Dennis BeaverFebruary 18, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver 

“Would you like to try something interesting? Asks University of Michigan Psychology Professor Ethan Kross. “Imagine what it would be like to not be able to silently repeat a phone number in your head, or remind yourself what’s on your grocery list, or rehearse what you plan to say during a presentation. It’s a hard experience to fathom.

“And it is what we say – what we hear ourselves saying – that gives great insight into who we are, where we are, how we see our world and future.”

His latest book, “Chatter: The Voice in our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It,” is a compelling read that explains the mental – the neurological mechanism – that has such a huge impact on our daily lives.

Understanding the importance of self-talk — especially negative — and what we can do about it — that’s the message, so relevant to a COVID-impacted world of burnout.

Can we manage this potentially destructive voice in our heads which Kross calls chatter and that we all have? And, who hasn’t wondered, “Just what is this voice that at times is praising me, but more often, scolding and undermining my thoughts? Why is it doing this to me? Can it be managed?”

Kross began our discussion by referring to our inner voice as a “Swiss Army Knife of the Mind.”

Our Inner Voice

“We have an ability — by silently using language to reflect on some feature on our lives — to do many different things. This allows us to keep a great deal of information active in our heads. It is part of our working memory system, and with so many other practical uses, really is a Swiss Army knife of the mind.

“So, when I go to the supermarket and think, ‘What did my wife tell me to buy?’ I am using my inner voice.

“We also use our inner voice to simulate events before a date or a presentation. We go over it in our minds, what we are going to say, hearing questions and our responses.

“Next, the inner voice allows us to control ourselves, and to help steer us in the right direction when facing adversity.

“Finally, we use our inner voice to make sense of our experiences enabling us to understand who we are. At times, we even ask ourselves “Why did I say that?” These questions and explanations generated by our inner voice helps us forge an identity.

“You would not want to life live without your inner voice,” Kross underscores.

And when we worry or ruminate, experiencing what he calls chatter?

“It puts us in a negative thought loop that can be a tremendous problem impacting three areas of life.”

1 – Makes it hard to think and perform.

We don’t remember what we’ve just read when our attention is consumed by chatter.

For example, have you ever worried about an upcoming presentation and find that you are focused on aspects that create stage fright? That leads to “paralysis by analysis,” over-thinking the individual elements of the presentation in ways that ultimately undermine your performance

2 – Creates friction in our social relationships.

Chatter is an aspect of the human condition making us intensely motivated to talk about what is gnawing at our soul! We find someone who will listen and we keep on talking about it over and over again! Sound familiar? Eventually, that person who cares about us can only take so much and pulls away.

3 – It is that inner voice that puts us down and gives us ugly thoughts.

“I can’t accomplish a thing!” “I suck at this!” Close to an obsessive thought, the common feature of chatter is looping of the same things, turning them over and over in our minds until they become all consuming. Chatter creates a stress response associated with hypertension and a host of related health issues.

How Can We Deal with Chatter?

His years in a psyche lab convince Kross that there are ways of dealing with chatter, where “The greatest challenge is finding the best combination.”

And these include:

– On your own: Step back in a distancing strategy.

Use language to shift your perspective. For example, assume you were giving advice to someone else, but in fact to yourself. Also, use mental time travel. When you experience chatter, think about how you will feel weeks, months, years later – things will get better. Or, go back in time – “Things were worse in the Spanish Flu.”

-Nature gives us tools for managing chatter:

When we contemplate something bigger than ourselves, we feel smaller and so does our chatter. Exposure to green spaces or a walk in the park draws our attention away from chatter. Nature allows us to experience the emotion of awe – a beautiful sunset, or majestic redwood trees.

“Chatter: The Voice in our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It,” is the ideal gift for anyone who wants insight into an avenue of the human condition that had been poorly explored. Read Chatter and when someone comes to you with their own chatter, you will know what to do.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.