In Art Of Coaching Podcast, Podcasts

How is it that our minds- complex and powerful beyond measure, capable of constructing skyscrapers and inventing life-saving procedures, can simultaneously be our greatest enemy? 

The answer may reside in our “chatter”, the ruminating, negative voice in our head that reminds us of our fears and insecurities while democratizing the human condition. 

On today’s episode, we’re diving deep into what “triggers” this inner voice and some very practical tools that can prevent it from overpowering our current condition. 

Ethan Kross is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. An award-winning professor in the University of Michigan’s top ranked Psychology Department and its Ross School of Business, he is the director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory.

Ethan has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed about his research on CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition. His research has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Science.

We discuss: 

  • What is “chatter”, where does it come from and how can we nip it in the bud?
  • 3 practical strategies to combat these negative thoughts and voices
  • The benefit of creating a personal “chatter board of advisors”
  • Tips for using and desiging your environment to quiet your mind 

Connect with Ethan:

Via his website:

Via Instagram: @ethankross 

Via Twitter: @ethan_kross


Some of the chatter I have surrounds my lack of activity when I’m on the road and the toll travel takes on my body. Luckily, packing my SAGA BFR cuffs in my suitcase has helped immensely. If you’re like me and want a tool to help you get a hard, efficient workout that you can take anywhere (including a hotel room), check out their WIRELESS BRF cuffs. Code BRETT20 will get you 20% OFF your order (nearly $50!). 

The Apprenticeship – Join us before the end of the year!

  • Nashville: September 25-26th – SOLD OUT


Brett Bartholomew  0:01  

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Welcome to the Art of coaching podcast a show aimed at getting to the core of what it takes to change attitudes, behaviors and outcomes in the weight room, boardroom classroom and everywhere in between. I’m your host, Brett Bartholomew, I’m a performance coach, keynote speaker and the author of the book conscious coaching. But most importantly, I’m a lifelong student interested in all aspects of human behavior and communication. I want to thank you for joining me and now let’s dive into today’s episode.


Today’s episode we have Ethan Kross. Now Ethan is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. He’s an award winning professor at the University of Michigan’s top ranked psychology department and its Ross School of Business. He’s the director of the emotion and self control laboratory. And why I love this conversation so much is it’s so much about the inner voice and how that can stagnate us or how it can propel us if we learn how to better harness it. You guys know that I am very much against any kind of fluff based leadership. This is as practical as it gets. So please join me tune in and engage with Ethan Kross.


Welcome back, everybody. I am here with Ethan Kross, the author of chatter the voice in our head and why it matters. Ethan, thanks for sitting down with me.


Ethan Kross  2:38  

I’ve been looking forward to this conversation all day, Brett, thanks for having me.


Brett Bartholomew  2:41  

Likewise, listen, we’re gonna jump right into it. It’s something we were talking about off camera and off air is our mutual disdain for one size fits all advice. Now. You know, sometimes guests get worried and think, Oh, does this need to follow some kind of narrative doesn’t need to follow a narrative other than things that people can relate to. So I’d love to know more about why chatter, what Chatter is and how it fits into this kind of rally against the one size fits all advice we see with mental health and the things we tell ourselves. When we struggle in everyday life. If you don’t mind. That’s a whole other question to start off in it.


Ethan Kross  3:14  

Yeah, seven parts. Let’s do it. So. So let’s start with the what is chatter? So chatter refers to us getting stuck in a negative thought loop. And that can happen quite frequently. And it happens to most of us at some point in our lives. So here’s how this works, right? Something negative has happened, you’re thinking about something negative that could happen. And you focus your attention and work to try to work through that problem. Hey, how can I fix this issue that occurred in the past? Or how can I prepare myself for this thing that I’m stressed about in the future, but rather than come up with a solution, you end up just spinning, you focus on the issue over and over and over again, to the point where you become increasingly distressed in ways that make it really hard for you to think and perform in ways that can undermine your relationships with other people, and also undermine your physical health. So that’s what Chatter is. And I think it is one of the big problems we face as a species. And I’m not trying to be overly exaggerating when I say that if you look at the data and the statistics, which I have. It’s quite astounding. You know, the World Health Organization recently put a price tag on chatter in the form of anxiety and depression, which is when chatter really is taken to an extreme. And that price tag was over a trillion dollars. I believe that’s the that’s the last that the hit we take in terms of productivity in the workplace on the ball field. And that’s just part of that the negative consequences, right, it also, chatter can push other people we care about a way because we think about our own problems and we’re supposed to be listening to others and that’s not good and damage our health. 


So, it’s a big problem. That’s what I’ve devoted my life to studying. In particular, the approach that I’ve taken is to use science, the methods of science to figure out, hey, why is it that we have this pretty amazing tool, which is our mind, right? That can help us do all sorts of amazing things like build spaceships, and vaccines and hospitals and all sorts of stuff that when we put our mind to it, but when it comes to solving a problem, like getting into an argument with someone else, or, or being concerned about how we’re going to perform on a big stage, we end up crumbling. So how can we use science to figure out why that happens, and most importantly, to identify tools that people can use to harness their mind to make it work for them rather than against them. And I want to just focus for a second on that word, I use tools plural. Because what we have learned is that there are no one size fits all solutions to managing our chatter. There are a boatload of different types of tools that exist, for helping us manage it. And I think science has done a great job identifying individual tools. But what we haven’t yet figured out is how those tools come together for different people in different situations. And that’s the challenge that I think listeners face. And it’s what we’re doing lots of studies on right now. But I would be really wary of anyone who says, Hey, I’ve got the one secret magic fix to your worry and rumination. I’ve been doing research in this space for a long time. And I have yet to see anything that comes close to providing a one size fits all solution.


Brett Bartholomew  6:45  

Yeah, and it’s a needed and I appreciate the level of detail you went in with everything there. I’m glad you emphasize tool. Because what’s interesting is you’ve provided a lot of research, I remember one article of yours in particular that I enjoyed was self talk as a regulatory mechanism. And aside from reading your book, you know, when we do think of tools, it’s great to have that information. Right? How many of you don’t mind me asking how many articles in total Have you published? And there’s a reason I’m asking this, but in general, how many have you been a part of or published? 


Ethan Kross  7:13  

A little over 100 


Brett Bartholomew  7:14  

Right, significant. And then this book, I mean, significant. I mean, your work is prolific. It’s all over the place. What I love about it, though, specifically is it’s practical, because what we see as information alone doesn’t change behavior. And it certainly isn’t gonna change chatter, right, we can become more aware of it. Right? we all know that we do it. My chatter tends to take the form of perfectionism, right? Even when doing research and saying, Hey, I really enjoy this person’s work. Wow, he’s been interviewed by Anderson Cooper, wow, he’s been interviewed by this person, that person, what can I bring to the table? How am I you know, who’s probably a nobody to this guy. Can I make this an enjoyable conversation? But then it touches on something else you said, and this is where the skill, right? The tools can’t just be information. It’s got to be the skill of listening. I’m actually interested in you. And by and large, that’s going to make our conversation go in a different place. I’d be fascinated knowing where your chatter comes from what form does your personal chatter, because you’re able to give words and names and meaning to that in a way that most people can’t, until they read your book. But I’m very fascinated by you, if you wouldn’t mind sharing a little bit more about where this came from within you.


Ethan Kross  8:21  

So so my interest in chatter or my chatter triggers?


Brett Bartholomew  8:24  

I want to know, yeah, the form that your chatter if you want to use that term triggers or just what how would you kind of when I say mine is very much based on perfectionism and wanting people to feel like you’re having a great experience, and they’re heard and they’re listened to, and they’re valued. What is yours? Tell you, I mean, even right now, if there’s chatter going on.


Ethan Kross  8:41  

Yeah, you know, right now I’m, knock on wood in a very happy place. There’s no great, no terrible chatter. So thank you for not eliciting any in me. But that’s not to say I don’t experience chatter at times. You know, I would say, let’s back up, I think thinking about this, Hey, what are our chatter triggers is really important, because, you know, all of us have our own unique that much chatter minefields, right, that can elicit these reactions and knowing what those are, I think it’s step one, to figuring out how to navigate them. 


So when it comes to like, my kids, my kids well being my family’s well being that is a potent source of chatter for me. When one of my daughters gets sick, the world stops, and, you know, I can begin to see that chatter brewing and I then take corrective action to nip it in the bud. But I would say, that’s probably one when it comes to work, you know, I definitely don’t want to get things wrong. So I think there is that element to it. And I’m really careful about not getting it wrong. And but if it’s a big project with high stakes, certainly there can be some chatter Hey, so when writing this book All right, this book is a distillation of, you know, 20 years of my professional life doing research. But as I talk about in my book, I have been thinking about these things for close to 40 years due to just, you know, my upbringing. I really didn’t want to get things wrong with the book. So yeah, there’d be times where I’d work on a few chapters. And then, in the middle of the night, I dream about this stuff. And I wake up, Did I mess up and so? So yeah, I have some triggers. And they’re probably work and relationship based. But thankfully, I should also say that I do practice these tools and the stuff that I talk about in my own life. And they do, like, benefit me quite a bit. So I’ve never, I don’t think I could ever tell someone, you’re never going to experience chatter. Again, if you use tools, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the way the human mind works, right. But what I think the how I think these tools can really help is when the chatter starts coming, bubbling up, you can use them to sniff that out really fast. And I think I’ve gotten really good at doing that,


Brett Bartholomew  11:21  

to those tools that I appreciated most is one that I’ve used for a while, but I think that you did a much better job explaining it to make it very tactical for people in the book is, of course, distance based self talk. Now, there’s another one I want to talk about. But I don’t want to throw a seven part questions at you again. So talk to us a little bit more about distance based self talk, and how that can be utilized for people that are experiencing significant chatter. 


Ethan Kross  11:45  

Sure, you know, distance self talk is probably my first line of defense when it comes to chatter. And essentially, what it involves doing is trying to give yourself advice, like you would give advice to your best friend, and use language to help you do that, specifically use your own name, or the second person pronoun you to coach yourself through a problem or anything, how are you going to manage a situation, if you think about when we use names, and second person pronouns, most of the time we use those parts of speech, we use them when we think about and refer to other people. So a really tight link between names and thinking about others in our minds. And what that does for us, when we use our own name, to coach ourselves to a problem, it essentially turns on the mental machinery that we have for weighing in on other people’s circumstances as opposed to our own. And that is really important. It’s a very important skill. Because one of the things we know about people all of us is that we are much better at giving advice to other people than we are following our own advice right there. We have a saying for this do as I say, not as I do. 


And so distance self talk helps switch our perspectives, it puts us into that coaching mode, which we know can be really, really very useful. Interesting aside on this on this strategy, we’ve done a lot of experiments on this in the lab. And one experience that really stuck with me is in one study, we asked people to, think about something that was causing them chatter, like really stressing them out. And we had them in one condition, try to just tell us what was going through their head when they were experiencing chatter. And the other condition, we haven’t used distance off talk. 


Participants in the first condition, and we just asked them, like they were just thinking about their problems normally, I mean, that’s gonna tell us what the what was on their mind. Some of them like they felt uncomfortable actually sharing that with us, they were embarrassed to reveal how they were thinking about the situation. Right? They were saying things to themselves, that they would never dream of saying to someone else that they love, or someone that they don’t even love, like a you’re shit, there’s no way you can do this. You’re totally incompetent. Like many people, many of us sometimes think that way about ourselves. When would you ever tell your best friend, or your kid or your partner that if they came to you for advice, I would argue, probably close to never. And so the question is, how can we shift away from that kind of inner critic mode into a more coaching orientation? And distance self talk is one very easy to use tool that can help bring about that kind of mental shift.


Brett Bartholomew  14:41  

It’s a great explanation and I think something that’s poignant and I’d like you to weigh in on is there are plenty of folks that think to that that kind of self talk doesn’t happen to the perceived elite, right? The LeBron James is of the world or whatever, however, people right, who they look up to and what have you. And you know, I find In my opinion, that is incredibly false, right? I understand how they could think that way. But having worked with athletes and a number of folks at very high levels, and you’ve done so as well, in your own right in your domains, I mean, I find sometimes it’s even more common in these folks that have tremendous pressure, because it’s this idea, right of perceived power, oh, this person has power status, therefore, they must have resources that are far beyond mine to deal with this. And I think sometimes people forget that even though somebody might have greater social power or power base and rewards or what have you, you need those French and Raven, traditional power structures. That also means that fall from grace can be much more significant. Now, of course, irrelevant, right? Nobody’s situation. It’s not the suffering of Olympics. But I think sometimes people don’t always realize that that has only amplified in the world’s elite. Can you tell us a little bit more about your views on that?


Ethan Kross  15:50  

Yeah, you know, I think in an interesting way, Chatter is democratizing. It really levels, the playing field. You know, doing my research over the years and doing work on the book, I got a chance to speak to, you know, elite level athletes and coaches, and sea level executives, and doctors, and all sorts of really, really accomplished individuals. along with everyone else, I mean, lots of other people, people who like stay at home parents and Starbucks, baristas. And the constant was we all experience chatter at times. And we often struggle with it. And so, you know, in the same way that COVID doesn’t discriminate between different individuals, right? It, can affect us all the same is true with chatter. Now, I think one thing that does distinguish between the elite and not elite, is often the access to tools. And that’s certainly been true, if you want to stick with the analogy to COVID, and the vaccine and resources for taking care of yourself, there are huge disparities based on your position in society as to whether you have access to these resources. And one thing that I feel really strongly about, one of the reasons I like doing interviews like this, and one of the reasons I wrote my book, is to get word out about what these different tools are. So they’re not only reserved for folks who have elite level mental fitness coaches, or have access to talks by top level academics and whatnot, but really anyone who is motivated to work on managing their chatter. And so I think, you know, the beautiful thing about the tools that I talk about, in my book are that there was a lot of really like hard science and thinking power that went into the identification of these tools. But a lot of them are actually quite simple to use, once you know what they are. And I think, you know, that’s one hope is that after people read the book, or hear us talk, they have a better sense of where to look right to find these tools, and they know how to use them. 


So like distant self talk, use your name, to coach yourself through a problem, it’s a really simple thing to try using. So give it a shot, the next time you find yourself struggling, if it works for you keep using it, if it doesn’t work for you pivot and use a different tool. You know, that’s basically the approach that I endorse,


Brett Bartholomew  18:31  

I have conversations with myself to that effect all the time. I mean, even just, you know, during prior to COVID, I had worked for about two years, creating a new workshop. And a lot of our work is centered around communication strategies during high stakes situations. Now COVID came knocked out about 20 live events, and a lot of these events were tied to my doctorate. So you know, when we started after, some restrictions started easing up, we did small events, and you know, you had to kind of get back into it, blow some of the rust off, we had practice in some small pilot type scenarios. And I remember there were a few I just really didn’t like, you know, I thought that my sequencing or some of the things that we’re doing, I didn’t get a beta test enough. And so I just felt rusty. And I remember telling myself, I’d be like Brett, show out, you know, there are some things for sure that can be improved. That’s the nature of what this is. It’s an iterative process at the same time. Brett, did you show up? Are you on time? Did you answer questions is everything you’re talking about research backed or highly applicable, and reminding myself and telling myself as you mentioned, with the use of my name, that a lot of people in this pseudo leadership space, just mail it in, they mail it in with a lot of hype slides that you know, are just filled with cliches and what have you. So you know, not that we want to get people into self comparison. But when you are doing self talk, you’re right you do need to say your name, because to some it might sound cheesy, but really it has a focusing effect. It keeps the talk on you, instead of self comparison to others 


before I move to another two Well, that’s one of my favorites. Is there anything that you wanted to say about that? Or am I doing that distance self talk incorrectly?


Ethan Kross  20:06  

No, you’re doing it right. And, you know, I think one of the neat things is if once you have your antenna out looking for distance self talk, you’ll begin to see examples of it all around. There are a couple of stories I tell about people like LeBron James, as a matter of fact, and Jennifer Lawrence and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, they all use this tool when under stress. So it’s something that that is certainly out there and can be used. 


And one other thing I want to just draw attention to what you said bricklaying is very important. And we haven’t mentioned it yet. I want to give people just a framework for thinking about chatter. When people experience chatter, what often ends up happening is we zoom in really narrowly, onto the distress, right, we become totally immersive. Oh my god, that worship was awful. Like the look on the people’s faces, the eyes were glossing over. And I was stuttering. And I missed my talking points. And there’s overtime, you were just bathing in the negativity. What often helps in those instances is precisely what you did, which is getting some distance, right, stepping back to see the bigger picture. And that’s what you do when you coach yourself through that problem right there or that experience, you said to yourself, hey, wait, but I showed up, hey, I’m giving research back strategies, right? You, brought in the perspective just a little bit, which gave you an alternative way of making sense of that experience. It is usually possible for us to do that. Right. As bad as a situation is, we can usually zoom out in ways that are really helpful. And, you know, if you don’t know how to do it, you don’t. But the hope is that listeners will now try that. And that’ll help them


Brett Bartholomew  21:55  

absolutely another one that I thought was very practical. And it ties in with you talking about broadening your perspective is the chatter board. And I want to give you a chance to explain this before I talk about some areas that we’ve seen a lot of success with that as well, both in my life and with our attendees. But please, if you don’t mind, talk to us about the chatter board.


Ethan Kross  22:14  

So you know, there are three types of tools that we can use for managing chatter are things we could do on our own distance self talk is one example of many. Then there are our relationships with other people. That’s a second tool after the chatter board comes in the third category we may or may not have time to get into it are tools in our environment. So ways of interacting with our physical spaces to help us people tools, is, I think, an incredibly important topic for people to spend some time thinking about because a lot of us reflexively know, we understand that other people can help us when we’re dealing with chatter. And in many ways other people are in an ideal position to help us because our problems usually aren’t happening to them. So they have that distance, they have that broader perspective, to help coach us through the situation. But what we’ve learned from lots and lots of research is that oftentimes talking to other people, doesn’t help us work through our chatter and can actually make it worse. And the reason why that happens is many of us think that the route to talking effectively about Chatter is just just find someone to vent our emotions to just find someone to unload that distress. Hey, you know, Brett, I mean, let me give you a call up. You’re not going to believe what happened to be on this other interview. This son of a bleep said this


Brett Bartholomew  23:40  

happened just a moment ago before our interview. That’s  gonna happen.


Ethan Kross  23:43  

I thought you were gonna say it happened five minutes ago to you in this interview? Yeah. So I’m just joking. But yeah, so like, I start telling you about this awful experience. And then you start saying, No way that totally sucks. I can’t believe they have the audacity. And we go back and forth. We kind of pinball back in venting that experience. What happens when we vent our negative emotion to someone else is as follows. That’s really good for our friendship, that strengthens the connections between these each other like it’s good to know that you’re there you care enough about me to take the time to listen, to empathize, to validate my experience, but if all I do is vent with you about my feelings, I leave that conversation I’ve done nothing. to reframe my experience. I leave the conversation, just as pissed off, as I was when I started. The best kinds of conversations for helping people work through chatter do two things. It is important to find someone who will take some time to listen to what you’re going through. They do need to learn about what you’re feeling and feeling validated is really important. But at a certain point in the conversation. The person you’re talking to ideally helps you reframe that experience. I look at the bigger picture, hey, you’ve done a hundreds of workshops, man, you know, none of them were ever that bad. I’m sure this one wasn’t either.


Brett Bartholomew  25:15  

Hey we’ll get back to the episode here in a moment. But there’s something I want to point out that’s really critical. It’s not just self talk, or this chatter, that can keep us from improving in the ways that we want. But also our perception of skills that we take for granted every day, specifically communication, that we’re all born with the ability to communicate, that skill degrades with time and lack of practice, just as muscles atrophy with lack of use, or adequate overload. That’s why we call it social atrophy, when people just stay in their own bias lane, and they think I’m already good at communication. Why should I need to work on interaction? Isn’t it just motivational stuff you’re teaching me? No, you know, and that’s the irony. If you ask people, if they believe that communication is important, most will say, yeah, if you ask them to rank themselves on how strong of a communicator they believe themselves to be between one and 10, go even give you a score or a subjective answer. But then if you ask them how they actually came up with that score, and if they’ve ever actually been evaluated as a communicator, the answer is almost always a resounding no. And that’s an issue. People will always go to great lengths to ignore simple truths. But the fact is, the stronger we become as communicators, the more likely we’re able to grow in nearly every area of our life. 


So please join us. We have three more workshops done this year, and you’re always going to find an excuse. There’s never going to be enough time, there’s never going to be enough money. We all have hectic lives. But my question is, is think about all the times that you wish you had back the times or you put your foot in your mouth, the time where you made a decision under pressure, that wasn’t the best? What would that cost you? What would that save you if you could do it again, these are the skills we’re trying to teach. We’re trying to give you proactive perspective. We are going to be in Wales, we are going to be in Asheville, North Carolina, spots are going fast. Check it out at Again, that’s This is open to people from all professions, all ages, all walks of life. We’ll see you there. All right, back to Ethan Kross.


Ethan Kross  27:28  

Look at the bigger picture, hey, you’ve done hundreds of workshops, man, you know, none of them. Were ever that bad. I’m sure this one wasn’t either, or we just came off a pandemic, we haven’t like seen another human being live for several months, of course, you’re going to be a bit rusty, at least you’re back in the space. And you’re right. So lots of ways of shifting our perspective. That is what makes a really good chatter advisor, someone who listens, but then at the appropriate time, helps you reframe. 


And I think there are so I think there are two important take homes from the science that I would love listeners to take with them from this conversation. The first is, if you find yourself struggling with chatter, and you want to talk to someone else about Think, think really hard about who in your life can help you not just listen to you, but also help you reframe. It’s not always going to be the people who are closest to you who love you the most are some people who I love, they love me, I don’t talk about my chatter, they just make it worse. Who are the people who are really skilled in this regard, those are the people to talk to. And then the flip side is if someone comes to you with a problem, right, try to be a really good chatter advisor to them, and don’t just listen, but also, at the appropriate time, help them reframe that experience. That’s the formula. And I use the metaphor of having a board of advisors because I think it is really helpful. If you think about companies, companies have a board of advisors, like people who are carefully selected, who are wise in the ways of that company, right, you go to your board, when you’re struggling with something I think we’d all benefit from thinking really carefully and putting together our own board of advisors. So that’s my stick on other people and how they can help us. I’d love to hear about how this concept plays into your work, because you mentioned it does. 


Brett Bartholomew  29:24  

Yeah. So when we talk about the board, what I’ve found is a lot of times and you mentioned so many anchor points there is it’s important to have the board but also a board that is non bias. Right. And that’s tough to do. Because, of course we all have biases, right? But we find that one activity we do at our workshops is the Old Joe Harry window, right? This act of self disclosure, hey, here’s where I’m more open about certain things and others. Here’s what I’m struggling with. Here’s where I’m closed off. And it can be really interesting, especially in the world that I primarily came from sports performance, where people would do a lot of their professional development in house Right, they’d say, Oh, we’re gonna bring somebody in, we’re gonna do this, we’re going to take this activity. But inevitably, because they’re not aware of the power structures, right, they fail to understand that, well, I don’t know that your assistant or that this subordinate is always the best fit for your chatter boards, so to speak, or any form of continuing development, because they’re just going to continue to reinforce some of the things that you may believe now, of course, there’s going to be some folks listening, they’re like, Nah, no, not me, not my staff or what have you. And so I think it’s always important to have on that chatter board, a couple of people that out, they may see it your way. And that’s inevitable, you’re going to have those people at ease of reach right they’re in your Rolodex. But also a couple of people that don’t really agree with you. 


And that was, what was critical for me is I reached out to one of my critics not that long ago, and I said, Hey, I know my stuffs not for you. But I don’t think we’ve ever really sat down and talked about why. And we had a really engaging discussion. Turns out he didn’t know my work as well as he thought he did vice versa. And we found some ways that we could help each other move forward, just by being a little bit more of a healthy devil’s advocate. Tell me why you think this would suck. Tell me why. And everybody’s language is going to be their own right with my chatter board. We can speak frankly, and it’s tongue in cheek, but we know what we’re getting out that vernacular is appropriate. It may not be for everybody. So what we saw in our work, since you asked is when people would come to these workshops, but we call the apprenticeship, we would mix people up, because inevitably you’ll get folks from different vocations. And they don’t get to choose their chatter board. But when they’re going through this Joe Harry window, and they’re talking about things that they struggle with, that they’re open about, that they’re not open about, now, they can still go back to what you said, Ethan a broadening their perspective, and say, you know, now these people are saying, Hey, I wonder why you’re not open about that? Or why do you struggle with that? Or why do you think of it this way? Or why do you think of it that way. And now we found that that, devil’s advocate base, even stranger base chatter board allows for so much more freedom of expression. And I know when we talk about the tools related to environment, and we will have time for it, I’ll make time for it to honor your time, because I think it’s great goes into, you know, organizing the space, creating a little bit less chaos. 


But this is where it now I would, of course, in a friendly way, push back and say sometimes that chaos in the environment of those social others, because they blend together can be good, because we need somebody to disrupt that way of thinking. And so I just found that those things fit so wonderfully together. When you get people in an environment that’s a little bit based on improv, some mutual self disclosure amongst strangers who don’t really gain anything other than I guess we all want to be liked. Right? They could be sad to say, I want you to feel comfortable. But that’s made your work even more impactful. Because now some people are like, No, yeah, like, what you’re thinking about here is not true. And we can and we’ll videotape some of these interactions. And we’ll show them because sometimes they need to see that. And so there’s a lot wrapped in there. But I’m even curious, when I read your book, if even if using video or surrounding yourself with little things like that helps with environmental forms of chatter, right? Or in terms of that toolbox. Or if it is really just more about kind of this idea of hey, get your stuff together, tidy this up, quit having messes everywhere, quit ad hoc, so threw a lot at you. But at least hopefully, it’s it’s honest examples of how we utilize your work or at least look at aspects of your work.


Ethan Kross  33:17  

Yeah, well, I think you by no means want to surround yourself by Yes, men. And yes, women, you want to have, you know, there’s a lot of data, which shows the benefits of diversity. And what I mean by diversity is cognitive diversity, having people who represent different points of view. And I mean, I could tell you that my chatter board is quite diverse. You know, when I go to folks with my problems, I’m not getting the same solution from them the same advice about how to deal with things, what I’m hoping to do is, have people help me think through whatever issues I’m grappling with, from a variety of different angles, because I want to make sure I’m looking at it from every angle possible, so I can identify the optimal solution. And I realize that I have blind spots, I can’t always see every angle on something myself. And if I just go to one person, they’ve got their own blind spots. So that’s why I think it really is about not just one person, but a larger board. And I think it’s very, that is very much consistent with what you’re talking about. We actually in academia, we have something called hostile collaborations where sometimes like, we will seek out our fiercest opponents in our professional space, and actually partner up with them. It’s not always fun to do. It is sometime you know, sounds like this, you know, philosophical ideal, right? But but you know, the, it’s hard to always strip away the person from the science and, but those kinds of collaborations can sometimes be really, helpful. So let’s see. Talking about the environment environment. Oh, you don’t want to go there? Oh, no. I


Brett Bartholomew  35:04  

please. Yeah,


Ethan Kross  35:05  

I thought I thought it was oh, wait, 


Brett Bartholomew  35:07  

no, come on, come on to my show. And I’m going to completely roadblock you. Let’s not talk about it. Yeah, no, please.


Ethan Kross  35:12  

Well, you know, you teed it up. And one, one point I want to make big picture before we go into those tools is that some of the tools that that I talked about, do the same thing from different angles. So to use, like the analogy of working out, there are lots of ways to work out your bicep, like lots of different exercises. And some people like some exercises better than others. I personally prefer like alternating rotating dumbbell curls, as opposed to like, preacher curls or  Sorry, but


Brett Bartholomew  35:49  

you’re fine. I get it. Yeah.


Ethan Kross  35:51  

Okay, you get it. Right. So and some of the tools take that form, like there are multiple distancing tools I talked about in the book. And, some, some people like some better than others. Great. It’s wonderful that we have options. But then there are also different kinds of tools, tools that do help us in other ways, right? So we don’t just want to strengthen our biceps, or other muscles we want to strengthen to, work out well, to be able to function well in the world. The same is true when it comes to chatter. So let’s talk about one of those other kinds of tools. And it’s really simple. You know, let’s talk about organizing our spaces. I am not a super organized guy. Me neither. Okay, well, but you’re looking pretty good right now, as is my office right behind me. And the thing. So for me, the thing to keep in mind is, usually there are papers piled all over the place, but when I’m experiencing chatter, I find myself organizing, I clean things up, I make piles, I do the dishes.


Lots of people report doing this spontaneously without thinking they clean, they organized when they’re stressed out. This isn’t just so you know, there’s it’s not just chance that is driving people to do that. What we’ve learned over the years is that when you’re experiencing chatter, your thoughts are disorganized, you feel like you don’t have control, right? The Chatter is in control, not me, like who would want to feel worried all the time, not many. And so what we’ve learned is you can compensate for that lack of internal control that you feel by exerting control on your physical spaces, by organizing by cleaning up, that’s one way that you can harness your surroundings to help manage this unruly voice in your head. Closely related to that idea is something that lots of athletes do. And lots of people who are in the performing arts do, which is engaged in a ritual rituals are I like to think of rituals as a kind of ancient chat or fighting tool that our culture’s often give us. Sometimes it’s our religion, sometimes it’s our, where we live, sometimes it’s a sporting team that we belong to. But essentially, what a ritual is original is a rigid, structured sequence of behaviors that we engage in the same way every time that has meaning to us. Oftentimes, you know, so a lot of athletes like in basketball before they go to, to hit a free throw, they’ll like have a little ritual, they’ll spin the ball a few times, bounce it always the same number of times before they shoot, right? Like bouncing the ball and spinning it a few times has nothing to do with getting it in the net. But it’s something that those athletes do. In football, I’ve gotten unlucky in football jerseys behind you. So I’m primed here, but in football, oftentimes, you know, quarterbacks will give the same kind of final parting message to the crew before they go for a big play, right, the same kind of pump up talk, and that sets everyone up. That’s a ritual. What we know about rituals, rituals are another way of helping us manage our chatter. Because what they do rituals are under our control, right? So there’s something that when our mind is out of order, so to speak, we can do that ritual to get straightened out to get focused. And research shows that they not only help people feel better when they’re experiencing chatter, but they also improve performance under stress. So that’s another kind of tool people can use. That follows that. Same logic.


Brett Bartholomew  39:28  

Yeah, rituals are definitely pervasive. I remember, you know, I probably had a little bit too much OCD. At one point in my life. I took the ritual thing a little too far. I remember one time, when, some things were a little bit out of control when I was younger, and this was when I was a teenager. My audience is familiar with it. I did deal with some depression and what have you. And it was a particularly interesting time at a lot of friends that got into really hardcore drugs. I went a different path, but we all have our own demons. And I remember one time you know, I’d hit a home run and the night before I was trying to get this lady After work, and I must have turned this thing on seven or eight times. And so then after that, you know, I developed all these odd little things that I had done, but I turn that light on seven or eight times. And so it’s interesting, because I found that and I found this for some of the athletes that I’ve coached as well. And you definitely see this with some executives, is the same thing that can reduce chatter, if they’re not careful can increase it, because then it becomes this coping mechanism for something else that they’re reliant upon. So is is there a time where you know, these rituals and tools that can be so helpful, where you feel like because we talked about the disdain for one size fits all advice, right? Is there a situation either in your life or your work, and I understand you have to respect anonymity. But any story you could talk about where it’s like, yeah, I’m to a point, you know, this can help. But you also want to make sure you don’t get lost in that, because it could be disguising where you need to battle that chatter somewhere else.


Ethan Kross  40:53  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the mantra here is flexibility. And moderation, right? Like, we want to be flexible with how we use these tools and not take them to an extreme. And certainly, if we find that they’re not serving us, well, we should lay off on them. The way I like to think about these tools is not that dissimilar from how I think about physical tools, like my grandfather was a carpenter. And I remember one time he was remodeling my  parents basement, it was like a, I forget what it was a gift he was doing for us, right. And I remember taking his hammer as a little kid, and I started like, just banging it against the cement and just totally ruining the platform in the backyard. Think of a hammer as a tool. A hammer is an amazing tool, it is what allows us to build things right. But a hammer in the wrong hands and used improperly can be the source of massive destruction. And that I think is true of most tools, most psychological tools as well. You want to use those tools skillfully. In moderation, like let’s go back to distance self talk. That’s a really useful tool for for people who are struggling with chatter in the heat of the moment. What if you use that tool when you’re dealing with a positive experience, right? Like, I don’t want to be distanced when I’m hanging out my kids at the playground and having fun kicking the soccer ball on. Alright, Ethan, what are you going to do? I know, I want to be totally immersed in that situation, because that brings me enormous joy. It’s all first person for me. I mean, my what our I’m having so much fun. And so you need to know how and when to use the tools. And and you know, those are the kinds of things that I talk about in the book. But, but just to mushroom out one second one this point is I think it is really, really important. I think what we’re talking about here is a we want to be aware, what are the tools that are out there? And then we want to start thinking about how can we skillfully incorporate these tools into our lives, right, like that is a challenge for I think all of us to figure out sciences not gotten to the point in this space, where I can give Brett and Jimmy and Karen and, you know, whoever else, whatever else names actively and right now, I can’t give you each your personalized toolbox formula. Like based on a single survey that you complete, or one interview that we do together, I can give you some suggestions to figure out but ultimately, you have to do the kind of experimenting in your own life that we do when we do studies to figure out how are these different tools working for me? What are the optimal combinations? And that’s, that’s a challenge, I think is not a daunting one, but can be, you know, a fun one to try. And you know, the potential payoffs I think are big,


Brett Bartholomew  43:49  

without question. And I have to say, you know, and I’m going to honor your time. But there’s two points I want to make the first one based off that might have been the favorite of my conversations so far, specifically, because when you talk about, hey, you’re gonna have to experiment here, there are many chatter triggers. And there are many tools, but nobody, right? Even you can say this is the exact tool for the exact moment for this exact trigger. And I think that has a hotspot for me. And my listeners know this because I talked about this stuff. In my own book we talked about archetypical patterns of behavior and different communication strategies, things beyond the typical rah rah that you see in leadership books, right? And how to ethically use influence and power dynamics and persuasion. But inevitably, people want to systematize that so much. And then you’re saying no, you’re missing the point. Right? And let’s say even if you and I were able to provide that with our relative Bodies of Work well we know that that doesn’t work the same in Western culture and eastern culture for folks that are you know, a little bit later on in life and folks that are younger, like, we have to get rid of this way of thinking right this I hate tell me how, tell me what to think. No, we need to teach you how to think because I’m familiar with Ethan’s work, become familiar with yourself, gain some contextual propriety, and be willing to do the work otherwise the tools don’t do, I might say they’re don’t do any good, but they don’t do the best they can for you. I mean, feel free to, 


Ethan Kross  45:15  

ya No, you’re hitting the nail on the head. And I think, you know, a lot of folks who I talked to, in this space who are steeped in this work, whether it be from the academic side, or the kind of communication side of it, but people who really know this space, really resonate with the argument that you’re making right now. Right? We can, give people ways of thinking about their problems, tools that they can leverage into their situation to help them. But we can’t magically fix everything, right, it’s up to the individual to try to figure out how to use these tools profitably. And, you know, given the complexity of Let me stop there. Human beings are the most complicated organism that we know of, right? Like I read a report recently there, you know, a human neuron, like one biological neuron, we still haven’t figured out how that actually works, how we could capture that in computer language. It’s incredibly complicated. So given the complexity that characterizes all of us, why would we possibly think that one single strategy would work for someone across all situations across all people across all cultures? It just doesn’t make any sense, right? And so let’s honor the complex let’s embrace the complexity of who we are, and figure out how to work with that complexity skillfully, and that unconfident that we can do using science as a guide.


Brett Bartholomew  46:50  

Yeah, no spot on. And we need to quit being disappointed in that advice. And part of me worries that, that kind of, and of course, is said tongue in cheek, right? That kind of Ted talkie leadership based advice we’ve been getting for a long time. And again, that’s no disrespect to Ted, I think anybody listening in our audience, and hopefully, you know what I mean, right? When there are some times where we want to seem like we want to seem like we have this idea, we have this answer, we have this big thing that can solve the problems or with all these people out there that want to promote these quick fixes and pedal, we have to retain some accountability, right? And but we’ve been primed to believe that this thing is out there, this magic tool. And I always tell people I said, even if it was you’d still have to develop the skill to be discerning with it, you know, if there ever was and this will be the last one, I’ll ask you. And hopefully, it’s a soft toss. But it’s also one that makes you smile, because I certainly love that you put it out there. If there was anything that nearly works for everybody, man, is it getting outdoors? And I want to ask a question on behalf of my audience. I know I perceive this and as an environmental tool, right of you know, getting green spaces are what have you ever for the longest time I bugged my wife and I’m like, I’m getting a hot tub. She hates hot tubs. She’s always hot. And I said, I hear what you’re saying. But this stuff works for me just going out on a walk. And all that is great for what have you. But I joke I’d like I swear to God, every time I get in a hot tub, my brain just gets flooded. It’s like a think tank. And so managing part of my stress and anxiety, whether it’s during COVID, or whether it’s becoming a new father, or any of these things. I try to make that somewhat of a routine that sometime in that damn day I’m going out there. And then I find no sometimes it works against me, Ethan I’ll sit there for 15 20 minutes, I’ll get so much clarity that I read from my phone, which I shouldn’t bring out there to begin with. And I’ll start typing something up. But you know, talk to us about the impact that getting outdoors has on chatter.


Ethan Kross  48:47  

Yeah, well, I love I love the hot tub example. You know, for me, it’s actually a bath, I take one every night. And it’s it’s actually it’s thinking time and it works incredibly well. And I know of no other person who does that as their tool. So I love to hear that that water activities are popular with you as well. So but nature, freely available, the data year are really robust. And I just love the fact that there’s a free tool out there for all of us that can help with chatter and it’s as simple as going for a walk in nature enhancing your exposure to green spaces. There are two ways this works. Let me just briefly mention them. Because it will I think help people benefit from it. So when you are experiencing chatter, it can consume your attention. And we know that attention is limited. This is why it’s so hard to like not just read a few pages in a book or remember what you’ve read. When you’re experiencing clutter your mind somewhere else you can’t focus on the issue. what nature does is it provides a natural way of restoring our attention because when you walk in a safe natural space, that green space What happens is you’re surrounded by really interesting like things right, like leaves and bushes and flowers. And so our attention naturally drifts to our surroundings, but not in a really demanding way. It’s not like we’re focusing hard on a problem, we’re just kind of like taking it all in. And when we do that, that gives our attentional systems time to recharge. And when they recharge, it makes it much easier for us to manage our chatter. So that’s one way that nature can help. 


The other thing that nature can do for us is it provides us with opportunities to experience the emotion of awe awe an emotion we experience when we’re in the presence of something vast and indescribable. And nature is filled with our triggers, like beautiful sunsets or trees that have been there for hundreds of years and weathered storms. When we experience all, what ends up happening is something that scientists call we experience a shrinking of the self. We, feel smaller and with us, our chatter feels smaller. When we’re contemplating something vast and indescribable, like it’s hard to really know I’m putting so much into oh my god, I said the wrong thing to my colleague earlier today. And now I’m contemplating the fact that like, you know, this tree has been here for hundreds of years and weathered all these storms, it’s hard to, to maintain that perspective of this chatter as a center of everything, when we realize that we ourselves are small piece is much bigger puzzle, or world. The other thing about awe really fast is, we get we can find on experiences of nature, but we can also find it elsewhere. So you know, walking down a city street like looking at a skyscraper that fills some people with awe. Other parents often report feeling or when they watch their kids do something monumental, right, like performing the first time in a production or taking their first steps. So you could find awe on nature, but But you could also find it elsewhere. And so if you’re thinking about trying to like design a life that is characterized by lower levels of chatter, one suggestion is to think about how you can structure your surroundings to increase your exposure to green spaces, and the give yourself more opportunities to experience all on a regular basis. The science suggests that should help.


Brett Bartholomew  52:27  

very tactical and practical advice, I appreciate the depth of detail you go into I mean, I literally can’t tell you how refreshing that is. And we’ve given our audience, so many tactics to utilize, and this will be in our reflections and our notes as well. Now, I’d love for you to provide us with an opportunity to know where we can best support your work. Of course, your book Chatter is available worldwide. You’re on Instagram @EthanKross that will be linked. Where else can we support you and your work?


Ethan Kross  52:55  

Well, the best way to find out more about about me about my last research about the book is to check out my website, And there’s lots of information that you can take a quiz to see how well you know your inner voice. There’s some download some useful information on tools that you could find there as well. So newsletter you can sign up for where I talk about these kinds of issues periodically as well.


Brett Bartholomew  53:23  

Perfect. Well, Ethan, I want to thank you again for giving us the time. I look forward to hopefully future conversations with you and thank you for putting what you did out into the world. Guys. Until next time, Brett Bartholomew, art of coaching podcast. We’ll talk to you soon.

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