselves and our kids and our partners, that that's really important, um, because chatter, chatter permeates the house at times.

So if folks want to learn more, they could go to my website, MindfulParenting. com www. ethancrosswithak. com and there's info about, about the book, um, the research that went into it and lots of other, um, fun things, downloads and so forth. Um, thank you so much, Ethan. Thanks for having me.

[00:55:35] Hunter: What a useful conversation that is, right? Like this is so important. I have used this information talking to myself. I'm a third person and it's incredibly helpful. So, so good. So listen, if you love this episode, please do me a favor, share it on your Instagram stories and tag me in it at mindfulmamamentor and you know, and you might as well follow me there and I'll fill your feed with some nice mindful parenting inspiration.

And I'm just wishing you a great week. I hope that you get to enjoy your children, you get to rest and have ease and peace, and get to do some things that are just for you, that just for you love, that fill your soul and your heart so then you can return to everyone you love just even more shining, full of life.

And then we can spread that light. around. That's the beautiful thing about it. I'm wishing you a great week, my friend. Thanks so much for listening. Namaste.

I'd say definitely do it. It's really helpful. It will change your relationship with your kids for the better. It will help you communicate better. And just,

[00:56:54] Ethan Kross: I'd say communicate better as a person, as a wife, as a spouse. It's been really a positive influence in our lives. So definitely do it. I'd say definitely do it.

It's so worth it. The money really is inconsequential when you get so much. You can benefit from being a better parent to your children and feeling like you're connecting more with them and not feeling like you're yelling all the time or you're like, why isn't this working? I would say definitely do it.

It's so, so worth it. It'll change you. No matter what age someone's child is, it's a great opportunity for personal growth and it's a great investment in someone's family. I'm very thankful I have this. You can continue in your old habits that aren't working or You can learn some new tools and gain some perspective to shift everything in your parenting.

[00:57:49] Hunter: Are you frustrated by parenting? Do you listen to the experts and try all the tips and strategies, but you're just not seeing the results that you want? Or are you lost as to where to start? Does it all seem so overwhelming with too much to learn? Are you yearning for community people who get it, who also don't want to threaten and punish to create cooperation?

Hi, I'm Hunter Clark Fields, and if you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to seriously consider the Mindful Parenting Membership. You'll be joining. Hundreds of members who have discovered the path of mindful parenting and now have confidence and clarity in their parenting. This isn't just another parenting class.

This is an opportunity to really discover your unique, lasting relationship, not only with your children, but with yourself. It will translate into lasting, connected relationships, not only with your children, but your partner too. Let me change your life. Go to mindfulparentingcourses. com MindfulParentingCourse.

com to add your name to the waitlist so you will be the first to be notified when I open the membership for enrollment. I look forward to seeing you on the inside. MindfulParentingCourse. com.

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