Where did I hear about Chatter by Ethan Kross? On The Happiness Lab podcast! As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and before I get in the car for any trip, I load up my playlist with a few hours of “my shows.” When I saw the title “How Do I Stop Negative Self-talk?” I put it at the top immediately.
Negative self-talk is one of my most intrusive and upsetting habits. If you could hear it…ugg…you’d call social services and report abuse. It can get pretty bad. Something happens, I feel stupid and start to berate myself, then I get madder at myself for being mad in the first place, and then the spiral downward begins. How do I pull myself back out? I’m not sure. I know I’ve done it because I’m still here, but I have never been able to do it on purpose, until I read this book!
What was it that got my attention and helped me embrace some new practices? Science!
This book isn’t spiritual. It also doesn’t get so deep into the science of the brain that you get lost. It’s light and practical, as if a good friend (a smart one that has their shit together) is sharing some insights that they’ve found. The subtitle of the book is another clue to why I felt I could trust it, The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It. We all have a superpower locked inside us. It’s time we start using it for good instead of evil.
While reading, I took eight whole pages of notes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to copy them all out here! Most of them are only important to me, personal thoughts and ideas. What I hope is to share enough with you to get you to go out and read this book. In my world, it’s required reading for the course!
The book took off like a shot for me with this glorious bit of encouragement.
“Introspection simply means actively paying attention to one’s own thoughts and feelings. The ability to do this is what allows us to imagine, remember, reflect, and then use these reveries to problem solve, innovate, and create.”
That’s such a better way to explain what my mind does all day long. I have been accused of “overthinking” so many times in my life and every time I hear that word I cringe. Yes, I am aware of the world around me, my actions in it, how they affect the people in my life, and consider how I can do better. I wish more people would.
Here’s another one.
“This pattern of hopscotching through time and space in their inner conversations highlights something we all noticed about our own mind: it is an avid time traveler.”
We’re time travelers! I knew it! And we all know that time travel can be a tricky thing. We don’t want to get stuck in a time loop!
“The ability to engage in mental time travel is an exceedingly valuable feature of the human mind. It allows us to make sense of our experiences in ways that other animals can’t, not to mention make plans and prepare for contingencies in the future.”
I read a lot about staying present, another skill I’ve been working on, but while reading about that I had a thought. If we stay in the present moment at all times, not considering the past or future, wouldn’t that make us the same as any other animal? One of the things that makes humans so amazing is that we CAN learn from our past and plan for the future, right? Maybe there’s a balance we can find.
In the last chapter, Kross (in his infinite wisdom) listed out the tools he had been describing in detail throughout the book, a sort of cheat-sheet! My favorite tools, ones that I have written down to practice, are:
“Distanced self-talk:” using your name and second person you. Sounds crazy, but it works immediately. Several times already, I’ve come up to some feeling I wasn’t thrilled to have and stopped in my tracks. “Listen, Michelle, you know this is only temporary. Take a deep breath and calm those nerves of yours, you can handle this.”
“Reinterpret your body’s chatter response.” This is much like meditation practice, feeling whatever you are feeling in your body and accepting its presence. When I feel sad or scared, I FEEL it all over my body. It starts as pain in my chest and radiates down my arms and into my hands, up into my throat, and into my stomach. I feel like I’m dying and panic to stop whatever I think is causing it, usually causing even more painful problems. Lately, I’ve been sitting with that pain and letting it flow over me. Instead of succumbing the negative chatter, I speak kindly to myself, “You’ve felt this before. It is not death. Just wait.”
This one is my favorite.
“Reframe your experience as a challenge.” Reframing in general is one of my favorite thought practices these days. It works wonders! Social situations are perfect for this. Instead of attempting to flee immediately, or move through it, head down, hands clenched, I can say to myself, “Can I get through this without losing my shit? Possibly. Let’s see.” The last few situations I’ve been in have been progressively better. Sure, I had a few small panic attacks, and I yelled a bit about this thing, BUT I did GO, I didn’t complain every moment, or work out different ways to get out of it, and no one looked like they were afraid I was going to explode. Progress!
One more thing before I go, and you go out and get this book.
“The human mind is one of evolution’s greatest creations, not just because it allowed our species to survive and thrive, but because in spite of the inevitable pain that comes with life, it also endowed us with a voice in our head capable of not only celebrating the best times but also making meaning out of the worst times. It’s this voice, not the din of chatter, that we should listen to.”
Our minds are amazing, and we should be using them, not letting them use us. We all tend to hyper-focus. We all think we are the center of the universe. There are ways to help ourselves and those around us to put some distance between us and our problems, sense the awe and wonder in the world, use our physical world to bring us peace and order, use mind magic to heal ourselves through placebo, and remind ourselves of the big picture through personal rituals.
Another piece of the puzzle set in place because I listened to a podcast on my way into the city.