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"Chatter," | Reviewed by Nelson Appell

We all have a voice in our head. Sometimes that voice goes excessively negative. Scientist Ethan Kross calls this chatter. One dark night Kross, who specializes in studies of self-control, found himself clutching a baseball bat in his living room, waiting for an intruder to force his way into the home. He had no plan. Gripped by fear, he struggled to extricate himself from the chatter in his head. He could not deflect his negative self-talk.

That experience led to his book, “Chatter: The Voice in our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.” In this helpful and fascinating book, Kross delivers a helpful look at what chatter is and how to control its negative effects.

Growing up, Kross’ father advised him to “go inside” when faced with tough questions. His father’s answer to distressful situations was introspection. However, modern studies indicate that, for many people, this is the wrong approach. When faced with a distressing situation, engaging with introspection “often does significantly more harm than good.”

Why is introspection sometimes unhelpful? What should we do instead? How do we change the nature of our conversations with ourselves? These are all questions Kross answers.

Kross is a good storyteller, and able to explain the science of the brain clearly. He explains the science of the development of our inner voice and why it’s important. Following the case of Jill Bolte Taylor, he demonstrates what happens when the inner voice goes quiet: Taylor loses herself in a seductive and disorienting way that felt like going to “La-la Land.”

When the necessary inner voice goes negative, it creates problems for us. We risk friendships by complaining too much. (And we don’t even get what we need from all that complaining.) We unlearn skills we have acquired—like an athlete who suddenly can’t perform anymore.

Kross covers the myriad ways our inner voice can go wrong. Then he tells us what modern research says to counteract that negative voice. The last chapter is essential—it contains a list of all the techniques he discusses in the book.

If you ever struggle with negative thoughts, “Chatter” provides some helpful perspective and tools that allow you to calm that voice and live your life.

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