Ethan Kross Interview: How to Overcome the Negative Voice in Your Head | GQ

    Some forms of meditation teach how to accept your negative thoughts and feelings, and recognize that they’re passing mental events. That’s a great tool. But houses don’t get built with individual tools. No carpenter comes to a job with just a hammer. You’ve got a whole toolbox. So why limit ourselves to one individual tool? That’s the big idea I’m trying to convey.

    It seems like part of the line to toe here is knowing when to engage with your chatter, and knowing when to just let it go. I’m just wondering if every time I start contemplating what tool I should use, if that might end up being counterproductive. As opposed to being like, “Okay, you’re just doing some rumination, let it be, and eventually it’ll pass.”

    I would just say that’s a different tool, that acceptance. Although, interestingly, what you just described was a version of distance self talk. You used the second-person pronoun you—“You’re doing it again, it’s going to pass”—and temporal distancing. The actual process of what it means to accept a thought means talking to yourself with your other-person language, and recognizing the impermanence of what you’re going through.

    Many of us are using these tools in our lives already. For example, a lot of people have the intuition that they should talk to other people when they’re experiencing chatter, so they’re doing that already. But they’re venting about their emotions. They’re talking to people who are just keeping the chatter brewing, rather than helping them suppress it. So that’s one place where science can help you do something that you’re already doing, but much more effectively.

    The other thing that knowing about science can do for us is it can allow us to be much more proactive and deliberate with respect to how we manage our chatter. For instance, I didn’t realize this until after I was working on the book and covered some of this research, but I’m not someone who used to keep a very organized office, or home. There’s a trail of towels, pajamas, throughout the house, in my closet. Stacks of books and papers in my office. When I experience chatter, though, I always put stuff away, I organize.

    Turns out there’s science that explains why I and many other people clean and organize when we’re experiencing chatter. When you’re experiencing chatter, when you’re ruminating or worrying, you feel like you don’t have control over your circumstances. The thoughts are taking over, and you no longer have agency, and that doesn’t feel good. Human beings love control. So organizing and cleaning compensates for that experience.

    If somebody does come to you, how do you help them suppress the chatter instead of facilitating their venting?

    When people come to us with their problems, they’re typically coming to us because they have two needs. They have social and emotional needs. They’re looking for people to empathize with them, to help them normalize their experience and realize there’s nothing wrong with them. But then they’re always looking for people to help them actually resolve this turmoil they’re struggling with.

    This content was originally published here.

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