Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross

Psychologist and 1st-time author Ethan Kross, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, gives us an inside look at the voice in our head. Chatter, released in 2021, is a practical look at understanding and redirecting our inner thoughts.

Kross explores what the voice inside our head is and why we have it. How is this inner voice harmful? How is it helpful? Do you talk to yourself?

The human mind is an incredible thing; for better or for worse.

Kross is a great storyteller and he uses real-world case studies to illustrate his detailed scientific research. He shares Tracey’s story of overcoming fear of failure while studying to become an NSA secret agent. And Rick Ankiel’s devasting end to an MLB pitching career due to mental blocks.

There are many, many, many more anecdotal and scientific studies used as examples. Kross really knows how to back up his own research with good storytelling and support.

One key focus is teaching the reader how to distance themselves from the mental chatter by referring to themselves by name. It’s a way to take control of the situation and give yourself more space from your emotional reaction. This helped the author calm down when he was obsessing over a threatening letter he had received. Simply by mentally addressing himself by name, he was able to settle down enough to logically solve his problem.

“My chatter was so intense it felt as if there were no way out- until suddenly I found the way. I said my own name.”

-Ethan Kross

Interestingly, talking to other people about trauma does not improve your emotional state. In fact, Kross shows us that seeking only emotional validation from friends or family can actually make your internal struggle worse. Hmm, so maybe talking it out isn’t always the best solution?

I really enjoyed Chapter 6: Outside In. The whole chapter features ways in which nature can calm the chattering mind. It first focuses on the Chicago Housing construction of the Robert Taylor Homes housing complex. Ming Kuo started studying the effects of the residents’ views out of their windows and their resiliency. Surprise, surprise…the residents with views of greenspaces were happier, more engaged, and had a more positive outlook.

“When you’re in the presence of something vast and indescribable, it’s hard to maintain the view that you- and the voice in your head- are the center of the world.”

-Ethan Kross

That’s some powerful influence on the mind. The simple lesson here is to go outside and be in nature so you can quiet your chatter.

I like that Kross keeps his examples current and relevant. He even makes mention of Marie Kondo’s 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

True psychology fans will enjoy the discussions on placebos, PTSD, rituals, and OCD.

Kross dives into some linguistic ideas about how humans can get more meaning from certain words than others. It’s the context and intent that define the word. I bet most multi-lingual people probably already knew this, even without a psychology degree.

The Notes section at the back is very extensive. I think this is a nice solution to providing footnotes too frequently. Then, there is a really nice section that summarizes “The Tools” used to control the inner voice. “Tools You Can Implement on Your Own,” “Tools That Involve Other People,” and “Tools That Involve the Environment.”

Chatter by Ethan Kross

I used this book to take a look at my own “chatter.” Turns out, sometimes I could really benefit from distancing myself from my own problems. I tried a few of the suggested techniques in this book to deal with some personal troubles and I’m pleased to say they helped! Kross really does offer actionable solutions to help the reader. It’s always satisfying to learn something new to make my life better.

I highly recommend reading Chatter. It’s interesting and it WILL teach you something helpful. It’s compelling, fresh, and motivating.

I think we often overlook our mental health and the small things that influence it. We all know that eating vegetables will improve our physical health, but do we also know that addressing yourself by name can make your mental health better? Really, mental health is physical health because your brain is part of you, but I think it’s ok to separate the two here. Chatter will help you calm your inner voice for a healthier version of you.

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