How to get rid of the negative voice in your head25.05.2022
Each of us has a voice. You might be able to hear your inner voice reading these words. You might be surprised at how constant that inner voice is, even though you are intimately acquainted with it. One study found that it can produce up to 4000 words per minute. That’s almost 3.8 million words per day if you’re awake for 16 hours. This is because the voice you hear helps you remember things (such as a phone number or grocery list items), it simulates and plans events like interviews or dates, and even guides you through your daily life to help you make sense of your experience. It’s a great thing. Mostly.
Ethan Kross is a neuroscientist and psychologist who studies inner voice. He founded the Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. Kross said that while it does a lot of good things for us, it can sometimes become our worst enemy. It becomes chatter when it becomes too much. He continues, “Chatter is the dark side to the inner voice.” Sometimes, when shit happens we turn our attention inwards to try to understand the problem but we don’t find solutions. Instead, we start spinning. Instead, we start spinning.
Chatter is when an athlete chokes. It’s when their inner voice becomes too loud and critical to allow them to perform routine or automatic feats. Chatter can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the nights, causing you to be focused on the awkward conversation from earlier in your day or wondering if you might have an advanced neurological disorder. It’s likely that you have experienced it during the pandemic. You worry about whether or not you will catch the virus. Chatter can make it difficult to concentrate on work and have a positive impact on relationships. It has even been shown that it can affect our DNA. This is scary stuff.
Kross believes that the inner voice does not have to be a burden. He wrote Chatter: The Voice In Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It last year. He uses tools that he has learned from his experience as well as the work done in his lab to provide practical ideas on how to deal with chatter during this time of uncertainty. He also hopes to normalize chatter to show that it is a part of human software. Kross says, “When people say, “Oh my God, I’m experiencing Chatter. Is there something wrong with me?” I respond, “No, welcome back to the human condition.”
- The book has a lot of useful techniques that can help us get out of negative thoughts loops. Which techniques do you find most helpful?
Chatter can be likened to a microscope. It helps us see the root of our problems. We can only think about the things that are driving us crazy. Strategies that allow us to zoom out, broaden our perspectives, and think more objectively about the world can be very useful.
Distanced self-talk is one tool. It involves giving myself advice as I would to a friend. And using my name to do this. “Here’s the plan.” It is easier to give advice than to follow our own advice. Our perspective is shifted by distanced self-talk. This puts us in a coaching mode. Instead of seeing these problems as obstacles that we cannot handle, we start to see them as opportunities that we can overcome.
Another strategy to distancing is temporal distancing or mental time travel. I will think about how I will feel about the thing that bothers me later on. What if I wake up in middle of the night and think, “Oh, my God” about this thing? When I get up in the morning, I will think, “How am I going to feel about it?” What will I feel about this in a week, a month, or a whole year from now? This makes it clear that the emotions you are experiencing are temporary. It will pass eventually.
- What has your opinion changed or how have your thoughts changed in the past year?
There are many myths about managing ourselves that aren’t grounded in reality. It is a myth that venting is a way of managing our emotions. Many data points support the idea that venting is a way to manage our feelings. The idea that we should always live in the present is also false. Humans were not designed to be always in the present. Our minds can travel through time, which is often mocked in popular culture. We wouldn’t be able to develop vaccines to protect us against this pandemic if we weren’t always present.
Let me be clear: I believe there is immense value in living in the present moment. Some people find meditation very beneficial. Unfortunately, we are often too correct. Instead of saying, “This can work in conjunction with other items some of the times,” it should be, “This is the best thing you should do all the time.” This is problematic because it is impossible for someone to be present in every moment. It’s setting people up for failure and making them unhealthy.
Meditation is one of my favorite ways to find peace. It helps to contain uneasy feelings so that you don’t get swallowed up by your chatter.
Meditation can help you accept negative thoughts and feelings and to recognize that they are passing mental events. This is a powerful tool. However, houses are not built with just one tool. A carpenter can’t do a job using a hammer. A whole toolbox is available to you. Why limit yourself to one tool? This is the main idea I want to communicate.
It seems that part of the line is knowing when you should engage in your chatter and when you can let it go. It’s just a question of whether if I keep thinking about which tool to use, it might be counterproductive. Instead of being like “Okay, you just do some rumination,” let it be. It will eventually pass.
I would simply say that acceptance is a different tool. Interestingly, your description was actually a form of distance self-talk. The second-person pronoun was you. It read, “You’re doing this again, it’s going through” –and temporal distance. Accepting a thought is a process that involves talking to yourself in your second-person language and acknowledging the impermanence of what’s happening.
These tools are already being used by many of us. Many people already know that talking to others is the best way to vent their chatter. They’re just venting their emotions. They are talking to people who just want to keep the conversation going, and not help them suppress their emotions. This is one area where science can be used to help you accomplish something you already do, but more effectively.
Another benefit of science knowledge is that it can help us be more proactive and deliberate in how we manage our chatter. This is something I discovered after I finished the book. I also didn’t know it was true until I had done some research. However, I don’t remember ever being organized in my home or office. My closet is littered with towels and pajamas all over the house. My office is filled with stacks of papers and books. I put away all the stuff I don’t need when I feel chatter.
There is science to explain why chatter causes me and others to clean up and organize. Chatter is when you are ruminating, worrying or worrying and you feel like you have no control over your life. It’s not good to feel like your thoughts are controlling you. Human beings love control. Organizing and cleaning is a way to make that happen.
- How can you stop someone from venting to you if they do come to you?
People often come to us with two needs when they are presenting problems. They have both emotional and social needs. They are looking for people who can empathize and help them to normalize their experiences and see that there is nothing wrong with them. They are always searching for people who can help them resolve the turmoil they are experiencing.
First, listen to what they have to say and then show empathy. When you learn about their past, it shows that you care. After you have done these things, you can start to push them to expand their view of the topic. You might ask them questions such as “How have you dealt with this in the past?” or “Think about what you’ll feel about this one week from now or a year from here.” This is similar to the earlier conversation, except that you are just asking the person to do it and trying to get them to see the bigger picture.
This is the art of being able to listen and give advice. My wife will often tell me what she is feeling about something. She’ll often say, “No. Just keep listening. I’m not finished telling you how my feelings are.” I listen for a while, then I try again. She’ll say, “Yes, please. What do you think I should be doing?” You want to feel it out. This is how you do it well.
This allows you to think strategically about who to call for help and who you should speak with. Not everyone we love and know is a great chatter advisor. You should also be aware of the two goals you are trying to reach if someone approaches you for support.
- How can you turn normal self-talk into psychopathology? What’s the difference?
Two issues are at stake. Let’s first discuss the issue of voices and hearing voices. It’s often assumed that this experience is indicative of serious psychopathology. Some forms of schizophrenia, psychosis. There are two types of schizophrenia: the inner voice I refer to in the book and the disordered version. If I asked you now, would you listen to your mom tell you to clean your room? Yeah.
You can now create a representation of your mother’s voice telling you to do something. Although you may be hearing a different voice than your mother, it is clear that you know you are the source of this voice and that it is a representation you have created. This is different than people who hear voices from other people but don’t know they are generating them. They believe that other people are occupying their mental space and causing them to do certain things. This is a disordered experience you can have when you talk about some of the conditions I mentioned.
Chatter, while common, can be very damaging to your ability to think and feel or act the way you want. This could indicate that the problem you are dealing with is more serious. This is a continuum and there is no single point. It is possible to argue that the majority of cases of chatter people have to deal with are part of the problem of living that is common to us all.
- Culture has a direct effect on our self-talk. How do you think that the decline in civility in public discourse could affect our ability to talk to ourselves?
The echo chambers we see on social media are one way that the current climate is affecting our self-talk. We have spoken before about how expression and venting can sometimes be dangerous. I believe that we often see this happening on social media. Many platforms allow us to share our thoughts and feelings. People love to share their emotions and there are many people who do so. It’s almost like co-rumination when other people join in. This isn’t very productive. We begin to spin as a group.
- Are there any current projects or studies you are excited about in your lab?
Personalized medicine, or personalized intervention to deal with chatter is the most relevant. We’re currently doing research to find out which combinations of tools are best for different situations. This is a very exciting area of research. We have done a good job of identifying the individual tools. There are 26 tools in the book. We’re sure there are more. While we know the basics of how these tools work, what we don’t know is how they interact for different people? If you and your friend come to me with a problem, and tell me about it, I don’t yet have the knowledge to tell you “You should use seven of these tools and you should use eight of these.” We are working on that.