Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It (Book Notes)

I recently finished reading the book Chatter, an excellent book on the power of positive and negative self talk. This topic is very relevant as much of my time spent with clients is helping them identify and overcome limiting beliefs. They want to break free from stories that have hold them back and no longer serve them. They need help moving forward.

Here are my two biggest lessons from the book: the power of journaling and using distance self-talk.

The Power of Journaling

Chatter author Ethan Kross writes:

Although journaling has surely been around nearly as long as the written word, it is only in the past few decades that research has begun to illuminate the psychological consolation it provides. Much of this work has been pioneered by the psychologist James Pennebaker.

Over the course of a long and distinguished career, he has shown that simply asking people to write about their most upsetting negative experiences for fifteen to twenty minutes—to create a narrative about what happened, if you will—leads them to feel better, visit the doctor less, and have healthier immune function. By focusing on our experiences from the perspective of a narrator who has to create a story, journaling creates distance from our experience. We feel less tied to it.

I’ve seen the power of journaling in my life and the lives of others. For example, my wife did a study abroad in Israel for four of the six months we were engaged. This period was really hard on me. Due to the time difference, there was never a good time for us to speak. And when we could speak, our time was limited as there was one phone for her classmates to share.

To say I didn’t handle this period well is an understatement. I’ll spare the details, but as the weeks went by, I grew anxious and depressed. I knew this was an incredible opportunity for her, but I started to resent her for being gone. I knew that if I didn’t pull myself together, I risked permanent damage to our relationship.

After discussing this with my dad, he invited me to journal. He told me that if I wrote down everything I was experiencing, every single day, I’d find the strength and peace I needed to get through this period. It worked. Journaling gave me a place to pour all my feelings, which allowed me to put a halt to the constant replay. Journaling helped me self regulate and see things more clearly.

When my clients are experiencing persistent negative feelings, I invite them to journal. They’ve seen similar benefits.

Using Distance Self-Talk

This was a new lesson for me. (Note that the author defines chatter as negative self-talk.)

The ability to “step back” from the echo chamber of our own minds so we can adopt a more objective perspective is an important tool for combating chatter. One way to create distance when you’re experiencing chatter involves language.

When you’re trying to work through a difficult experience, use your own name to coach yourself through a problem. Doing so is linked with less activation in brain networks associated with rumination and leads to improved performance under stress, wiser thinking, and less negative emotion.

Another way to think about your experience from a distanced perspective is to imagine what you would say to a friend experiencing the same problem as you. Think about the advice you’d give them and then apply it to yourself.

I love that Kross invites us to imagine what we might say to a friend experiencing the same challenge. I’ve found this approach effective with clients as we’re often harder on ourselves than those we care about, and it reframes the problem to be more solvable.

Overall, I thought Chatter was a great book that explores a topic we experience all the time but don’t talk about enough.

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