Ethan Kross | Dominate Your Inner-Dialogue and Become The Ultimate Leader

In today’s episode, we cover our inner voices and chatter with Dr. Ethan Kross. Ethan is an American experimental psychologist, neuroscientist and writer, who specializes in emotion regulation. He is a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory there.

We all have that voice in our heads that can feel out of our control sometimes, but why is it there, how can you use it to build confidence, and how does the world around you influence it in good and bad ways?

What to Listen For

  • Introduction – 0:00
  • Why is it a bad idea to turn inward when you encounter challenges in life, and what should you do instead?
  • Why do we have a voice inside our heads that never stops talking?
  • How can you use the voice in your head as a tool to strengthen your mental capability?
  • What is the dark side of our inner voice and what can we do to manage it?
  • How do you manage your inner voice – 10:30
  • What can we do to harness the power of our inner voice to help us rather than hold us back and limit our potential for success and happiness?
  • How can the people around you be helpful or harmful when it comes to managing your inner voice?
  • What is co-rumination and how can it hinder your ability to see situations clearly and move forward after painful experiences?
  • Tips for nurturing healthy chatter – 40:30
  • Is it possible to silence the chatter in our heads?
  • How does digital interaction with one another harm us compared to real face to face interaction?
  • What two things should you consider when it comes to social media and your inner voice?
  • What is good sleep hygiene and why is it important to get uninterrupted quality rest?
  • What can you do to help people who might be struggling but refuse to ask for help?

Developing a healthy relationship with your inner voice can help you build unbreakable confidence and lead effortlessly. You can start by acknowledging it and making room for it in your life, instead of trying to silence or ignore it. Observe it and pay attention to when you’re giving it too much control over what you’re thinking about or feeling. As you do that, be open-minded about the world around you—engaging new people, experiences, and ideas will help broaden your horizons, push your confidence higher, and keep your inner voice in check.  

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Resources from this Episode

Speaker 1: Social media is a really interesting space to think about chatter because in a certain sense, I think social media provides us with this giant megaphone for our inner voice, and that can have good or bad consequences for us, depending on how you use that. Megaphone,

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Speaker 2: Now, thank you everyone for tuning in let's kick off today's show today, we have Dr. Ethan Cross with us. Dr. Cross is one of the world's leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. He's an award-winning professor at my Alma mater the university of Michigan and the Ross school of business. And he's the director of the emotion and self control laboratory. His new book is called chatter, the voice in our head, why it matters and how to harness it. As you can tell from the title, it's all about those silent conversations we have with ourselves and Johnny. And I absolutely loved it, but don't just take it from us. Adam Grant, who we've had on the show several times had this to say about it. This book is going to fundamentally change some of the most important conversations in your life. That is the ones you have with yourself. Welcome to the show Dr. Cross. So excited to have you here.

Speaker 3: You have a new book out called chatter, and it's all about the voices in our head and how it plays a role in our, in our daily lives. Ethan, what made you want to write a book on specific topic?

Speaker 1: I've I've spent my professional career studying this issue. Um, but my interest actually goes even deeper back to childhood. Uh, I had an unconventional dad who from the time I was about three years old and he, anytime something bad happened, he'd tell me to introspect, go inside, find the solution whatever's bothering you. Move on doing that really served me well throughout my childhood and adolescence. Then I got to college and I took a class on psychology, and I realized a lot of people do exactly what my dad told me to do, but it doesn't benefit them. In fact, turning our attention in we're when we're experiencing problems often makes them worse. We worry, we ruminate, we catastrophize all the fun stuff, right? We experience what I call chatter, which is involves getting stuck in these negative cycles of thinking and feeling, which, you know, for lack of a better term can make, make life pretty miserable.

Speaker 1: And so I got fascinated with, well, why is it that some people can really benefit from introspection, other people don't. And, uh, I started doing a lot of research to figure out the answer to that question. And so, so I wanted to tell the story of what I learned in that book. The other, the other relevant thread here though, is I had been living and breathing this work for a long time with my colleagues and students. And it really wasn't until an experience I had in the classroom at Michigan, which we were just talking about, um, that I realized that, you know, I could keep on talking about all the science with myself and my students and my colleagues, but if it doesn't get out there to the world, then it's not doing much good. And the experience was a student asked me at the end of a senior seminar after we, I taught about this stuff, why are we learning about this now? Why didn't anyone teach us about this stuff earlier? And I didn't have an answer. And so that was that that led me to work on the book and do some other things.

Speaker 3: Well, I know for an hour line of work at the art of time of all the classes we've been helping people. And one of the aspects of having a great relationship with other people is having that great relationship with yourself. And it's important to get out of some of the negative cycles that deteriorate that relationship. And you've brought a lot of other concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy into this book, which I appreciate and have a, how we think cognitive behavioral therapy and Aaron, and the work that Aaron Beck has done has broken down those processes that not only help people who have been having trouble in their lives, but it also gives you an inner workings of how the mind works and then streamlines your own processes to enhance your own life. And your students are absolutely right in the fact of, I can't understand why these things, cognitive behavioral therapy, isn't a class that everyone should learn at anytime that you bring this up, the first thought for regular folks. Well, I, you know, I, I don't need help. I don't need any mental help. I don't need to see a psychologist. And it's like, well, no, but there's tools here that can benefit you regardless of how you feel about it or not your thoughts on that.

Speaker 1: Yeah. I do a lot of research with schools, actually. I'm trying to figure out what are the implications of teaching children about how the mind works. And so I spent a lot of time thinking about this question and it really perplexes me. You know, we teach kids about things that we think are going to serve knowledge that we think and hope will serve them well later on in life. So let's take something like biology, Aja. You mentioned that you were, you were a bio major, is that right? Yep. Okay. So, um, so we all take biology and, uh, I want to pick for a second on the digestive system for whatever reason. I remember learning about the digestive. Like the digestive system has really stuck with me the knowledge of how it works in particular like Paris salsas, how you get food from one end to the other.

Speaker 1: Like I got it. I know the answer to that question. Ask me how many times I've had occasion to use that information in my adult life too. And I promise you, I'm not going to get gory here or, you know, uh, unsavory, um, each, each of my daughters has, at one point in their lives, asked me, daddy, how do you swallow food upside down? Aha. Peristyle says to the rescue, right? I can explain how it works. I spent a lot of time studying biology and the digestive system in, in school. Let's now think about another topic. The mind let's think about emotions. What is an emotion? I don't know that everyone knows actually what an emotion actually is. Can you control your emotions? How can you control anger and anxiety? When would you want to do it? What if you want to amplify your happiness or turn it down?

Speaker 1: What are the skills that exist? How do other people factor in to your ability to manage your emotions and so forth and so on? I would argue that being able to answer those kinds of questions is relevant on a daily basis. If not take it a step further, even an hourly basis, right? We are emotional creatures and we're constantly trying to manage ourselves in this world and our emotions, but we don't talk about that. We don't teach about it even though there is a science that explains how all of this works. And so, uh, so I'm certainly a proponent of, of teaching people about this. I don't think this is therapy per se. This is how people work. And the book that I wrote chatter was really intended to be, Hey, here's a book about the science of how your mind works when it comes to reflecting on problems and how you can do it better and not get stuck in rumination and worry.

Speaker 3: I think a big part of that is starting understand how

Speaker 2: We influence others. Self-talk whether it's raising children or a teacher in a classroom, or even as peers and friends, we're all influencing that self-talk that's going on in other people's minds. And if we don't understand how the mind works and its influence, we can't possibly steer towards the great outcomes that everyone wants. Kids getting into school, becoming amazing successful in their career. All of these things are influenced by the way, we react to events in our life, good and bad, and that voice is always there and ever present. Does it have an evolutionary meaning or purpose that's allowed us to develop our brain in a way that's impacted?

Speaker 1: Yeah. So let's, let's talk about self-talk and how it's related to chatter. So I want to map out the space for everyone who's listening. So I think it's a really important question when I use the word self-talk and this voice in our head, what we're really talking about is the ability to silently use language. And I would argue that language is a tool. It's a tool that lets us do lots and lots of things. So you could think of self-talk as a type of Swiss army knife of the mind. And let me point out a couple of functions that serve. So let's say, I ask you to, well, I'll tell you a funny story or embarrassing story. I was doing an interview a couple of days ago and I was mispronouncing the host's name over and over again. And I kind of cringe when I think about it now.

Speaker 1: So finally I asked her, well, how can I, what's a proper way to pronounce your name? And she said it to me. And so what I did is I then repeated it in my head. He read over and over styling, AIG and Johnny I'd like you to repeat my name silently in your head right now. And just nod when you finish doing it two or three times. Okay? Not, not really hard, challenging task I've asked you to do, but congratulations. You've just used your inner voice. So your inner voice at the most basic level allows us to hold nuggets of information, verbal information in our head. Like when we go to repeat a phone number two (090) 501-2090 five. That's your inner voice. It's absolutely essential to allowing you to do things in this world. Like remember what you want to order in a restaurant, but it also does a lot of other amazing things when I try to, uh, rehearse, when I think in my head and I'm simulating, well, I got a big talk coming up.

Speaker 1: What am I going to say? Right? And what are the people can ask me? I'll repeat in my head. I'll do the talk in my head silently, go through the motions. I'll then anticipate what Johnny and the audience is going to ask me. And Johnny is always, I'm sorry, Johnny, but Johnny is always a curmudgeon. They're not nice. They ask me mean questions in my head. And I respond with, you know, not nice words, always in my head. I never respond that way in person. But what I'm doing there is I'm using my inner voice to simulate and plan for the future. Without that tool, I wouldn't be given good presentations, right? We also use her inner voice for other things to coach ourselves through problems and critically to, to Storify our lives, right? Like things happen. We weave together narratives to explain who we are.

Speaker 1: Why do we do this? How do we respond? How does that impact our relationships? Our inner voice helps us do all of those things. So aging, that's what, that's why we have this inner voice. It's, it's a critical facet of the mind. Now the big catch is that oftentimes when we're experiencing negative emotions, we try to use this tool to help us out of the mess that we're in, but we end up getting stuck. It ends up jamming up. So we, we try to activate our, let me try to get to the bottom of why am I feeling this way after doing this? And rather than coming up with a solution, we end up worrying and ruminating and catastrophizing. That's what chatter is. It's the dark side of the inner voice. And the good news is that there are lots of tools to manage it.

Speaker 2: I want to pick up on one part of that equation that I think we've been so big about. Here are the art of charm with all of our students. And I think many in the audience may not even recognize a realize and that's the impact it has on the story. We tell ourselves and simply how organic and iterative that is. So we can go through life events and just think about the story once we could ruminate on them and rewrite the story and really negative ways and get jammed up and create anxiety. But we also have the power to rewrite the story in more compelling ways and take a new perspective and learn from it and grow from it instead of falling into that trap of rumination. But that writing is essential to us finding meaning and purpose and understanding ourselves. And yet, when we talk about journaling, when we talk about thinking through this story and this inner dialogue, so many cringe and say, Oh, I don't want to do that.

Speaker 2: Or I don't need to do that, or why, when I think about that, but it's happening, whether you write it out or not, this story is constantly being shaped and evolved in your head and it's steering you into behaviors that might be good or bad creating beliefs that might be good or bad. So how can we start to harness the positive side of this? I so many in our audience know about the chatter and the negative, but it's that harnessing of the power in a good way that I think is the most impactful and really the biggest benefit of the book.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So there are no single tools that exist that are going to work for all people in all situations. And I always hate starting with the negative, but I feel like it is so important to actually emphasize that because there are messages out there that suggests there are these single panaceas doesn't exist. And if someone says that it does be weary, here's what does exist, lots and lots and lots of different tools. Science-based tools for pushing around these conversations. Uh, in the book I talk about like 26 different tools. And the real challenge for, for consumers of this work for listeners for readers is to figure out how the, how different tools combine, what are the, what are the different cocktails of tools that work well for them in their unique situation? So that's pretty abstract. Let me, let me get a little bit more concrete in the book I talk about there being three buckets, three categories of tools, things you could do on your own ways of harnessing your relationships with others and ways of interacting with your physical spaces.

Speaker 1: Each one of those categories has a bunch of different tools within them. If we want to start with things we can do on our own, this probably is the most tools. I talk about the most tools in the book in this category. Let me give you two of my favorites. One involves trying to coach yourself through a situation like you would give advice to someone else and actually using language to help you do this. And what I mean by that is the following. Use your own name and the second person pronoun you to coach yourself through a situation or anything. How are you going to manage this situation? It might sound silly, but there's science behind it. And what we know is that we as human beings, as a species, we're much better at giving advice to others than we are taking our own advice, right.

Speaker 1: There there's even a name for this. It's called Solomon's paradox named after the Bible's King Solomon really wise person, people from all over the middle East came to get his advice. But when you, if you look carefully at his story at all these concubines, there was a lot of fighting and Temple's being built and the whole kingdom imploded. So not smart when it came to his own situation. So this is a truism and what you do your name and the second person pronoun you, we call this distance self-talk it does. It's using the language of others. Like most of the time that we use names, we use it. And then we think about and refer to other people. So when you use those parts speech to refer to yourself, it automatically switches your perspective. It's like now I'm giving myself advice. Like I'd give my best friend.

Speaker 1: And that makes sense. Is it a whole lot easier for us to be objective when we're managing thorny chatter, provoking situations? So that's one tool that people can use. But the one disclaimer that I like to give is if you're going to use that tool, use it silently in your head. You don't want to be like walking down the streets of New York or LA or anywhere for that matter. Talking to yourself out loud with your own name. Everyone does an ally. Well, I will say, you know, um, having the little AirPods that you guys are wearing hat does is a bit of a game changer. In this regard. I sometimes wonder how many people are actually on conversations with other people when they're talking out loud. So, so distance self-talk that's one thing you could do subtle linguistic shift that reroutes the stories we can tell ourselves.

Speaker 1: Another thing you can do is something called temporal distancing, or you might think of this as mental time travel. So take the pandemic now, which so many of us are struggling with. It's so easy to zoom in on the awfulness of the situation. People dying, kids at home, struggling, missing our friends. Well, lack of social connection, lots and lots of really bad things. In fact, in the book, I talk about this as the chatter event of the century, what we're dealing with right now, it's really a Versive. We could stay zoomed in on this problem, or we could jump in our inner time-travel machine and think about how are we going to feel about this problem six months from now, six months from now, when our loved ones are vaccinated, when we're close to reaching herd immunity, when we're back to vacationing and interacting with our friends and loved ones, what that does that temporal time distance, that makes it clear to us that what we're going through right now, it's temporary.

Speaker 1: It will eventually end. And that gives us hope and hope can be a powerful bomb when it comes to an inner voice run amok when it comes to chatter. So that's another thing you could do. And you know, it's actually, I don't know if you've talked a bunch about being in the moment and the virtue of being in the moment. It's hard not to get into that nowadays. A lot of people think that they should always be in the moment. This is not how our minds have evolved, right? Like we spend between a half and a third of our waking life. Like not in the moment, the ability to travel in time can be really helpful if you do it the right way.

Speaker 3: I was really excited to read this book and especially the parts about language because it's power is underestimated. Now we all know when you hear a beautiful song or a poem, the emotions that could be stirring in you, but just using different words, how it gives things, different meanings or the distance that you're speaking about. I mean, it's, it's remarkable. In fact, I've also noted in recent years how certain language continues to get softened. And we used softened language to limit the impact of events or certain ideas will have on us. And I, and I think we've been doing that to our detriment because now things aren't. So they don't have the impact that they did that would make us wake up and notice. And in fact, I've noticed that with our clients, with their language has been so softened to themselves and for their own intent of what they want in life. So they have trouble speaking up for their own wants and desires because the language that they use to get these has been well for lack of a better word, there has been softened. It's taken its meaning out of it.

Speaker 1: Words can be really powerful for influencing how we think about the world, how we think about ourselves. We're often thinking in terms of where it's now, we're not always thinking in terms of words, we could also think in terms of pictures and images, and we spend a lot of time doing that too, but I'd argue that, that we live in, in, you know, in a world of words, just to give you another example, since you're, you're bringing up language and it's power, you know, distance sells talking, using your name to, to coach yourself through problems. You can think of this as one kind of linguistic shift. And just as an aside, I think it's fascinating that a lot of people stumble on this shift without even knowing it. You know, you could see evidence of this all around and in newspaper interviews. Uh, Jennifer Lawrence did an interview a couple of years ago at the times, got flustered and she paused and said, all right, Jennifer, get yourself together.

Speaker 1: This is not therapy. LeBron James Julia sees, or Henry Adams and lots and lots of others. I think it's fascinating that there's this intuition that many of us have about ways of talking to ourself. That can be helpful. And we do it without even knowing it distance, self talks, one example. But let me give you another example of a different kind of linguistic shifts that can be helpful, but we call it the universal you and, and to, to explain how it works. Let me tell you a quick story about, um, Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook's COO who several years ago, tragically lost her husband on vacation, fell off a treadmill, or had a heart attack, fell off a treadmill and, and died. Terrible, terrible story. She went into mourning and after a 30 day mourning period was over. She wrote a post to her on her Facebook page.

Speaker 1: I'm going to butcher the quote here. Um, so don't hold me to it. But effectively what she wrote at one point in the quote was she talked about her feelings and she goes, when you lose someone you love, you don't know what to do. Your heart just leaves you, you don't know how to move on. And what was really interesting about that quote was she was talking about probably the most personal kind of experience a person can have, like the loss of their, of the love of their lives, but she's not talking about it in the first person. She's not saying when I lost someone, I love, I didn't know what to do. My heart left me. She's using a word you that we typically use to refer to others. What she was essentially doing there by using the word you she's talking about her own personal experience in universal terms, she's effectively saying when anyone loses someone, they love, anyone would feel terrible.

Speaker 1: Anyone's heart would leave their body. And so what we've done studies on this and, and what talking about your own experience in universal terms does number one, it gives you a little bit of mental space from your experience. It's not just about you. This is how the world works. Anyone would deal with this adversity, the way that I'm dealing with it, right? So that's, that's pushing away and it's normalizing the experience in ways that make it much easier for people to make meaning out of the experience and work through it. And so it's benefiting you, but it's also doing one other really important thing. When I talk about my experience, my own personal experience, as relevant to the world, guess what Johnny and ha you are part of the world. I'm sucking you into my experience. I'm connecting you, I'm establishing empathy. So it's a way of bringing people together as well. One word, you know, you instead of I, and that's the power of language.

Speaker 3: Well, it's also, it's very telling of a house, somebody, and you were mentioning about Jennifer Lawrence and this other example of how they feel or how they're filtering their experiences. But it also what I was saying about the softening. So now you don't have to be vulnerable and say, I feel this way, you're using this universal, but my experiences are going to be filtered through different lenses. So of course, I'm going to feel something you can't just attribute those experiences to me that may allow you to speak about them from a distance and feel safer about it, but you can't then use that information or use that you to say, Oh, well, he'd see, he's agreeing with me. He must feel that way because that's going to lead you in trouble because you're now attributing emotions to me that may or may not be there.

Speaker 1: Yes. Yeah. This is a, this is a fantastic point. And in fact, there has to be a level of social sensitivity with these kinds of communications, right? Because it is possible that if you're talking about a particularly contentious issue and you are attributing something, not just to yourself, but others, that that could backfire in, in the wrong circumstances. And so what's interesting about that to me is it might have benefit for the individual who's speaking, but it might have this social cost. And I think that's where you need social intelligence. When thinking about how to use that particular mechanism,

Speaker 3: You can notice these things in copywriting or social media, certain platforms, certain language allows those messages and ideas to be shared easier than on other platforms. And so if I say something like, I feel this way, I'm being as the, as writing copy, I'm attributing these emotions or these ideas to myself. But if I say that you universal, then other people feel that I am speaking to them and it's easier for them to adopt these ideas. I mean, this is why copywriting is its own language in general. I'm though we might have an understanding about it to be very good at it. It is a skill that takes years and develop.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. I mean, so, you know, if you were coaching a person through how to communicate well about certain kinds of thorny issues, let's say there's a situation in which someone does something really bad, right? In that instance, you might want to coach them to talk in the first person, not with the universal you, because you want them to take ownership of this. You don't want to say, this is how the world works. There's an example of a previous politician who, uh, we actually opened one of our articles with this quote. It says something to like, I pay nothing in taxes. That's just what you do. You don't pay taxes to the American government. Actually some of us do pay taxes. So don't draw me into your experience. So, I mean, I think that's exactly your point. Absolutely

Speaker 2: Touch on the combining of these tools. Because for me, that cocktail has been one of the ways that I've gotten through the pandemic mentally, not only coaching myself Aja through it, but thinking about historically that this is not the first time that we, as a human species have gone through a pandemic. And here we are with even more advanced scientific technologies to help guide us through it and zooming out from this, like every day of the pandemic is grinding to, well, how will I feel when everyone's vaccinated? And we're back to normal. Am I going to be still sitting with this? Am I going to allow myself to live in this state? And in those inner conversations have been really crucial for me working through what's gone on in the last year, around this pandemic. So what I love about the book is not only do you highlight all the tools, but it really is a way for you to, to create a recipe that works for you and not look at a one size fits all model of just do this. And you'll be better, which we know doesn't often work in these situations with the mind.

Speaker 1: Totally, totally. You know, I think this is where the self experimentation has to occur. And it's actually, so the scientists right now where we are as a field is we've identified a universe of different science-based tools that are useful. Well, we haven't yet figured out is how those tools combine optimally for different people in different situations. So we're doing that experimentation in the lab. And while we do that, I think there's an opportunity for readers and listeners to start doing some self experimenting on their own. You know, what you described, AIJ the distance self-talk come on, Ethan, how are you going to manage us and mental time travel? I mean, those are certainly tools that I've used as well. Another set of tools that I've availed myself of involve other people. And I think that's another important bucket of tools to spend a little bit of time talking about.

Speaker 1: I'd love to get your perspective on this because you do so much work coaching others. But in my experience, there are lots of myths surrounding the role that other people play in our lives and whether they can be helpful or harmful. My, my read of the literature is that other people can be really, really helpful when it comes to helping us manage our chatter or really harmful. And in some cases they can make it worse. And in fact, some of the messages that we're often taught about how to use our relationships to help us or the wrong messages. So we often hear in popular culture that when you're experiencing chatter, find someone to talk, to let it out. Venture emotions, express. There's been a lot of work on this. And it turns out that when you vent to someone else, that can be really good for our friendship.

Speaker 1: So we're buddies now, Aja and Johnny, I could call either of you up with a problem. I talked to you guys about it. You asked me about my feelings, what happened that strengthens our, our friendship. It's good to know that there's someone I can share with you validate how I feel. But if all you do is ask me about what happened. It's like just pouring fuel on a burning flame, right? You're just keeping that negative experience alive. If you don't talk to me in a way that helps me reframe that experience or broaden my perspective, I leave the conversation and I'm just as upset as I was when I started. And so there's actually a name for this. A technical terms will cool rumination where two people go back and forth, back and forth. And it predicts all sorts of bad things like anxiety and depression, uh, over time. So, so this is something that we often get wrong and there are ways to fix it.

Speaker 2: Well, this, this is funny because we literally had this exact conversation before you jumped on. So one of our clients in our group coaching program went on a date, had a negative response and was ruminating on what could have caused this negative response. In his mind, he did everything, right. He was not anticipating that response. So what did he do? He didn't come to us first as coaches. He went to another member in the group and validated through co rumination. What was going on, not having the ability to take an outside perspective and look at, could there be things that are not having anything to do with you and actions that you took in this date that led to that negative reaction? Could it be something completely outside of you that you're not thinking about? Which is what we try to do constantly as coaches, because we know the trap around Crow rumination, it feels good to share those negative feelings.

Speaker 2: It feels good to be bound together by, Oh, I felt that too. I've experienced that too, but it often leads you into this trap of staying with that feeling and, and turning it into now a belief about how the next date is going to go or what to expect the next time you see someone. And of course that leads us in a world of hurt when it comes to actually connecting with the people that we want to in our lives. Because now we have two people co ruminating bonding, feeling closer, but unable to get out of their own way with these mental hurdles that chatter is causing.

Speaker 3: And I want to add to that as well. If, if you are persuasive or, or able to influence the other person in a couple of the reaches to then begin ruminating on a couple of false premises, the end result can get quite bizarre. I mean, and we're also to look at it on a grand scale. We're in a culturally messed up situation where we're finding people who will indulge these false premises online all the time, and we're ending up and crazy conspiracy theories in every direction that you want to go. I mean, there's somebody, who's got a story to tell you.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And you often can see this happening in this kind of these echo chamber, like bubbles that are happening on social media, which are giant hive, mine co rumination sessions. But you, you both put it very well right there. What's so fascinating about co rumination is that it has a seductive allure. It feels so good in the moment to find that a person to just rant about what's worrying or depressing or angry at you, it feels great for the two of you. But if the goal is to move past it, then we need to do more than just that. And so the formula from research is what you want to do is find someone who will let you share a little bit about what happened to you and what you felt like we have these social and emotional needs that we want to get satisfied by other people.

Speaker 1: But once you've spoken a bit about, what's bothering you at a certain point in the conversation, ideally the person you're chatting with helps nudges you to try to broaden your perspective. All right? So this happened, but this has happened for how I've dealt with in the past, or how might you do it differently, or here's how I deal with this different ways of approaching this situation to broaden the perspective and ultimately help the person work through it. That's what good chatter advice involves. And so what I like to tell people is there are a lot like knowing this science makes me much more deliberate about how I both seek out support when I'm dealing with chatter. And I have it myself, even though I study this stuff, but also how I give it to others. So when I'm looking for chatter support, there are many people who I'm super close to who loves me.

Speaker 1: I love them. No, no, no. Not talking to you about my chatter. You know, I go to other folks, people who are skilled at both validating my experience, but helping me see the bigger picture. There are like three people in my private life. I go to for private life chatter for business chatter, there are like four or five other people. And that's my board. That's my like chatter advisory board. And I make use of that board quite a bit. When people come to me for support, I'm mindful of these principles. I'll ask about how they're feeling. I'll try to honor and validate their experience, but, but at a certain point, when I, when I detect that it's appropriate and sometimes I'll even ask, I try to nudge them to think about that broader situation. So that's really being deliberate about this is I think really important,

Speaker 2: Love that zoom out, like find people who could help use zoom out versus zooming in which is so much of what goes on in that co rumination. So if we were to phone our other client and ask for his experience, he would probably still be steaming mad about this event, even though it didn't happen to him because they both wound each other up in zoomed in on this one tiny moment, attached a bunch of meaning to it. And now they're forecasting the future around something that was rather insignificant. And had they just zoomed out, maybe realize that there could be something else causing this reaction that they weren't expecting. It had nothing to do with them. They could actually work through it in a more healthy way. And I want to make the key points of the audience here, that the book makes that, you know, many of us think our genes and our environment influence our health.

Speaker 2: And that's a great starting point, but our inner dialogue influences our health in meaningful ways at the genetic level. It can cause inflammation and chronic stress to ruminate to the degree that many of us in modern society are choosing to behave are choosing to co ruminate are choosing our friends and the influences on social media. And they're impacting not only our mental health, but our physical health, our heart health, because we're not processing these things properly. So seeking out that ruminating board of advisors who can help you get out of that chatter can create that perspective, whether it's a coach or a friend or someone else who's achieved, what you're looking to achieve is exactly what we should be looking for in relationships. Instead of falling into this trap, that I just need to find someone who can deal with my venting as the book points out that actually repels people over time. If you are over venting and constantly ruminating, you're less likable. People actually want to spend less time with you, but it's counterintuitive because we feel so good in that moment of like a sense of relief. Like they get me, they understand me and it feels good to share that emotional connection. While meantime, we're shoving aside people who should be in our life and doing

Speaker 3: Ourselves physical harm. Well, I also want to get your perspective on this as well. Ethan, where as human beings, I think there's a flaw in our biology that if we're not focused on building or have something that we can put our focus towards the produce to get involved too, without that, we begin to put our focus on ourselves and our relationships and we just start ruminating and picking on them. And, and, and therefore, and I think this is why to go, what AGA was saying when older people retire, they don't have that focus of a job anymore to put their attention towards, and perhaps without a project, without picking up a new hobby that ruminating that attention goes the pulling sweater threads that they shouldn't be pooling, which will have a direct impact on their declining health without those projects.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, so the idea being that if you're left to your own devices, you're going to start trying to find flaws and accentuate those.

Speaker 3: Well, I know if I don't have things to focus on, I'm directly responsible for my own instruction instruction. That's the [inaudible],

Speaker 1: You know, uh, a restless mind like an Unquiet mind is a great book, an old book on an Unquiet mind. So this is an interesting topic, right? Because when I was researching the book, I spoke to a lot of people from a lot of different areas of life. And consistently people often ask me, how do I quiet the voice, right? Because if there's time for it to chat, inevitably, it goes to chatter, not the positive thing. And I think the real challenge is not to figure out how to silence this voice. It's how to harness it. And we have, you know, we have the ability, like when you have a mind that is free, you don't have something to occupy your attention. If we think about what are the possibilities now, where you could definitely try to focus on every floor and fix it and anticipate every worst case scenario, I would argue that that is not a happy mind to be in if that's what you're spending most of your time doing.

Speaker 1: Look, I bet we've all been there at times, right? Not pleasant, but there's a whole universe of possibilities for ways of you to use that mind more constructively that might bring you more happiness and satisfaction fantasizing like about, about your best case scenarios in the future. Experiencing this style, [inaudible] savoring the past. So in a certain sense, I think for a long time now in popular, in, in, in current culture, the zeitgeists has been when we float away, we could go to bad places. So let's figure out how to remain, present, focused, focused on what is happening in the moment and really experience it. There could be great. That comes from being in the moment when I am at the soccer field in a, what feels like a former life with my kids. I just want to be in the moment watching them play and joining.

Speaker 1: When I'm on a date with my wife, I just want to be present with her, not thinking about other things, but in a lot of my other spare time, I want to be going into the past and future and navigating that mental time in constructive ways. And we all have the ability to do that. The question is, can we use science to help us? Time-travel more effectively without getting stuck in the past I E rumination or stuck in the future. I worry that I think is the big challenge we face. And I don't think the solution is to just always refocus on the now that's one solution, but there are many, many others

Speaker 2: Point that you make in the book around social media and the now, and just how detrimental it is because we are wiring ourselves to get that instant response, that instant feedback, that instant comment I have this feeling, I have this emotion. I feel it strongly, I need some sort of response when actuality time is what heals a lot of these concerns and this rumination sitting with it, not immediately sharing it with someone revisiting it later in the day, sleeping on it and allowing your dreams to process that inner voice as well. We could talk about the science there creates that opportunity for growth versus the immediacy of going online, finding someone else who feels the exact same emotion strongly so that you're validated. And many of us are, are falling into this pattern of like seeking these outlets. Whereas we're removing the in-person experience. Now, obviously the pandemic has, has also taken its toll in that, but you know, Johnny and I are really concerned as we come out of this, you know, how many people are going to choose to stay in this digital artificial world and not utilize the tools that science shows of real person in con in conversation, communication presence creates the space for our mind to handle the chatter.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Social media is a really interesting space to think about chatter because in a certain sense, I think social media provides us with this giant megaphone for our inner voice, and that can have good or bad consequences for us, depending on how you use that. Megaphone. And I don't know that all of us are being really deliberate about how we use social media. I think increasingly we are, but if you rewind the clock 10 years ago, we just got on Facebook. We just got on Twitter. We didn't really think twice about how to use it. So here are two, two things to consider when it comes to social media and your inner voice that I think are important. One is we are intensely motivated to share our chatter, to talk about it with others or lots of studies that show that, and social media provides us with the ability to instantly do that, right?

Speaker 1: Because we have smartphones in our pockets or watches with us all times whenever we want, like, if we experience an emotion, we can share it with someone else at its very peak. And as you described AAJ, that's interesting because in the offline world, the physical world, right, we're also motivated to share our feelings, but we've got to find someone to share them with. And time usually passes when we're finding someone to talk to and time does take the edge off our emotions. There's also something else that once we're in the offline world, and once we find someone to talk to, we usually have a face that we're communicating with, or if we're on the phone, we can hear their voice and faces and voices are filled with information that provides us feedback with how our communications are affecting others. So if I say something that insults the two of you, I'm registering that on your face.

Speaker 1: And that in turn is constraining. How I subsequently speak back to you, social media, our emotions are triggered. We can share, we're just typing it into a field. There's no other human being on the other side of that communication that we're looking at to know what effect is this message going to have as a result, you get things like cyber bullying and trolling saying things. You'd regret that. I think we have a large record now of, of instances of that coming back to haunt us. So, so that's the dark side of social media. When it comes to chatter and our emotional lives, the positive side is social media does give us opportunity to get support from large networks of people and establish connections and also provide support to others. So, you know, you want to be smart with how you use it. What I like to tell people is if in the offline world, if you go into the wrong neighborhoods and you speak to the wrong people, guess what you're going to get into big trouble. If you go into the right neighborhoods and you conduct yourself the right way, you're going to benefit the same is true on social media. There are smart and not smart ways of interacting with it

Speaker 2: Could not agree more. And thinking about this in, in going through the book, a piece of advice, my dad always gave me around chatter, was sleep on it and sleep forced time to pass the emotional response in my body waned, but dreams also play a role in this. And I found that bit of the science behind dreams and chatter in our head and the interplay to be so fascinating. So what does the research show sleep does to our chatter and how can we utilize it? I know many of us are struggling with sleepless nights because of chatter and probably not optimizing for sleep, but those dreams and sleep, play a big role in our ability to work through the chatter that's holding us back.

Speaker 1: So dreams are a fascinating area for search and we are really just beginning to scratch the surface. It's pretty remarkable given how prevalent a role teams play in our lives, how little that we still understand them that said there is some work that I find fascinating that suggests that part of what we do in our dreams is simulate threats. It's called a threat simulation hypothesis. And the idea is that, you know, we're having these wacky dreams be naked at school, or, you know, other manifestations of that, that many of us have had the ideas were true, where we're in our sleep anticipating bad things that may happen in the future and trying to problem solve and work them out. And so there is a level of actual processing working through that is occurring while we sleep. It's a hypothesis, there is some evidence behind it and I think it is quite useful.

Speaker 1: Now, now the big question with sleep, how do I not have chatter when I sleep? Because it often makes sleeping very difficult, which in turn makes life very difficult. The best advice I could give is try to work on the chatter during the day. If you nip it in the bud during the day, the likelihood that it's going to impact you while you're sleeping is going to be much lower. You're already somewhat behind the eight ball. If it's 11 o'clock at night and chatter is brewing, it becomes more challenging because the resources, the mental resources we have to combat it are already depleted, but, but you want to practice good sleep hygiene, but you know, simple things, right? Like not checking your email or social media before bed, not reading things that are going to get, you know, your mind going and cause you to think about work and problems. You really want to go to that happy place. If you will, several hours before you're ready to go to bed to really volitionally, try to put yourself in a position to have a, uh, an uninterrupted night of rest.

Speaker 2: Well, I know some of the more counterintuitive advice, many of us feel like we need to just distance ourselves from that chatter. If I can just distract myself, if I could just find something else to focus on, it'll be handled, but that's actually not the truth either. So this idea that we need to chase video games or chase something else, it's an escape. Again, it's not the healthiest way to deal with this chatter that's going on. Yeah,

Speaker 1: Absolutely not. So what you want to do is take a step back in order to then approach the problem. So in a lot of the studies and the research I talk about in the book, you're giving them a little bit of distance, right? What is Ethan feeling? How can Ethan deal with the situation? Let me think about this situation. You know, how am I going to feel six months from now? So we're, we're letting people quote unquote, step back, but then we're asking them to try to work through the experience to approach it. What you don't want to do is ask people to avoid thinking about the experience to distract, to suppress consistently research shows that this backfires and the reason is really straightforward. You've got a problem. If you don't deal with that problem, it's going to persist. So if you try to go to the movies to get your mind off the problem, if it's a really good movie, then yeah, maybe you'll get two hours of relief. But once you get out of the movie and you're reminded of the problem, all the negative feelings come back. So what you really want to do is reframe how you're thinking about this issue. Once you reframe it and you reduce its negative qualities, it becomes a lot easier to move on with your life.

Speaker 2: Now as a father, I'm sure there are times where you'd like to quiet your children's chatter. We've talked a little bit about how we can manage it ourselves. We've talked a little bit about how we can manage it and others, but are there specific strategies that you employ as a parent in dealing with developing minds that might be different than approaching two adults in a relationship and in their chatter?

Speaker 1: Absolutely. So I use something called the Batman effect. I leverage that, which involves you can think of that as like a super, super hero version of distance. Self-talk I'll ask my kids to imagine their superhero, Dora, the Explorer wonder woman, pretend you're wonder woman. How would wonder woman deal with this really, really annoying tasks that you have to do? Call yourself, wonder woman, coach yourself through it. All right. Wonder woman would do this superheroes don't give up, right? They persist. So I'll use that tool. I'll try to be a chatter adviser to them in the ways that we've talked about, I'll also do something called invisible support. So one thing we haven't talked about, which is important, I think for relationships is this idea. So there will be moments in all of our lives. When we see our friends, our loved ones, our colleagues struggling, but they don't ask us for help.

Speaker 1: We see that they could benefit from it, but they're not asking us if we volunteer support in those instances, there's a risk. It may blow up in our face. Like when I volunteer support to my daughter, when she's working on her homework and hasn't asked me what you don't think I can do this myself. I think I'm an idiot. You know, mom, you know, it's all over. And then I'm in my office by myself, feeling that chatter on my own. What I've done there by volunteering support is without being asked for. I threatened my daughter's sense of autonomy agency self-worth and those are really important qualities that we all strive to have. Like we can do something on our own. So you want to tread carefully in those instances. And the good news is there are still ways to help other people who are struggling when they don't ask.

Speaker 1: You're just, you're helping outside of awareness. So simple things you could do. If my wife's experiencing chat or she's work kids, lots of stuff, I could do things like take care of dinner, pick up the dry cleaning, like make her life easier in a few different ways. I take the edge off that can help. If someone in my lab is struggling with, with their writing and it's just not working, you know, I can write an announcement to the entire group and say, Hey, here's a book that I just benefited from on writing. I think we should all check it out and have a discussion about it. Or there's a guest speaker coming. Why don't we all go, go listen to them, right? I'm not shining a spotlight on them. And instead, but I'm still getting the information that they can benefit from. So I do that with my daughters, invisible support.

Speaker 1: I touch them affectionately and that means not creepy, but, um, I'll give them hugs and we'll play and, and, you know, touch affectionate, touch one. It is wanted, huge disclaimer has to be wanted, right? Powerful regulatory tool touches. The way we are first is the most primitive emotion regulation tool. A baby is born into the world crying. What do we do? We hold them. We caress them. We do this to our children throughout their lives. We do it to our partners, lots of research showing that when you engage in that kind of affectionate embrace, that can help release stress, fighting chemicals that help manage chatter. So I do that with my kids. I'll also do things like take them for walks in the park. We know there's lots of great data showing that exposure to green spaces can help replenish our mental reserves, which chatter deplete. So, so those are the kinds of things I tend to do with my kids.

Speaker 2: I love those. And I could definitely see their benefit in those moments. And we've all been there, whether they're kids or adults, where that chatter is overwhelming. One last question, before you go, we appreciate the time we love asking all of our guests what their X factor is. That's allowed them to reach great success. It could be a skill set or a mindset or a combination of both that sets you apart.

Speaker 1: I'm a, I'm a huge optimist and I'm incorrigible in my optimism. And so that doesn't mean I don't get upset at things, but I am constantly reframing them positively. I'm realistic, but a friend who is less of an optimist once asked me, why am I so positive, Ethan? You know, and my answer was simple. It beats the alternative. And I think there's a lot of science behind that. And so, so that's what keeps me going

Speaker 3: The stack on. And I know so many people who use that idea of they like to call a realism, but it's, it's pessimism and it's hurting their lives, but they, they find such great pleasure in it. And they wear it as a badge of honor. And it's like, you're in your own way. And until you drop this, you're, you're not going to make any progress.

Speaker 1: It certainly doesn't, it doesn't work for me. And you know, I think the odds are often stacked so far against us in so many different ways that look it's de-motivating right. Why stack them any further? Thank you for joining us. Totally go blue, go blue. This was a ton of fun, great conversation. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Speaker 3: This week's out out. Cause the Samuel MACI's, she's been following us for quite some time and he wrote me to say how excited he was, that we are bringing back our challenge and free monthly trainings to our art of charm Facebook group.

Speaker 2: Sam has been following us since 2015 in our Facebook challenge group and Johnny and I are so excited to fire it back up. That's right. If you're a super fan of the show, we go live every single week after the podcast drops to answer your questions about each and every episode and some cool challenges every weekend to push you outside of your comfort zone, grow your confidence and supercharge your social skills. If you want to join in on the fun head over to the art of charm.com/challenge to join our Facebook community and see Johnny and I live each and every week inside of that group. That's the art of charm.com/challenge.

Speaker 3: Also, could you do us in the entire Arctic time team, a big favor, could you head on over to iTunes and rate and review this podcast? It would mean the world to us and it helps others find the show.

Speaker 2: The art of charm podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week I may Jay

Speaker 3: I'm Johnny. See you next week. [inaudible].

Check in with AJ and Johnny!

AJ Harbinger - author of 1175 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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