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Master Your Inner Voice

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Master Your Inner Voice with Dr. Ethan Kross

Dr. Ethan Kross, Chase Jarvis

Master Your Inner Voice

Dr. Ethan Kross, Chase Jarvis

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Lesson Info

1. Master Your Inner Voice with Dr. Ethan Kross

Lesson Info

Master Your Inner Voice with Dr. Ethan Kross

Hey everyone, what's up? It's Chase! Welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis live show here on Creative Live. You know, the show where I sat down with amazing humans and this week's amazing human is Dr Ethan Cross. Dr Cross is an award winning scientist and he focuses on one of the things that I believe is the most important. Certainly the most important words in the world are the ones we say to ourselves, and that is where Dr Ethan crosses work comes in. He is the author of the Bestselling book called chatter. Now, every one of us has that internal voice and sometimes it's there for good, but most times it doesn't help us and we sit down with Dr Cross today to talk about how to manage this voice in our head. What is this inner voice? We go through a number of really important, very tactical ways to manage it. And at the end of the day, the relationship that you have with yourself determined your mindset and your mindset is very much connected to how you move through your world.

So if you want to master your emotions, be connected to yourself, more connected to the world, the world around you. Others people you care about this show is an amazing vehicle. Dr Ethan crosses one of the world's leading experts on how to control the conscious mind. He's an award winning author, professor at the University of Michigan and an all around super relatable guy, which is what I love, I'm going to get out of the way and let you enjoy this episode of the Chase Jarvis live show yours truly with dr Ethan Cross on chatter Ethan Cross, Thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. I've been really looking forward to to this conversation. Well, uh your latest uh masterpiece is about chatter and uh safe to say. I know a lot about the voices inside my head. I've been a creator since I was right to identify it as a creator, since I was a very young person, maybe first or second grade. And to say that I've had voices in my head would be an understatement. Uh we've got a lot of ground to cover today, but I wanted to um first, say again, congrats on my favorite piece of thing that I have read from you, that I know about you in the world, which is your book chatter, the voice in our head, why it matters and how to harness it. Um but obviously you've got a lot of work in this sphere outside the book. I'm curious if you could, for those who may be new to your work, talk a little bit about your background and uh and orient people to um to your work. Sure. Um so I'm a professor at the University of michigan in the psych department and the business school here, and I've been here for about 13 years. I've been doing research on the voice in our head and how it can undermine us for about 20 years. And I direct a lab called the emotion and self control lab where we have a lot of fun. We have a lot of fun trying to answer what I think is a timeless question, a question that goes back really to the dawn of our species, which is how can we control our emotions when that inner voice starts clamoring away and leading us astray causing us to feel anxiety or anger or sadness? What can we do to regain control over that air voice? And so we do lots of different kinds of research. We do studies with Children and schools to see how we can improve their ability to manage their emotions. We do brain imaging studies. We tracked people over time and beat them or text them. I'm giving away my age there with beeps. Text people on their, on their smartphones to to see how they're feeling during the day. Um, so that's that's what I do in a nutshell. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to tell you how, how I got interested in writing chatter because um, that's an interesting experience that I think speaks to something you said before, which is you've been familiar with these voices in your head for a really long time and you've grappled with them. I was teaching a class here at the University of michigan to seniors on you could you could think of this class as science's greatest hits when it comes to controlling the human mind. What do we know? What have we learned about how to control your emotions and the way this class worked was every week I've assigned readings, students would write up their best thoughts and would come and I'd ask them questions about their thoughts. We teach them the material pretty standard. The assignment for the final day of the semester was to flip the switch and have students come to class with questions for me and the first student to raise their hand during that final class was a girl named Ariel who had this like look on her face of disdain, which I was kind of taken aback. I thought we had pretty good relations and in the class. And um, and she said to me, why are we learning about this now? I had no idea what what she meant. And I said, well, what do you mean? And she goes, well, you know, we've been learning about all of these different ways, these different tools we can use to manage this voice, that can improve our ability to think and decide to be more creative too have better relationships and so forth. Why didn't anyone teach us about this stuff earlier, when it could have made a difference? And so my first response was fear not, you'll have opportunities to Manage your emotions in your 20s 30s and beyond, But beyond that superficial response, I didn't have a really good answer. And so instead I did did a classic, classic professor move, I paused and I said, that's a great question, what other people in the class think about that and and and just deflected. But it really stuck with me. And uh and chatter was an attempt to address that question to take what we know about the science and put it together in a way that people can benefit from it. So they don't have to wait to take a class in college, brilliant. I love the storytelling as well. I'm I'm riveted by that and I can imagine her asking that question and you responding in the moment, um perhaps there was some inner voice going on while you were uh conceiving of your response? But to that end, the voice in our head, we often talk about it culturally as terrible, right? This is the thing that limits us that it is our judgment, it's our ego speaking. And it was just, you know, just recorded an episode with Doctor Mark Epstein who combines psychotherapy as you know, is a Harvard psychotherapist with with Eastern meditation, mindfulness practice and you know, we were talking about ego and and but there are some aspects of our inner voice that are very important. So how do we, you know, culturally how can you sort of orient us in time and space to be aware that the voice in our head has some good aspects and some bad aspects, fantastic question. And um and a really important one I think to be clear on because as you say, we we use this term all the time in our popular culture and usually it's to talk about something harmful. In fact, I think of your inner voice as a remarkable tool. I've described it as a kind of swiss army knife of the human mind that lets you do remarkable things. Uh let me start by saying what how scientists think about the inner voice when we use that term. What we're talking about is your ability to silently use language to reflect on your life. That's it, silently use language. So if I say to you, if I give you a phrase that's popular here in ann Arbor um go blue and I ask you to repeat that in your in your repeat that phrase silently three times, could you do it right now? We're able to do it okay, you've just activated your inner voice. So a couple of years ago there was a brouhaha on the internet with some people claiming that they don't have an inner voice, This is not true. Everyone who has a well functioning mind who has the ability and I say well functioning, not casting judgment, I mean a brain that is capable of generating language, you've got it in her voice. Now, what does that? Let us do several crucial things at the most basic end of the spectrum. Your inner voice lets you keep up a nugget of verbal information active in your head. So you go to the grocery store, you walk down the aisle and you think to yourself, what was I supposed to get cheese, bread milk? You repeat that list in your head, that's you using your inner voice. It's part of our memory system and we rely on it for that purpose every day throughout the day. It's like super basic. We also use our inner voice to simulate and plan. I would actually be curious if you do this, but before I give presentations, what I'll do when I'm prepping because I'll go for a walk and I'll go through what I'm going to say in my head often verbatim. I'll go through the talking points start to the finish and then I get to the end and this might be a little masochistic. I'll then at the end I'll imagine what the most hostile, obnoxious audience member will ask me. And then I respond in a very primitive, you know, Brooklyn where I grew up kind of fisticuffs way, of course, never do that in person, but they're they're, what I'm doing is I'm using my inner voice to simulate and plant and people report using it for that reason before dates before interviews, do you ever do this? Oh yeah, sure. It's the yeah, you know, backstage, before I go to give a speech or something, I'm rehearsing and I wouldn't know how to do that without language I guess. So it seems very useful. Super useful. So so those are two functions. I'll tell you about two other really basic but important ones self control this morning. I was exercising and um the, you know, the instructors were asking me to do really, really painful things and so extremely unpleasant and and I oscillated between talking to myself in the form. Okay, 10 more reps. 10 98. And then lobbying choice words towards the instructor who was telling me to do these subversive things. You know, you son of a so that's my inner voice there. It's helping me coach myself along. And then finally, and perhaps most magically, uh not in a in a supernatural sense, but really in an awe inspiring sense. Your inner voice helps you Storify your life. So when we experience problems we tend to reflexively turn inward to make sense of them. And the way we do that is by creating stories right? We rationalize things. We try to get to the bottom, we learn from our mistakes and you use your inner voice to create those stories and those stories, they give shape to your sense of who you are. They really craft your identity. And so we use our inner voice to do that as well. So memory simulating self control storytelling. Your inner voice does all of that for you. So it really serves an essential function. Excellent. So let's put a pin in that for a second and I'm going to try and hold two ideas, you know, up in the air simultaneously and then we'll then we'll grapple with them. So you know, the flip side of the good parts, which I wanted to start with like, you know, this is a, it's a useful thing biologically for us. Evolutionarily we've been, you know, as you mentioned, coach ourselves use language memory, all of those things. There's clearly a set of um, uh, negative or negatively oriented um, concepts around the voice in our head. We used the example culturally like, oh the voices in my head made me do it or you know, toxic language that undermines or beats us up and says, oh, you're such a jerk, should have been such a jerk back there. Are you really screwed that up? You you know, you messed up when you were speaking on stage or you, you know, you know, you knocked the ball out of bounds with two seconds left in the game and turned the ball over whatever these, these sort of what I would consider sort of negative or toxic thoughts, you know, that is I think an orientation that most of us would be and one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show to help us control if you're a creator and you've got this voice of judgment constantly running in the background. It often gets in the way of you doing your worst work. So but based on what you said this ability to tell ourselves stories is that is that aspect of our voice is that the antidote to negative thinking is the ability to re craft a story. And if it's not that what is it, because that's what I want more of. Well um retelling your story is definitely one way of harnessing the chatter and so chatter is the term I used to refer to the dark side of the inner voice and it's a huge problem I think of it as actually one of the big problems we face as a culture and I say this not to exaggerate, but based on the data, we know it undermines thinking and performance creates friction and relationships and even impacts your physical health. So it's a really bad thing. Now, the problem with this is that when many people, because people are so dialed into their chatter, we know that in general bad is stronger than good. So we have a bias towards thinking about the negative stuff as compared to the positive. So we're constantly thinking of this dark side of their voice. Many people think that they they they ask how can I silence it, Like just shut it up, what can I do Cross tell me? And my answer to them is you don't want to shut it up, you want to harness it. And what I mean by that is you want to turn the volume down on the chatter to free the positive side of the inner voice up to do all the amazing things that it can do um is creating stories involved in that. Yeah. And I can tell you a little bit about how to do that well, but it's by no means the only tool we possess for harnessing our chatter. One point I feel really strongly about is that there's no single magic pill that you can take To manager chatter instead. What we've learned over the years through science is that there are multiple, multiple tools that are out there. I talk about close to 30 different tools that people can use to manager chatter. Different combinations of tools work for different people in different situations and I think that makes a great deal of sense when you think about how remarkably complicated all of us are, right? Like think about the complexities involved in the people. You know, we're all we've got our own baggage, our own way of making sense of the world. Why would one tool work for everyone? That's not the way the way it works. Um so makes a ton of sense. It makes a ton of sense. So so let's let's let's get into some of the tools. Um shall we do that. Yeah, yeah, please. I was obviously attracted to the storytelling one and it is one that I have some personal experience with but I would love for you to maybe if you could, this maybe asking a lot because you know, you've named so many in the book and you just talked about 30 but just generally speaking, let's stack rank them according To you know, power impact and maybe availability because let's just be real. Most people want to put this, they're listening to the show right now and they want to put this to work in their own lives. So starting with number 30, that is a, you know, has less power than number one, which is the most powerful would be counterproductive. So let's start at the top. Alright, let's let's do it. And just to give listeners um a framework for thinking about these tools and where to find them. I find it useful to break them down to three buckets tools you can use on your own tools that require other people and tools that involve the physical world. And I really want to make sure we get to the physical world, given your background with the physical world. Um so things you could do on your own. Um lots of things. Lots of tools here. One of my favorites is something called distanced self talk and what it involves doing is remarkably simple. The next time you're struggling with a problem, try to coach yourself through the situation like you would give advice to someone else. Now that's that's easier said than done. So how can we do that more skillfully use your name as you try to work through the problem. This is my first line of defense for chatter when I detected brewing within me. I think All right Ethan. What are you going to do here when you use your name to think about yourself? What that does is it shifts your perspective. It gets us to relate to ourselves like we're relating to another person, like we're advising other people and what we know from lots and lots of research is that it is much, much easier for us to give advice to other people than it is for us to take that advice ourselves. That's remarkable. In a lot of the studies we do. We get people to share with us their chatter and sometimes they don't want to share it with us. They're they're actually embarrassed to reveal what they're thinking about themselves, what they're telling themselves. They are saying things to themselves that they would never say to their worst enemy, let alone their best friend. I think there's like a really powerful insight there. Right, What would you say to your best friend? How can we say that to ourselves? Use your name to help you do that? Um, now in popular culture, we often um, we often think about people who refer to themselves using their own name as narcissistic, sometimes a little bit out of touch with reality. Um, I want to give you a couple of caveats on how to use the strategy. One thing I would not recommend doing is walking down a busy city street as you talk to yourself out loud, using your own name. You don't want to do that. If you feel compelled to use this strategy out loud, make sure you have a pair of air, you know, airpods in or you know, do it in the confines of your own home. But throughout history we've actually seen people using this tool and there's a great deal of scientific research that validates it. So that's one easy thing you could do. Another low hanging fruit strategy with, you know, big upshot is to do something called mental time travel. So, you know the chatter, oh my God, I'm never going to get this project done what, you know, this is awful. How am I going to deal with this when you find yourself getting stuck like that and chatter gets us stuck because it zooms us in on the awfulness of the situation, right? The only thing we could think about is this problem in front of us, um jumping into the mental time travel machine can be really helpful. So how am I going to feel about this? This thing I'm struggling with a week from now or a month from now or a year from now. One of the things we know from emotions, not only from the research side, but from our own personal experience. Most of our emotions fade with time, right? They come and go. Those emotions may be more prolonged for some kinds of experiences than others. But you could just jump into that mental time travel machine and go a little bit further in time. And when when people do this, what they realize is that what they're going through right now, as awful as it is, it will eventually fade. And that does something really powerful for us. It gives us hope that tones down the volume on our chatter. So you can mental time travel into the future. You can also go into the past and I do this a lot when it comes to covid, you know, times are not not great, but I think, well, how does, how does what we're going through right now compared to The Spanish flu pandemic of 1917 or 18? Uh, you know, we didn't have zoom back then. We didn't have take out, we don't have a lot of the of we didn't have vaccines developed in in a few months. So that helps put things in perspective. And when the spanish flu doesn't do it, I just go further back, bubonic plague middle, you know, medieval times. Think about how crippled society was then. So what I'm doing here is I'm broadening my perspective and I'm doing it with pretty easy to use tools. That's part of what strikes me is, you know, for his, I don't think there's anyone who's listening and watching right now, that would say that they're negative self talk hasn't harmed them in some way and it was fascinating to me and in reading chatter that it's these tools are available for us. They're right here, like even just this ability to treat yourself kindly as you would a best friend or a colleague by using your own name. Very simple. So my question then is simple is not always easy. And what is is there some sort of reminder mechanism that you have coached other people, whether they're students or in your writing? You know, there are some techniques and chatter but I would love for you to share with them, like your awareness that these tools are here for you, that the practice of putting them into use, it's like anything right, that's a muscle, just like working out or your workout this morning. But if it's right there and we don't use it, we have how do we put these into practice? And Awareness clearly seems like the first step, what what would you say to someone who's not aware that they're in this cycle until they beat themselves up for 10 minutes? Well, I I think, you know, you hit the nail on the head awareness is key just having a vocabulary for understanding what chatter is, I think is crucially important, you know, I've got two young kids and um both of them are at the age where they can begin to experience a little chatter at times and it's been really, you know, it's so fascinating as as a scientist who studies this stuff to, to begin to see it start in your Children and um, you know, before talking to my daughter about this, what chatter is, she doesn't even know is this normal to be, you know, having these upsetting thoughts, Are they something you can control or not? So I think just educating people about what is happening in your mind is crucially important and then making them aware of the tools that are out there now, there's a lot of hard science complicated work, you know, neuroimaging dorsal cingulate cortex, I could throw out big phrases that went into the identification of these different tools, but as you say, they're really the take home points here are really easy and I think there is power in that because it makes them really accessible. We know people are more likely to use things that are accessible. So how do you get people to actually follow through and use these techniques in their life? Um you want them to know what those tools are and then you want to also have people be motivated to use that, right? And I think with chatter because it's often so painful, uh there is motivation to to end the chatter, I think the problem is we often just don't know what the tools are, We just we just stumble on the tools. Sometimes the tools we stumble on work for us and maybe we keep using it. But other times we we stumble on tools that aren't very good for us, um which is actually a great segue to another tool that was not planned by the way anyone who's listening, that just that just happened. But uh so let's talk about a tool that many people reflexively use, that science tells us actually isn't helpful for managing chatter. Um so other people, other people in our lives can be an incredible resource for our chatter or a huge vulnerability. Now, many people think because of the messages that culture provides us, that the way to manage your chatter is to find someone to just venture emotions too. So just find someone, call them up social media and just unload whatever's going through your head. There's been a lot of research on the consequences of venting and what we know is that venting about your chatter to someone else. This can be really good for strengthening the friendship bonds between two individuals. It does feel good to know that there's someone there who is willing to take the time to empathetically listen to me and connect. But if all you do in a conversation or text or twitter exchange is vent effectively, what that does is it keeps all of your negative thoughts and feelings activated. So people leave those conversations just as upset or even more upset than when they began. Right? So like when you're renting, you wouldn't believe this Chase, I I you know just yesterday this colleague said this, can you believe that? And I felt like an A you're just keeping all all all active. So what's the solution? The solution is to not the solution is to not stop talking to other people. The solution is to find people who are skilled at providing chatter advice and and this is not too complicated, but finding these people is not always easy. People who are skilled at providing chatter advice, do two things. The first thing they do is they do take the time to listen empathetically connect. It is important to share what you're going through to a certain degree. I need to learn about what you're dealing with before anything else can happen. But at a certain point in the conversation, after a person has learned a little bit about what you're going through, they start trying to cue you to look at that bigger picture. They start trying to give you advice based on their own experiences or they try to pull it out from you. So Chase, but you've dealt with really obnoxious professors on your show before, have you dealt with the other ones? You know? Or let me tell you, here's what I do when I get someone who is challenging to work with. And so so essentially you want to start established the emotional connection but then try to get them to go abroad. That is the formula for being a good chatter advisor to someone else. Now there is an art to doing this well. And what I mean by that is I wish I could tell you that the exact moment in time when you should switch from just listening to trying to give that person advice. There's no data that support that as far as I'm aware, you need to, you need to kind of feel out that exchange. And so sometimes like when my wife comes to me with some issues she's experiencing chatter about, she'll tell me about it. I'm there, I'm I'm warm and I'm engaged. I like to think and at some point I'll say it's terrible. You know, can I can I offer you I have an idea. Can I let you know? And sometimes her responses no, I just want to just keep listening. I just want to keep talking. Okay, keep going. You know, I take take some more tea and we keep the exchange at other points in time though. She's like, yes, please tell me. What do you think? That's why I came? So you want to feel that out And that's the art to providing good chatter support. That's also that would be in the second bucket. Is that fair to say the first one of these self tools and is would you categorize that in a second bucket is something external to you. Yeah, exactly. And what's interesting an interesting connection is so I told you about to distancing tools, a lot of the things that we could do on our own um involved taking a step back, becoming a fly on the wall to our own experience. And so distant self talk helps you do that via language, mental time travel, helps you do that through imagination. There are lots of other distancing tools out there. Writing expressively, journaling would be another. But when you talk to other people in the way I just described in that situation, the other person is the agent that's helping you distance, right? And they are in a prime position to help you do that because the problem is not help happening to them, so they can be objective about this situation. What about this third, this third bucket? So this third bucket is one that I had the most fun exploring when I was researching chatter. Um so what we're talking about here are our tools that exist in the physical environment, the world around us. And it's really interesting because before, before I started getting into this work, I was blind to many of these tools and sometimes I stumbled on them, but I didn't really know how to purposefully harness them. So I'll tell you about a few uh one tool that I actually would use a lot, but I didn't know I was doing anything involved organizing my spaces. So I'm a pretty, I like to think of myself as having a relatively organized mind. I could think linearly and logically, but when it comes to my space is my home, I'm a disaster. Uh, you know, there's, there's, there's usually like a trail of clothing from my closet to the bathroom. My, my office has papers all over the place and the bookshelf behind you looks pretty good. I don't know. Well that's because we were talking. You know, if if you want some credibility, you want me to pivot the shot over, I can show you the side. I'm not lying. Um, so, but whenever I experienced chatter, I do something for me which is out of character, which is I make piles, I put things away, I fold my laundry when I'm done with my laundry, I go to the kids room and I put their stuff away. Then I go to the kitchen and do the dishes. I like to joke, but I think there's a grain of truth here that I legitimately think that my wife secretly wants me to maintain a low level of chronic chatter because she is happy with the condition of the home as a result. Now, that was something that I never did purposely. But what I've learned through reviewing the literature is that this is what we call a form of compensatory control and it's a useful tool for managing chatter. So when you are experiencing chatter, you often feel like your thoughts and feelings are out of control. You're not in the driver's seat anymore, right? Your chatter is running the running the train. We can compensate for that experience by exerting control around us. So by organizing spaces that gives you a sense of control and that can be very useful for when we're managing that kind of aversive voice in our head. So that's one very simple thing you can do. This is also by the way, one of the reasons why so many people practice rituals. If you ever watched sports, like many teams across different kinds of sports during stressful moments, athletes resort to doing seemingly wacky things right before they've got to sink the free throw or take the goal kick, rafael Nadal's one of the best exemplars of this. He picks a wedgie out of his shorts and then tussles his hair before every single serve the same principles that work there, right? A ritual is under your control. And so if you perform it when you're experiencing chatter, it helps. Um, so that's one environmental tool another and I'd love to get your take on this is experiencing awe. Um, Auto is an emotion we experience when we're in the presence of something vast and indescribable, like an amazing view or um, you know, a tree, I'm looking at my window, it's been here for hundreds of years, like that's pretty crazy. Um, you can find it in the natural in the man made world as well, in the form of skyscrapers or I still am inspired when I, when I get into an airplane, like I understand the physics of how it works, but I think to myself it wasn't so long ago that we struggled to start fires. I still do, I can't do it. But how did how did we get from like starting fires, struggling to start a fire to figuring out how to blast ourselves off in a in a in a tube and land safely. Somewhere like that. To me, just fills me with awe. And what happens when we experience that emotion is it leads to something that we call shrinking of the self. So you feel smaller when you contemplate something vast and indescribable and when you feel smaller, so does your chatter. So you know, seek out, aw I go for walks in the park around around my house. I I look at my kids and try to experience that and that's another tool. But but like have you had that experience on on your quests and and and different kinds of jobs that you've had with photography and so forth. Yeah, I would say that that might be my again, some of us learned from reading your work some from uh an attempted life at practicing managing that once I realized as a young athlete that you know the phrase the most important words in the world are the ones we say to ourselves and I could really affect my own mindset and when you saw the connection between mindset and performance, I started getting very interested and how to control the self talk. So I have two primary ones. I'm gonna first use the simple one to just uh tack it up on our bulletin board and then I'll go to this, this third bucket that you're talking about. One is a phrase that I learned from a sports psychologist that helped train us on the olympic development soccer team which was if you make a mistake during a game, just a very simple phrase that you can just like a muscle almost like respond to yourself in the moment with this phrase it's a caring phrase you say that's not like me next time I'll and then fill in the blank with the behavior you wanted. It was kind, it was aware it acknowledged a mistake but it also managed it. Uh you know there's the ted lasso phrase, have a memory, like a goldfish and so it is basically dispensed with the any negative self talk and addressed it sort of okay I hear you, it's not invalid. You certainly made a bad pass there, that's not like me next time I'll complete the pass and you know fill in the blank with the rest of the story. So that was incredibly useful and I put that in the in your first bucket but going to the third bucket which I think is more interesting um because it helps develop a very comprehensive and awesome life if you do start to have this an approach, a feeling of gratitude. And I usually get that feeling of gratitude not just by saying well I'm grateful for, but I'm like how freaking lucky am I to be one in 400 trillion that I'm even doing all this stuff right now that I'm a you know, an able bodied human doing the thing that I'm doing right now walking in the forest. You start to um I think that the profound experiences of that nature provides probably You know cultivate this experience that you're talking about and to be in awe that you're sitting on a plane on your laptop moving at 600 mph from New York to L. A. That you know, that's that's uh one example but I find that they're everywhere. Nature for me is being outside is the most, you know, the easiest it provides me the best access. But I would say that desire to see the world as magical and rather than um dismissing coincidences like oh I was just talking about this and here I am, you know, talking to Ethan and he said the same thing rather than saying interesting coincidence and moving on, I'm saying wow isn't the universe an amazing place, There's there's definitely something here. So I have been spending I would say more of my time in that third bucket. This this this um I don't remember the name that you used for it, but it makes the world so much more interesting, it's a way to be kind in the world and to be gentle. It is um I find it very, very powerful as a way to control my, my inner thoughts. The fact that I even have an opportunity to respond here, I get to choose my response, wow, I don't have to be victim to this, you know this the rat race or the, you know this other input or how the old me would respond. The fact that I'm in control of my emotions right now, How grateful am I for this? How connected is the universe. So I wanna Point out two things that you said um one is just an observation actually, which is both of those tools do something very powerful, which I think is a common theme for how many of these tools work. They broaden our perspective, they break us out of that tunnel vision of really that negative thought loop, which is what chatter is and they get us to see that bigger picture and in that bigger picture, solutions often lie to to feeling better. And so um it's just remarkable to me, I am awe inspired at how many different tools are out there to help us do that. But the other thing that really strikes me from your, your description of how you manager chatter is you have a sense, I'm into eating here about what allows you to feel better when the chatter is brewing, like you start to feel grateful, you think about this bigger picture. And so that to me, um tells me that you're being very deliberate about how you choose to engage with the world, you're not just being reactive, right? You're actually seeking out, you know, where to look, so to speak, to find tools to deal with chatter, landmines, right? And and that I think is a learn herbal skill, right? People often ask me, hey, do you ever experience chatter? You do science, you study this stuff, You wrote a book on it, of course, I experienced chatter at times, I'm like, goddamn human being, you know, Yes, welcome to the human condition, but what I am pretty darn good at is one side detected starting to brew. I know exactly where to look, I know the different tools that work for me and um and that's something I think many people would benefit a lot from, and that was a big reason for writing that book. This book, pop you know, I think that foundational, you're fundamentally that is awareness, right? We have one thing in this world and that is our attention and our ability to direct it intelligently and intentionally is if not our highest calling, it's certainly right up there because it does control, you know, or manage, and I think in the best way possible, the human experience and, you know, part of the, you know, being aware of a problem is whether it's in your company or in your life or your marriage or relationship, you know, being aware that a problem exists is oftentimes the first step in being able to manage it or, you know, turn a frown upside down or however and yet this is part of what makes you know, here I am talking about these are the two tools I use and you know, you're you've been studying this lifelong and then at the end of the day, you're like, goddamn, I'm a human being. And it's remarkable to me that is practiced as we could be or as studied as you could be, that it's inevitable. And so that makes me want to ask the question, do you have a recipe for the fact that what we ought to do when we recognize that we are in this loop despite that we are, you know, Yogis or despite that were, you know, professors who have literally written the book on the topic, You know, How can we remain vulnerable? Acknowledged that ship, no matter how practiced we are, how enlightened we are. This is still going to pay us a visit. You know, what's your advice to those? You know, those folks who are right now maybe beating themselves up because oh, gosh, if you know, uh if we've got this book, why don't why don't we just learn it and automatically, you know, be done with it and beyond to the next thing? Well, I think, you know, one thing to keep in mind is that negative emotions aren't a bad thing per se. Like a lot of a lot of our culture right now, there's a this toxic positivity movement sweeping through the lands and a lot of people yearn to experience a life free of all negative emotion. This is not a life that anyone actually would want to have because negative emotions are functional. In small doses, there is value in being able to experience pain. Like kids who are born into the world without the ability to experience pain. This happens every year due to a blip of genetics, they actually die young because they don't know to pull their hand away from a stove when their skin starts to burn. Imagine if you never felt the sting of social rejection, you might not learn how to interact well with another set of individuals as a result. So, emotions in small doses like don't beat yourself up if you get you get negative at times what you do want to prevent is those negative emotions from being prologue, which is what chatter does. So how do you do it? Um come up with with a specific plan? We call these if then plans fancy name for this, our implementation intentions I like if then better if I experience chatter, then I'm going to do this ahead of time come up with what that plan is I have different types of interventions from my chatter, my first line of defense, if I I feel it coming on as I do, I use distance self talk and mental time travel, I don't know four out of 10 times, that's all I need to do. And it just all right Ethan, here you go again, you're not going to go down this path. It wasn't that bad, what you said, lots of other people do it and you'll feel better about this tomorrow and that's usually enough. If that's not sufficient, then I take it to defcon level two and I consult my chatter board, I have thought really carefully about who my chatter advisors are and I have a trusted board that I consult with. I've got four people when it comes to personal stuff, six or seven for professional stuff and they are a remarkable asset and I avail myself of it if the other tools aren't sufficient um and if that doesn't work, I'll also go for a walk in nature and I'll organize my space so those usually that's sufficient for me and although I still can experience chatter at times, I have gotten really good at making it pretty short and so I think there is enormous potential to help folks who are listening who do experience chatter at times by knowing about these tools. Yeah, I think one of the experience that I've had in managing my own chatter and in, you know, on this show and across my life, I try and if you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, I try and surround myself with, you know, incredible humans. And I think what what an often um misunderstanding is that this is not about not feeling emotions, this is not about not having any soft talk or not about not getting angry or not about not. I think the goal and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it, my goal with this and maybe you can pass judgment or give me advice or or help paint the picture here because we can't, you know, it's sort of like pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. We can't avoid uh anger as a human emotion that it will enter our lives is inevitable. Same with fear and joy and all these things. The goal is not, I wouldn't you shouldn't use joy because the goal is not to avoid these negative emotions or this negative self talk. The goal is to be aware of it and then to minimize the negative impact that it has and to do so to feel the feeling. And sometimes grief for example, could take a very long time to heal them, to feel the emotion, to feel the feeling and then manage it using these tools, I think it's a common misperception, my experience says that I judge myself for getting mad at all. Like it's just traffic the person just cut you off. If they weren't supposed to be in front of you, how did they get there? Let's let's move on and try and minimize that experience of it or the the impact that it has on the rest of my day. And is it just just maybe respond to that? Because I don't the goal isn't avoiding this stuff, right? No, I mean, you couldn't have said it better. I mean, what the way you've just described all this is directly consistent with how I view this timeless question of how we can properly manage our emotional lives. Negative emotions are useful. You don't want to get rid of them even if you wanted to, you wouldn't be able to because they are hard wired into how we operate as organisms. What you want to do is figure out how to minimize them, how to prevent them from escalating. And that's what these tools let a student there's actually a very powerful anecdote I tell this story in the book that I think about often because this point you're making is is a very common observation that people want to just get rid of all the bad stuff. I tell this story about a woman named Jill Bolte taylor in chatter who was a Harvard neuro anatomist who working at the very top of her game and she experienced chatter. Like so many of us and her desire was to get rid of this voice to silence it. Just shut it up. And she got her wish one morning when she was exercising in the form of a stroke that she experienced and the stroke was localized in the left hemisphere of her brain and it temporarily prevented her from being able to use language. So she lost the ability to speak to other people as well as herself. And I would challenge you and anyone listening to just think about what that might be like for a moment to not be able to use words silently to reflect on your life. I don't even know how to contemplate that experience. How do you like, Yeah, I just don't even know. So what's remarkable about her story is initially she described the experience as you fork right? She's just had a stroke, can't speak to anyone else ourself euphoric because the chatter is gone. But as time went on, it no longer became euphoric and instead became highly disruptive because she didn't, she couldn't plan, she couldn't couldn't control herself, couldn't remember things. And so her experience is a powerful reminder that the goal here is not to get rid of anything. It is to minimize the negative impact that it has. Let's go back to your student. I think, you know, you open with this, you're you're given this lecture. And the first question is like why aren't we taught this? And so this, you know, maybe we can think of this as directed to the parents who are listening. Um I don't have Children in the proud uncle, real uncle in some cases uh Funchal to a lot of kids in my world and this, these tools that I have worked so hard to cultivate, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface now, but had I started younger, I think I would have, I would be excited to um I would be excited to know what that experience of childhood and young adulthood would have been like, had I had some of these tools at my disposal, so you know, for those, for your student, um I know this is a, I think you said it was a graduate or you're teaching seniors. Um but if if you think about this in in you know, the classroom or or people talking to their kids, what are the things, how do we empower the next generation with these tools given? We know the how profoundly they have, I know how profoundly these tools have affected my life? Clearly, the book is resonating selling and you know, your best seller all over the place, but why aren't our kids learning it? What can we do to empower them with these tools? Well, I think we can share them with our, with our our kids, our colleagues, our loved ones, I think that is one of the, you know, there are two challenges that I think that I hope readers leave the book with, which is to try using these tools on their own and to share them with others. Um we're actually doing research on this right now. So we've created, we've been working on a curriculum designing a curriculum that teaches kids how just teaches kids about the science of self control, how to manage their mind. And um actually next month we're going to be rolling out this curriculum in the form of a big experiment. We're going to be um doing this today with about 10, high school kids in Clayton county Georgia where we look at a can students learn this information over the course of a, of a semester? And if so, what are the implications that having this knowledge has for their ability to do well at school, their relationships, their health. I find it remarkable when I think about what I learned in middle school high school and how frequently or not, I use some of that information, like I've told this story before, but for me it's powerful. Like I remember so vividly learning about how the digestive system works in biology in in junior high and high school and what stuck out to me from that lesson was peristalsis, like how you move food from entering your mouth all the way to the other? Yeah. You know it too. Right? Like let me ask you chase, how many occasions have you had to use that information about peristalsis in your adult life. It's it's handy factoid that when a smart professor brings it up in the podcast, I can simulate that. I know what it means. It's the pumping action that the muscles in your GI track used to move food, that's about it right there. Yeah, very well said I have, I have, I have one more usage like I've actually two. I've used it with both of my daughters when they both independently asked me, how do you, how do you get food down when you're upside down? I was able to tell them right, like, but that's it and I like busted my butt to study that stuff. We actually have a sophisticated understanding of the human mind, how the brain gives rise to that mind of our emotions, how they operate in course to our body and how importantly they can be managed. And that is information that is not only I think important for everyone to understand in the same way that we think it's important to understand how the respiratory or digestive system works, but it's also information that I think can pay dividends moving forward because on a daily basis, so many of us are challenged to manage our emotions to varying degrees. And so this question of what we can do to prevent students from first learning about this when they get to a class when they're a senior in college, I think, you know chatter is one attempt but I think infusing these ideas into the conversations we have with people around us and our kids, teaching kids about it is vitally important and I think there's a huge potential upshot we can reap from doing so I am, I'm on a mission to do just that and with the show and your, your book has been very impactful for me and obviously hundreds of thousands of others who have read it. So I want to say thank you and without blowing smoke, I want to if if maybe reframe a direction here and have you. I mean just the simplicity of this is it maybe uh maybe overly simplistic, but I want to try just a little exercise here, I want to say something and I want to like I want you to sort of reflect on it if I can and that is the idea that we are not our thoughts. Of course we, as humans have the ability. I don't know if it's meta cognition or this meta relationship that we can have and when, when you tell that to someone who is new to that information, you know, we believe that we are our thoughts. If I'm thinking bad thoughts, therefore I am a bad person. But mindfulness or meditation is an example of being able to watch your thoughts and you watch it arise and then just as as watching it arise, you can watch it leave and as soon as I realized that when I started practicing meditation that that was an unlock is chatter similar to this. Can we observe it? And is should we should that be the relationship that we have with chatter? We are not our chatter. Our chatter is something that is um something that can be observed. We we can either have utility around it or decide that it doesn't serve us and move on. Is it as simple as that? Well, I think what you've described first of all is a is a powerful reframe and it it is a kind of distancing reframe. Like we talked we talked earlier about this ability to zoom out when you realize that you are not your thoughts. That's that's letting you step back to see your thoughts as separate from you. And I would describe that as one kind of tool. Um that's helpful for managing chatter. It's a powerful tool and there are many, many others as well. Meditation is super useful for help giving people the experience of of seeing their thoughts as being separate from themselves. And I think for that reason is it's really helpful. Um but there are lots of other other things you can do as well like like the linguistic distancing self talk or some of the other things we talked about here. Here's one other other little exercise that I think is really useful. Um A lot of the people that I speak with often tell me you can't control your emotions, you can't control your chatter, it's just part of who you are. There's one very famous study that that actually found about 40% of the participants of the study did not think their emotions were were malleable. They just they were fixed. It's not something I can get in and intervene with. And I think one of the reasons for that is the whole thinking feeling process. It's complicated, but here's an easy way to break it down you. And I experienced thoughts spontaneously all the time, I would argue. And some of the thoughts that pop into my head, like, I don't know where the hell these thoughts came from, and if I were to be responsible for the thoughts that popped into my head spontaneously as my live, I'd be, I'd probably be like, in big trouble, you know, I would be in jail, you'd be in jail me to solitary confinement. We wouldn't see each other, right? So, we don't actually have control over the thoughts that pop into our head. And the feelings we spontaneously experience. What we do have enormous control over though is how we engage with those thoughts and feelings, how we manage them. And those are two sides to the equation. And so, so I think for me being able to draw a distinction between those two facets of our inner world has been really helpful. So, I don't get down on myself if I experienced something dark or or fear inducing if it just pops into my head? But once it's there, I managed the shift out of it and to my betterment to use that very poetic turbo. But that's so, you know, again, this is um having had hundreds and hundreds of guests on the show over a dozen years, and I'm often doing this, you know, as a as a part of the show, as a part of the show has started out being very selfish because I want to learn from all these people, but, you know, now, if I'm asked like, what are some threads of the show? One of the most common threads, if not, I would say actually want to scratch that the most common thread is mindset and the ability to manage one's own inner experience, whether that's meditation awareness, uh self talk or the ability to manage our self talk. And it just strikes me as, you know, you talked about these tools and you can help your Children with these tools like, why isn't this? I mean, I guess it why isn't this mainstream here? You and I talking about it, you've got a best selling book, you know, everybody I sort of try and align with has some capacity for this or is aware of it or interested in, or connected to it, or a master of it. But, you know, what is key, what what, you know, as someone who's using research dollars and essentially, your life's work to push us in the mainstream. Why is it so hard to grok, why, you know, why is it difficult for this to be mainstream? Number one and number two, what would you encourage those of us who have experienced this to do to help advance it in pop culture? Well, I think, you know, one of the reasons why it's not mainstream yet is sorry, I'll repeat that. We almost got through the whole whole session without without. Uh so, I think one of the reasons why it's not mainstream is emotions are are invisible and have been for a really long time, and there's been a huge bias against talking about these invisible states, right? Well, it's easier to wrap our head around things that are concrete like heart disease, you can you can you can image that we can now image the brain that's I think helped a great deal. But that's a really recent development, if you think about it, right, FmR. I this ability to image different patterns of neural activity correlated with emotional states. Yeah, it's only like 20 years or so old. Um, so, so it's relatively recent that we've begun to actually concretize our experience of our emotion and our ability to manage it. And, um, and I do think we see norms changing, uh you know, where if you look at professional sports, for example, over the last few years, there's been a huge swell of support for respecting mental health issues and and also promoting mental fitness, which is another, another part of the problem here. There's a huge bias against dealing with mental health. We view that as a vulnerability and I think the more we can talk about this as mindsets mental fitness as tools of the mind that can be used to better people's situations that I think is going to be really important for allowing people to engage with this material freely without feeling like they have to do so undercover with their sunglasses on and a big hat. Someone someone told me recently about a study that advertised to programs in the workplace. One was called the mental health program, the other was called mental fitness. The difference in in sign up rates were huge, like 70, for mental fitness, 10, for mental health. So to some extent, there is a branding issue here that I think we need to be aware of um but but I think these are, these are golden times for people like yourself like me who know that this work is important and has the potential to fundamentally improve lives. Um and so, so I think it's an exciting time to be in this space and you know, the question, how can other people help talk about this stuff to other people learn about what these tools are and share them with other people and when, when your kids or your colleagues are struggling, you know, know that there are things they can do to manage their mind, you don't have to necessarily pop a pill that can be useful at times. But there are lots of easy things to try and um, just becoming informed. I think we'll do do a huge benefit for all of us Well to that and thank you very much for, you know, as they say, writing the book, but you literally, you know, writing the book, uh it's been a profound experience for me to digest that material. Um, obviously the circles that you've run in that are the champion, you know, that work. Uh Adam Grant and Malcolm Gladwell, other guests and guests, the show and friends of the show. It's not an accident that, you know, many of the brightest minds, top performers in our culture employ these things and it's my hope, the tip that you just shared about changing how we talk about it, the mental fitness versus mental health. Just as an even, you know, whether or not we're playing playing with labels just as even if it's a trojan horse concept to get it, you know, two people to be more open to it. That is a gift that I will put to work immediately. But I genuinely want to say thank you for being on the show for writing chatter and for doing the work. I'm very excited. I'm going to follow your work up on this study down in Georgia. I can't wait to see the early results and consider uh yourself a friend of the show. If we can ever help you share your work with the world, it's very profound. And I want to say a big personal thank you. Well, thank you. Um uh speechless for that incredible set of comments and it was just a delight to be here. So thanks for having me. Is there anywhere else besides the book that you would want to steer? You know, our community here is is that they're very passionate about this. Obviously they're gonna they're gonna go out and buy the book chatter. The voice in our head way it matters and how to harness it. But where else would you still steer them if anywhere? Um, if they want to go to my website, www dot Ethan crossed with that k dot com. Um they can not only learn about the book, but there are links to my research lab and lots of lots of articles and other resources that deal with this space and plenty more that we didn't have a have time to chat about. So, plenty of food for thought there, awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show. And uh Ethan cross. Uh, we appreciate you for those out there in the world. Check out the book site and until next time we bid you all of you. Mm hmm

Class Description

There's a common misconception that artists have a monopoly on creativity...But the very act of making waves - no matter the career - is a creative one. The Chase Jarvis Live Show is an exploration of creativity, self-discovery, entrepreneurship, hard-earned lessons, and so much more. Chase sits down with the world's top creators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders and unpacks actionable, valuable insights to help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life.

ABOUT THIS EPISODE:

We spend over a third of our lives speaking to ourselves internally. And unsurprisingly, that internal voice isn’t always nice.

Self-talk can take a positive or negative spiral depending on your control of the brain. Negative self-talk gets you spinning around your worry, hindering productive energy. Positive self-talk creates confidence and motivation, especially during a challenge.

Dr. Ethan Kross has been researching how to manage emotions for more than two decades. As one of the world’s leading experts on conscious mind control and an award-winning professor at the University of Michigan, is on the show to talk about what he’s learned and compiled for the book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It. His pioneering research has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Science. Ethan is not interest in how to “quiet the chatter,” but rather, how we can use it to our advantage.

Ethan explains that chatter isn’t inherently debilitating and that you can turn it into empowering thoughts – by making a conscious effort. In his words, “retelling your story is definitely one way of harnessing the chatter.”

This episode is full of tactics, tools and resources, including:

  • Distanced self-talk: Ethan talks about being the friend you want to receive advice from. Use your name when talking to yourself, and coach yourself through the situation.
  • Mental time travel: Jump to the future and assess how your problem would look like at that particular point in time. How are you going to feel about this a week from now? A month from now? a year from now?
  • Compensatory control: Organize your spaces. While chatter feels like losing control of your mind, organizing your external environment could feel like exercising control of your life, thus helping you fade away chatter.
  • Seek a sense of awe: Sometimes, experiencing a sense of vastness, wonder, or admiration helps you shut down narrow, negative thoughts and give you a broader perspective to events.
  • Zooming out of the frame: Expand your view beyond the narrow edge, think broader to understand your problems or situations from a larger perspective. That will help you see beyond the chatter.
  • One of my favorite aspects of this show is learning about cutting-edge science and testing it out for myself. We now have specific, evidence-based tools that can boost mental fitness and ability to manage emotions.

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