December 3, 2023

A few weeks ago, New York Times published an article titled “How to Stop Overthinking”. If your social media feeds are anything like mine, you’ve seen them pop up with some frequency since then. “Maybe you spend hours replaying in your head a tense conversation you had with your boss,” writes its author Hannah Seo. “Maybe you can’t stop thinking about where things went wrong with your ex in the weeks and months after the breakup.” The popularity of the work speaks to the commonness of these tendencies.

But if “your thoughts are so overwhelming and overwhelming that you can’t seem to stop them,” leading to distraction and disorganization at work and at home, “you’re probably experiencing rumination.” For this broader phenomenon, University of Michigan psychology professor Ethan Kross has more suggestive name: chatter.

“Your inner voice is your ability to silently use language to think about your life,” he explains in the Big Think video above. “Braving refers to the dark side of the inner voice. When we turn our attention inward to make sense of our problems, we end up not finding solutions. We will end up with brooding, worry, and disaster.”

Although our inner voice is an invaluable tool for planning, memory and self-control, it also has a way of turning against us. “It makes it incredibly difficult for us to focus,” Kross says, and it can also have “severe negative effects on physical health” when we’re constantly stressed about long-past events. “We experience a stressor in our lives. Then it ends, but it perpetuates our chatter in our minds. We keep thinking about that event over and over again.” When you’re in them, such mental loops can seem endless and can have lastingly dire consequences in our personal and professional lives. For those who need a way to break free, Kross emphasizes the power of rituals.

“When you’re experiencing chatter, you often feel like your thoughts are controlling you,” she says. But “we can compensate for this out-of-control feeling by creating order around us. Rituals are one way to do that.” Doing certain actions in exactly the same way every time gives you “a sense of order and control that can feel really good when you’re drowning in chatter.” In his book, Kross delves into the range of tools for controlling the chatter available to us (such as “distance talk”, which involves perceiving and addressing oneself as if it were someone else). Chatter: The Voice in Our Heads, Why It Matters, and How to Use It. His interview with Chase Jarvis above offers a preview of his content — and a reminder that sometimes a podcast works as well as anything to silence the chatter.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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