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Chatter

The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

By Ethan Kross
13-minute read
Audio available
Chatter by Ethan Kross

Chatter (2021) directly addresses our inner voice, which, too often, turns into our inner critic. Backed with information from countless studies, Chatter delivers a wealth of strategies to help free us from the negative thought spirals that dominate our lives.

  • People who have trouble finding mental quiet
  • Those hoping to learn how to give support to loved ones
  • Anyone interested in how our brains function

Ethan Kross attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a leading expert on the behavior of the mind. Currently, Kross is the director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. His work has been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Wall Street Journal – and he’s given policy advice to the White House.

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Chatter

The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

By Ethan Kross
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Chatter by Ethan Kross
Synopsis

Chatter (2021) directly addresses our inner voice, which, too often, turns into our inner critic. Backed with information from countless studies, Chatter delivers a wealth of strategies to help free us from the negative thought spirals that dominate our lives.

Key idea 1 of 8

Humans developed an inner voice so we could evaluate our past and prepare for the future.

Let’s admit it: we all talk to ourselves. While that might not be a shocking thing to do, it is shocking just how fast we do it. One study published in 1990 analyzed people’s rate of inner speech and clocked it at roughly four thousand words per minute. To say those same words out loud would take close to an hour!

Our inner voices have been annoying humans for a long time; both the early Christian mystics and Chinese Buddhists were frustrated by their inner voices’ ability to incessantly interrupt their meditation. It’s also interesting to note that people who stutter out loud say their inner voices speak clearly. And deaf people report using sign language to speak to themselves.

Clearly, our inner voices are an inherent part of our minds. But why? According to the rules of natural selection, introspection must come with an evolutionary advantage.

The key message here is: Humans developed an inner voice so we could evaluate our past and prepare for the future.

Unlike other species, we find meaning in our experiences. That’s because our inner voices facilitate our ability for introspection, which allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for future events.

We develop this voice during infancy, and – as we learn to speak – it helps us with self-control. Studying toddlers speak to themselves aloud; Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky posited that by mimicking the instructions received from parents, children were learning to manage emotions. Then, as they grow older, they begin to use their own words to harness self-control.

In adulthood, our inner voices help us keep track of the goals we strive for. Whether we’re working toward a promotion or winning the heart of our crush, verbal thoughts pop up to remind us of our purpose. And we can also run mental simulations. For instance, considering various texts we could send to that crush and what effect they might have.

Ultimately, our inner voices greatly contribute to how we shape our identities. That’s because, through the process of introspection and reflection, we create meaningful narratives about ourselves. And having a solid identity helps us to mature, understand our values, and weather tumultuous times.

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