" Chatter consists of the cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that turn our singular capacity for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing. It puts our performance, decision making, relationships, happiness, and health in jeopardy. "

Chatter: the Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It, Ethan Kross, 2021


Chatter is about the echo chamber of our own minds, the phenomenon of self-talk, its causes and consequences. The author Ethan Kross is an experimental psychologist who studies the science of introspection: he knows what he’s chattering about.

If you have ever rehearsed a difficult conversation beforehand, reworked a past moment to make yourself sound brilliant or ‘given yourself a good talking to’ when you’ve anticipated failure then you’ve met the voice in your head. This voice is seen by scientists as ‘an evolutionary advance that distinguishes human beings from other species.’

So What? 

However, don’t listen to that voice; control that voice. Some people benefit from focusing inward to understand their feelings, while other people crumble. Kross describes how a Major League pitcher with a ‘spectacular career’ ahead of him crumbled very publicly when chatter hijacked his inner voice. After five wild pitches in front of a capacity crowd this elite athlete was withdrawn. He never played again. Engaging in introspection does more harm than good. It undermines your ability to ‘live in the present.’

As naturally as we breathe, we “decouple” from the here and now, our brains transporting us to past events, imagined scenarios, and other internal musings.’

Now What?

The inner voice is a feature of the human mind. The challenge is to turn what could be a curse into a blessing. To do this Kross provides ‘tools’ to help control your chatter and step back from your own mind. Here’s a sample.

  • Distanced self-talk. When you’re trying to work through a difficult experience, use your name and the second person “you” to refer to yourself. 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.
  • Advising another. Gain a distanced perspective by imagining what you would say to a friend experiencing the same problem as you.
  • Reframe your experience as a challenge.
  • Normalise the experience. Knowing that you are not alone in your experience can be a potent way of quelling chatter.
  • Build a board of advisers. A group of confidants you can turn to for support in the different areas of your life in which you are likely to find your inner voice running amok.
  • Create order in your environment.
  • Get outdoors. Spending time in green spaces helps replenish the brain’s limited attentional reserves, which are useful for combating chatter.

Chatter is an easy read. It’s well researched with extensive references. It’s useful and would reward revisits.