“People are embarrassed to even articulate out loud what they say to themselves silently.”
– Ethan Kross
Do you ever wonder why some people excel under intense pressure while other people fold? How is that an Olympic athlete can train for four years honing their skills with exact precision and in the final moment make a crucial mistake to blow their shot at gold?
Maybe you’ve had the experience of preparing for hours for your dream job interview and when you finally sat down to talk, you froze up and forgot everything you prepared. Or maybe you had an argument with a friend, co-worker, or partner and said something you instantly regretted, then spending the rest of the night ruminating over what you did wrong and wondering why no one likes you? Or how about that noise you hear late at night as you lie in bed, convincing yourself that it’s a serial killer coming to murder you?
If you’ve experienced any of these situations or anything similar, then you’ve experienced “chatter.” Chatter is the dark side of our inner voice (and trust me, we all have it). My guest today is bestselling author Ethan Kross, a Professor of Psychology and Management, father of 2, and the bestselling author of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It. He defines chatter as “getting stuck in a negative thought loop” and it is often the reason behind our successes or failures in high pressure situations.
Chatter is what feeds into imposter syndrome, limiting beliefs, and the worries that we consciously and unconsciously obsess over. The good news is there are tools for harnessing your chatter (and even making it your ally). In this conversation, Ethan will share the research he’s uncovered and the numerous strategies he’s discovered to befriend your chatter in any situation you encounter. I only wish I had discovered his book 3 weeks before I ran the American Ninja Warrior course instead of the month after. If you want to hear how my own chatter disrupted my performance on the course and how you can apply my failures to your future successes, you won’t want to skip today’s conversation.
Want to Hear More Episodes Like This One?
Here’s What You’ll Learn:
- How Ethan began his journey to investigating the chatter in our minds.
- What exactly is chatter and what does it mean?
- Not all forms of the voice in your head are chatter.
- Some forms of our inner voice are helpful and beneficial.
- The dark side of the inner voice is chatter.
- How much time we spend each day using our inner voice.
- How the message of mindfulness has been distorted and how it should be revised.
- Why awareness of our thoughts is so key to making change in our lives
- The origins of our self talk.
- The physical effects chatter has on our bodies and overall health.
- Using a piano metaphor to understand how our genes are expressed and how chatter influences gene expression.
- How chatter effects our telomeres and the way we age.
- The two pieces of self control and how you need both of them to achieve your goals.
- How to target imposter syndrome so it doesn’t hold you back.
- The story of the limiting belief script that defeated me on the Ninja Warrior course.
- The mechanism behind chatter breaking down performance and how it affects executive function.
- Why athletes engage in rituals before games and performances.
- The physical symptoms of a threat response vs. the symptoms of a challenge response and how they help or hurt our response to experiences.
- Tools for how to illicit the challenge response rather than the threat response.
- What distanced self talk is and how to use to coach yourself through stressful situations.
Useful Resources Mentioned:
Continue to Listen & Learn
Zack Arnold 0:00
My name is Zack Arnold, I'm a Hollywood film and television editor, a documentary director, father of two, an American Ninja Warrior in training and the creator of Optimize Yourself. For over 10 years now I have obsessively searched for every possible way to optimize my own creative and athletic performance. And now I'm here to shorten your learning curve. Whether you're a creative professional who edits, writes or directs, you're an entrepreneur, or even if you're a weekend warrior, I strongly believe you can be successful without sacrificing your health, or your sanity in the process. You ready? Let's design the optimized version of you.
Hello, and welcome to the Optimize Yourself podcast. If you're a brand new optimizer, I welcome you and I sincerely hope that you enjoy today's conversation. If you're inspired to take action after listening today, why not tell a friend about the show and help spread the love? And if you're a longtime listener and optimizer O.G. welcome back. Whether you're brand new, or you're seasoned vets, if you have just 10 seconds today, it would mean the world to me if you clicked the subscribe button in your podcast app of choice, because the more people that subscribe, the more that iTunes and the other platforms can recognize this show. And thus the more people that you and I can inspire, to step outside their comfort zones to reach their greatest potential. And now on to today's show.
Do you ever wonder why some people Excel under intense pressure while other people simply fold? How is it that an Olympic athlete can train for four years or more honing their skills with exact precision. And then in the final moment, they make some stupid, crucial mistake and they blow their shot at gold. Maybe you've had the experience of preparing for hours for a dream job interview. But then when you finally sat down to talk, you completely froze up and forgot everything you've prepared. Or maybe you've had an argument with a friend, a co worker or a partner, and you said something that you instantly regretted. But then you spent the rest of the night ruminating over what you did wrong and wondering why nobody likes you. Or how about that noise that creaking that you hear late at night as you lie in bed. And you of course convince yourself that it must be a serial killer coming to murder you. If you've experienced any of these situations or anything similar, then you have experienced something that's called chatter. Chatter is the dark side of our inner voice. And trust me, we all have it. My guest today is best selling author Ethan Kross who's a professor of psychology and management, a father of two and the best selling author of Chatter, The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It. He defines chatter as getting stuck in a negative thought loop. And it is often the reason behind our successes or failures, especially in high pressure situations. Chatter is what feeds into imposter syndrome and the limiting beliefs and the worries that we consciously and unconsciously obsess over all the time. The good news is that there are tools for harnessing your chatter, and even making it your ally. And in this conversation, Ethan is going to share the research that he has uncovered, and the numerous strategies that he has discovered, so you can befriend your chatter in any situation that you encounter. All I gotta say is I wish that I discovered his book three weeks before I ran the Ninja Warrior course instead of the month after. And if you want to hear how my own chatter disrupted my performance on the course, and how you can apply my failures to then turn them into your future successes. Trust me, you don't want to skip today's conversation. Before jumping right into today's interview. However, I am excited to share with you a new addition to the podcasts. Well actually, I'm kind of resurrecting it from years of slumber, which is the Q&A episode. It has been a long time since I did an informal question and answer show and I plan to do them on a monthly basis going forwards. But here's the thing. I can't do answers without the questions. And that is where I need your help. If you enjoy this podcast and you have specific questions that you would like me to address on the show, it is super simple. All you have to do is visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast and then select the apple podcasts app subscribe, then rate a quick and by the way, an honest review in the apple podcast app. At the end of your review. Leave your question and I will do my best to not only answer your question in depth, but I'm also going to give you credit on the show. How cool is that? And the more reviews that we can amass the better placement we get from Apple and the more creative professionals that you and I can inspire to do what they love for a living without having to sacrifice their health, their relationships or their sanity in the process. Alright, so without further ado, my conversation with best selling author and Professor Ethan Kross made possible today by our amazing sponsor, Ergodriven who's going to be featured just a bit later in today's interview to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss the next inspirational interview, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast.
I'm here today with Ethan Kross, who is a professor of psychology and management. He's a father of two. And he is the best selling author of the book, Chatter, The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It. You're also the founder and director of the University of Michigan aside Go Blue emotion and self control laboratory. And one of the things that you mentioned in your book that I think is going to help people better understand what you do is you and your colleagues like to think of yourselves as mind mechanics. So I am a super excited to have this conversation today. Because it's not about any of the superficial fluffy stuff, or whatever. It's like, let's just dig in to understand the deepest recesses of our mind, and what really drives us. And you're one of the world's foremost experts and understanding those voices and where they come from. So Ethan, it's a pleasure to finally get you on the microphone today.
Ethan Kross 5:57
Hey, thanks for having me. I've been looking forward to this conversation. And I like nothing more than digging into those recesses and exploring them. So really excited to be here today.
Zack Arnold 6:06
So before we dive into the nitty gritty, I want to better understand a little bit more about you. And what in the world ever drove you to decide, you know what, I'm going to spend my life's work, understanding the voices in my head, and then helping other people understand the voices in their head. So just talk to me a little bit more about your journey and how you got to doing what it is that you do today.
Ethan Kross 6:26
Well, the journey began. A long time ago, when I was around three years old, I had a dad who was fascinated by Eastern philosophy and meditation, and also believe that you should talk to kids like you talk to anyone else. So he treated me like an adult from a very young age. Not to say we never had any fun like we did go watch The Karate Kid and things like that, but but we had some some serious conversations. And beginning around the time that I was little he started talking to me about the importance of going inside. You know, finding this kernel of truth, listening to your inner voice whenever you experience something bad happened in your life, and you know, bad happening back then wasn't anything monumental, in the form of huge, huge atrocity atrocities I experienced. But you know, arguments with friends or loved ones as I got older, you know, dating, getting rejected things like that. And basically, I followed my dad's advice throughout my childhood adolescence, when something bad happened, I went inside I introspected. I tried to figure out why I was feeling the way I did. How can I feel better, I come up with a solution and I move on. So I never really got stuck in negativity. Then I got to college, I took my first psychology class. And I learned on the one hand that what I was doing introspecting and tapping into this inner voice, if you will, that this on the one hand was a superpower that many people also use to deal with adversity in their lives. But that also was a huge vulnerability for lots of other people. Lots of the time when we get stressed out when we when we experience a challenge, we turn our attention inward. But we don't come up with solutions. We end up stumbling. Instead, we ruminate, we worry we catastrophize huge, huge problem for not just a person, but I'd argue society. And so why does that happen? Why do we have this ability to use our mind to solve our problems, but seemingly, when we most need to use that tool? It fails us that really sparked an interest. And then, you know, the question began on Well, what do I do with that interest? Like, how do I turn this into a life's work? You know, I found that I would start thinking about this question. Why does introspection sometimes work? And others other times not? I think about it, like when I shouldn't have been thinking about it. And what I mean by that is that I'd be like hanging out with my buddies on a Saturday night even like walking into a party on campus. And I'd be thinking about and Hey, did you ever think about this? I remember saying telling my friend Danny, what are you talking about? You know, it's 11 o'clock at night on a Saturday? Are you thinking about this? And so, so basically, I thought, if I'm spending my spare time thinking about these issues, that's not a bad way to maybe spend your life and so I went to graduate school to learn how to use science to, to answer some of the questions that I had. And I've been doing science on this issue ever since
Zack Arnold 9:22
when we talk about this concept of quote unquote, chatter. That can mean a lot of different things. And what I'm hoping to accomplish for today's conversation is essentially using your book to kind of give people an introduction into some of these various ideas. But first, I think it's really important for people to know what is chatter What does it even mean? Because I think that for different people, it's going to mean different things were for some, especially those that might have ADD ADHD chatters Oh, I should go do the dishes for Oh, no, you know what, no, wait, I need to do this. Anyway, what was I doing? And that's a version of chatter. I know that that's one that I had five minutes before our conversation. Another would be The the deeper introspections about life and meaning and what am I doing and then others. And this is certainly one that I want to dive into a lot deeper would be the the personal identities that we assign to ourselves in this chatter that says I'm not good enough for this or I don't belong here, things like that. But from your perspective, can you help me define help the audience better understand what do you mean by the word chatter.
Ethan Kross 10:23
So when I use term chatter, I'm referring to getting stuck in a negative thought loop. So you're thinking about something over and over again, and you're not making progress in terms of shifting the way you're thinking about that negative issue in ways that might help you feel better chatter about the past in technical terms is called rumination, chatter about the future in technical terms is called worry. So it can deal with the past or the future, or even the present. But the key idea is that we're looping over and over, oh, my God, what am I going to do? I'm such, Oh, I can't believe I said that. What is this happens, oh, my God, what if that happened, you're just looping though, and you're immersed in the negativity, and you're incapable of really adopting a broader perspective in that moment that might help you find a solution. So that's what chatter is. Now, it is important to clarify that not all forms of introspection, or self talk, or not all forms of this voice in your head, are chatter or are bad things. If we if we step back a little bit, when I use the term, self talk, or the inner voice, what I'm effectively talking about is our ability to silently use language to reflect on our lives. And our ability to use language to to reflect on our problems is, is an amazing asset that helps us do lots of different things. It helps us do things like keep in mind what we have to do what's on our to do list at any given moment in time. All right, you know, finished a proposal, call this person back spread the mulch in Milan. Yes, that was actually my to do list for today. But like, that's my inner voice, what do I have to do today, that's the inner voice is part of what we call our verbal working memory system. It's a basic system that is essential to allowing us to function in this world. We also use our inner voice to simulate and plan like when I rehearse what I'm going to say, during a meeting, or presentation in advance, when I practice in my mind, that's my inner voice. And then to go back to, you know, you raise the issue of identity, and meaning a little bit earlier, we use our inner voice to help craft our understanding of who we are. So when when things happen, that we don't have a good understanding of like when we're rejected, like I, you know, you don't, most of us don't go around the world expecting to always be rejected. When things happen that challenge you, we often turn our attention inward to make sense of those experiences. And the way we make sense of them, informs our understanding of who we are, right? And we use our inner voice to help us do that. So inner voice, lots of good stuff comes from it. The Dark Side of the inner voice is what I call chatter. So hopefully that gives you the terrain
Zack Arnold 13:15
it does. Yeah, and we're gonna dive a lot deeper into a lot of that. But one of the things I think it's really important for people to understand that was really eye opening, when I read your book is how prevalent and pervasive and powerful it is. So talk to me a little bit just about how much we actually are talking to ourselves throughout the day, because this is an area that you certainly know a lot about, through scientific research.
Ethan Kross 13:37
So we spend between one half and 1/3 of our waking hours, not focused on the present, we're not focused on the present, we're drifting away thinking about other things. And we spend a significant portion of that time drifting away, talking to ourselves, using language to reflect on what's going on. So that that is a significant chunk of our, of our experience in the world. And, you know, it's interesting, because in current times, we often hear about the importance of being in the present, being mindful. And as I talked about in the book, like mindfulness is great. I think it's one tool of many, many others that can be useful for managing chatter. But there's been a distortion of the message behind mindfulness, at least in my eyes, which is, you hear a lot of people suggest that we always have to be in the moment, and that we should strive to always be in the moment. I think that message is fundamentally wrong. Because a it works against the way the human mind is, has evolved. We've evolved to be able to travel in time in our minds to focus on the past or future and be or ability to do that is essential to our ability to succeed and thrive and grow as as a species like think about how would you be like if you couldn't learn from your mistakes. Right, that involves going back in time thinking about the past, they learn from our mistakes, is I think it's not controversial to say that this is essential right? To development and growth, or ability to plan for the future, we need to plan for the future for all sorts of things, right? Our retirement, our kids, our own ability to, you know, excel at work, and so forth. So, so I like to think about this piece of tissue we have between our two ears as an amazing time traveling machine. And we all can travel in time, past future present. Sometimes we get stuck, right, the Time Machine breaks down. And in a certain sense, what what chatter the book not the negative manifestation, but my book does is it tries to talk about the tools that we have evolved to possess, which help us get unstuck in the past to the future tools that allow us to become better mental Time Travelers, refocusing on the present is one thing you can do, but it is far from the only thing you could do, many, many other tools exist. And what we're learning is that the more healthy tools you use, the better. So it's not about doing just one thing, just meditating, just exercising, it's about identifying cocktails of tools, that work for you. And so, so that's a lot about what I do and what the book is about
Zack Arnold 16:29
one area that I wanted to touch upon it a little bit further, because I think you and I are very much in agreement is I hate to use this word, but kind of the bastardization of mindfulness and meditation what it's supposed to be. And I know a lot of people that will say, Oh, I tried meditation, but it doesn't work. I just, I feel like such a failure, because I'm supposed to not have any thoughts and being the president, but I just keep thinking, so I'm not good at it. And my response to that is, in my experience, is that it's not about I need to clear my mind of thought, it's developing an awareness. Oh, I didn't realize how many times I was saying this one thing to myself. But now I'm aware that it's there. And that's, to me, one of the most powerful tools that you can have, if you're interested in personal growth, or professional growth and development is not having necessarily the tools or having this clear present mind. It's having the awareness. Oh, these are the thoughts that keep coming up in my head now that I hear them having that awareness is the first step to seeing if I can rewire or rewrite them.
Ethan Kross 17:27
Yeah, I think you're exactly right. You know, a lot of the meditative practices that emerge out of the mindfulness tradition are fundamentally about making you more aware of how the human mind works. And one thing that seems to be the case is, we can't actually control the thoughts that pop into our head. Right? So I don't actually know why a particular thought is going to pop into my head at a particular moment in time that's outside of my conscious control. What we can do is manage those thoughts once they appear. And there are lots of things we can do to to do that. But But I think what meditation does, and mindfulness does is it makes it clear how these, these random thoughts are popping up at any given moment in time, and then hey, you've got a choice. You can elaborate on it, you could take it this way, or that way, you can let it float away. And as you say, simply having an awareness of how the human mind works in this regard can be empowering. I think this is also true, more broadly about chatter, right. One of the things I hope to do with this book is give people a vocabulary for their inner experience. I think a lot of people that I've spoken to I don't think I know they've told me like they they get consumed in a thought spiral. They're overcome a chatter they don't even realize it until, until after it is fully blown. And, and really hard to grapple with. I think one of the things that happen when you work in this space is, is you begin to identify really quickly when you're slipping into a moment of chatter, or you can even begin to predict when it might happen. And then take action appropriately. People often ask me, hey, even Professor Krause, you know, he whatever their nickname for me is, do you ever experienced chatter, you know, you just wrote a book on how to manage it. And I look at that, and I'm like, yeah, I'm a human being I exchanged chatter at times. But what I've gotten really really good at is identifying it the moment it creeps up on me, and the moment it does, I take proactive action to nip it in the bud. And most of the time, those steps I take do help quite a bit. So I think we are seeing it quite well,
Zack Arnold 19:39
for sure. Yeah. And one of the things that I want to talk about next is better understanding how our unique type of chatter and the voices and the scripts that we have in our heads develop. Because I think a lot of people first they don't even really have an awareness of a lot of the behaviors that they have or the choices that they make because they're just, they have the programming so to speak, and They make these choices based on Well, this is just who I am, then they start to develop the awareness. And they realize, Oh, this is actually a voice that's in my head that I didn't realize I was listening to. But then when that happens, the next step is, where is it even coming from? And you alluded to a little bit of the fact that it's part of our evolution. And it's just part of our survival mechanism is being able to learn from our mistakes and predict the future. But I think one of the areas in your book that really hit home for me that I think is important for the work that I'm doing with my clients, is understanding how the chatter in the voices in our own heads might have at some point been when we were much younger, somebody else's voices that we were first externalized and then internalized without realizing it. So let's talk a little bit more about the origin of some of our chatter,
Ethan Kross 20:45
the one the one maybe shift, I would say, let's talk about the origins of our self talk before we get to the origins of chatter
Zack Arnold 20:50
You're the expert here, yeah, you, you you take the reins.
Ethan Kross 20:51
That was it was that was that was that was a that was a that was a polite kind of redirect, you know, just nicely done. Yeah. So what's so interesting about language is a lot of psychologists, myself included, think of self talk, as one of the ways that we first learn how to control ourselves. And it's a phenomenally interesting way in which this happened. So basically, a young child does something wrong, and their caretaker, their parents or grandmas, their nannies, whomever, give them instructions about don't do that, you shouldn't do that. Here's what you do instead. And what first starts happening is the child will then repeat those instructions to themselves out loud, actually. So if you've ever been around young children, you've probably seen them do this cute thing where they go in a corner and kind of just talk to themselves. Have you ever seen this happen?
Zack Arnold 21:50
Oh, sure. Yeah, I've got two young kids as well. So
Ethan Kross 21:52
yep, quite quite common experience. And you know, sometimes they do when they're playing with dolls, but essentially, what they're doing is rehearsing, in many cases, the messages from their parents, and caretakers, and then eventually, they start internalizing those messages. So they don't just direct themselves out, oh, no, I shouldn't put the fork here, because then I'll get in trouble, I should make sure to do it here. We then the kids start doing that internally, silently, coaching themselves along. But that's one of the ways in which the messages of our parents and more broadly, the cultures to which we belong, how those voices in a very real sense, get put into our own head, and become part of our own inner voice. And that's how if you take that further, and you get into the world of some of these kind of like self disparaging critical voices, that would also provide a template for for thinking about how, you know, a constant, you know, harsh environment might influence the way people talk and think about their own lives. Now, I do want to make clear that the direction that all this works is not unidirectional, in the sense that the arrow only points one way, for a long time, we used to think that parents influence kids. And that's where the story edited. What we now know and I've known for quite a while is that the arrows go both ways. We say things to kids that seep into their own inner voices, they then say things to us and behave in particular ways to us that seep in and affect our own inner voices as well. So it's an intricate, complex dynamic. And I think it makes a lot of sense, given, given how complicated we all are, you'd think that we would be sensitive and at any given moment in time to new information. And kids can certainly provide that to parents. But but that's that's how, you know, our inner voices are shaped, so our experiences can play a role. And as we age, the influence, the forces that influence that inner voice can also change. It starts off being primarily parents care, caregivers, caretakers, same thing. As we get older, our social groups, our friends and colleagues also begin to play more of a role. We also know that genes play a role in this as well as they do with most most things. And most excitedly, we now know that our experiences in the world can actually influence whether certain genes that we have are expressed or not. So they're both biological and learning experiences. And we've learned that those experiences can come together and really interesting and complex ways that we're still trying to understand.
Zack Arnold 24:42
And that's an area that I actually wanted to go into next is I want people to really understand how powerful the voices in our head can be not just because they're noisy and we can't shut them up, but how they can actually not only influence our behavior, but influence our biology and our health because once you understand the power that your voice is having this negative chatter has, the more at least for me, I realized I really need to get these under control. Because of all the things that I thought were stopping me from having the success that I want, either in my career or as a dad, or now as an American Ninja Warrior, we assign all these external factors and obstacles. And what I've realized for both myself and for all the students and clients that I work with, in my coaching program, 99 times out of 100, the number one obstacle standing between you and what you want is in your head, it's some mindset, or some thought or some negative script. And you've actually done extensive study to understand the biological effects of this chatter. So talk a little bit more, one of the things that I really loved, that you mentioned was this idea and this analogy of your genes being like a piano, because I've looked into gene expression and understanding all the things that are coming out in the science and they never quite clicked, then I heard that I might, oh, my God, I totally get it. So talk a little bit more about that. But also what you found as far as the chatter in our heads, and how it can actually translate to physical pain or discomfort.
Ethan Kross 26:03
Yeah, so without being hyperbolic, or exaggerating, I think chatter and when these when the voice in our head runs awry. I think this is one of the biggest problems we face as a society individually, but also, culturally, to as larger groups, it impacts three domains that I think are really make life worth living, our ability to think and perform our work, our social relationships, and physically our health. The way it impacts our health is as follows. We often hear that stress is a killer, it's actually a lot more complicated than that. So just experiencing a jolt of stress. That's actually I would argue, a really good thing. It's like it's healthy, that when we experience when we're confronted with a threat in the world, we have the system that quickly mobilize us to approach or avoid it like super, super useful to have that system that alarm system built in. What makes stress really toxic, is when we have a stress response, it's activated, and then a remains chronically activated over time, right so that we don't return back to baseline. And that chronic activation is exactly what chatter does. Because we experience a stressful event in the world. It ends subjectively. But in our mind, it persists because we're replaying it over and over over again, we're using language to help us do that, like when we worry and ruminate about stuff. That rumination worry, studies show that that maintains this physiological stress response over time, in ways that predict a host of different physical maladies, things ranging from problems of cardiovascular cardiovascular disease, to problems of inflammation, certain forms of cancer. So really some significant negative physical health consequences. Then the other thing that that chatter does, as you intimated before is it plays a role in influencing which chains we have that are expressed or not expressed at any given moment in time. What I didn't realize prior to getting immersed in in this work on chatter was that most of us have the exact same genes, we walk around with the same genes, what what distinguishes between us is not necessarily the genes we have. But whether those genes are expressed, essentially, whether they're turned on or turned off. And that's where the piano metaphor is really helpful. Think about your genes as a piano. And we each have a piano in our in each one of ourselves. But we can play that piano differently, strike different notes and chords, and the fact that each of us has different songs going on in our cells that makes us all unique. And so what research is showing is that our chatter can influence how our genes are expressed what songs are played in ourselves. And there's some really interesting work showing that when we are in chatter, states are experiencing chatter for prolonged period of times. What that does is it it turns on genes that are involved in inflammation, inflammatory responses, and it effectively turns off genes that are involved in fighting off viruses, so more inflammation and less fighting viruses over time. That is a really bad formula for well being. I'm gonna butcher this quote, it's in my book, but the researcher who's done a lot of this work Steve Cole, I think he's he described this genetic profile is death at the molecular level or something like that. So it really it's a pernicious state and it's a way in which our mind and in particular, the voices in our Head can influence our biology all the way down to the cellular genetic level. So that's one way that chatter can can seep into the skin. The other way that it can also do so that I mentioned very briefly in the book that's still interesting is chatter has been linked with enhanced cellular aging. And the way this works is within ourselves, we have these chromosomes, and you can think of our chromosomes as like shoelaces. And at the very tip is a protective coating, like the little plastic cap at the end of the shoelace that prevents it from being afraid. So those protective caps, those are called telomeres. And as we get older, they shorten and begin to to, essentially fray. And as they short and fray, things, genetic information begins to unravel, not a good thing. And it's associated with with disease. And so what what's there linkages have been shown between chatter and the accelerated fraying of these protective caps of these telomeres. And that's another way that chatter can get under the skin waste or harmful. So, so there's lots of negative stuff we could focus on. I think the the the reason to get into this to talk about this is number one, it's how we work. And so if people are interested in how we work, this is it. But number two, it's to know to your point that how we think about the world and how we use language to do so it doesn't just lead us to feel bad subjectively, it can impact us in a very concrete physical way. So so really pay attention to it. The good news is that there are countless tools that exist that we've learned about which can be used to counteract these effects. So
Zack Arnold 31:53
yeah, we're gonna dive much, much deeper into a lot of those psychological tools very, very shortly. The reason that I brought this conversation up specifically is I want people to understand how powerful the voices are in your head, but also that you have a lot more control than you might think, and allowing them to direct you where you want to go, rather than not direct you. There was actually a conversation that coincidentally came up just last week in my coaching program. And I had advised somebody about something and I want to get your your perspective on it, cuz you're the expert, and i'm not i'm just this guy that decided to get a microphone and start to help people because I love this. And I'm like you mentioned, I'm the kind of person my whole life, you can ask my parents all the way back to when I first was expressing language, I would look at something and I would always say, how does that work? Why does it do that I, whether it's washing machine, or watching how a house is built, or whatever it is. My first question is, how are they doing that? How do all the pieces come together, and now I've just translated that to how the human mind works and how people work, which as we talked about a little bit offline before we started, that's why I chose to get into film, I thought it was because I liked Hollywood movies, I realized that I just love telling people stories. And now I'm just helping to do it on the nonfiction level instead of the fiction level. But going back to the conversation, I had a student that's new to my program that said, I gotta be honest, I feel like a lot of this personal development stuff is just kind of a bunch of crap, I just all I need to do is I need to put in the work and I don't need all these crazy affirmations and all this woowoo stuff. And, you know, the secret and this and that, or the other thing, it's like, if you have the affirmations, you know, maybe that's all you need, or maybe I just put in the work, like, what do you think, and my advice to him was that I believe you need both. I believe if you're somebody that just always has the positive affirmations and believes you're going to succeed, and just sits back and waits waits for the universe to do it for you. Nothing's going to happen. But conversely, I also believe and I've seen through a lot of my practice with my clients, I can give you all of the tips and the tactics, I can tell you how to do the things where you're getting stuck. But until you manage the mindset, and you actually believe that it's something you're capable of achieving. All the tools in the world really don't make any difference whatsoever. So I teach the mindset, then I teach the tactics, would you have advised them differently? I'm assuming this is a conversation you've probably had more than once.
Ethan Kross 34:12
Yeah, no, I love the way you've described, I think is spot on. And so I might use a slightly different vocabulary to describe this. But in terms of the message, it's the same. So I like to think about self control, which is really or self regulation, what I think we're talking about here, how do you how do you approach life and how do you you know, regulate yourself when doing so to achieve you know, what you want to achieve? I think that has two pieces to it. There's a motivation piece and an ability piece. The and you need both, okay. So motivation means you have goals that you want to fulfill. You know, you want to become a director, an actor, a scientist, whatever you want to sit on your couch, right, whatever the goal is. And then the strategies are the tools of Those are the things you do to help you achieve your goals. Now, you can have a person that knows all of the tools that science has on Earth. If they're not motivated to use those tools, then they won't. Right. And in fact, like, how do you even determine which tools to use if you're not motivated? Like, you know, let's say I show up to a job site, and I've got like, a big fat tool belt with me with 30 tools. I don't know what I need to do, how do I know whether to plot a hammer or a pair of pliers? Right? So you need motivation to guide you. If you don't have it, the tools aren't going to be useful. The flip side is you can be motivated all you want. I want to build rocket ships. I think it is so freakin cool that we can build spaceships right now I want to work for NASA. Well, if you don't have the tools to do that, if you don't know the physics and the mathematics and everything else, you need, good luck building a rocket ship, I would argue that the same thing is true for things like managing your emotions and manage your inner voice. Some people may have stumbled on some tools that work for them. And in fact, in my research, and the interviews I did for the book, like a lot of people stumble on tools that help them. But they also stumble on tools that they think work which actually don't work or tools that our culture tells you works, but sciences don't. But then there are lots of other things that people just do not on their radar that science has revealed. And so there's a universe of tools out there. And I think that the more we could do to educate people about those tools, and also to get them think really clearly about motivation, and what their goals are, the better the better people will will be. So in sum, I think I think our perspectives are remarkably consistent. What do you think?
Zack Arnold 36:47
I absolutely agree. And there's a third component that I want to add to this, I love this idea of reframing it as you have to have the motivation and the desire. And that motivation or desire doesn't get you anywhere without the tools or the knowledge or the information or the systems. So let's go back to the the rocket ship analogy. I love this. So let's say that I'm both motivated to build rocket ships. And I say the coolest thing ever to do with my life would be to build rocket ships. And I'm going to go to school, and I'm going to learn the geometry and the physics and everything that I need to, to practically build a rocket ship. However, the third component that I'm the most interested in, and the reason I'm talking to you, what if I don't believe that I belong there? What if I'm thinking, I am motivated to do it, and it's awesome, and I have all the tools. But who am I to think that I can build rocket ships. That's the part I'm the most interested in?
Ethan Kross 37:37
Well, I mean, then we want to tackle that because that is a self defeating belief. And we know that if you don't feel like you belong, that this can be a powerful impediment to achievement. In fact, there's some great studies which show that small shifts that can promote a person sense of belonging can actually be quite powerful for getting them to that state to follow through with their goals and use the tools that they have. So that sense of belonging is is huge, and more generally, having tools to manage. I think what you're talking about is not just specific to belonging, but really more self doubt and self critique more generally, like we are amazingly creative as people write in terms of how we can sabotage ourselves, right? Like, I don't belong, I suck. It's too hard. Like, there are lots of lots of things we could do to kind of psych ourselves out. And so I think we do want to, those are instances where if you identify those beliefs, like this is where the mind mechanics piece comes in, right? So for thinking about the mind, as this amazingly complex machine, and if the thing that's impairing you, is this one card that's not running optimally, which is this, you know, self critique cog, then that's what we want to target, and are lots of ways to do it. Like lots of tools that can be useful, right tools ranging from, you know, you thinking, like, thinking about the big picture, is it really evidence that you don't belong, right? Really like food? You got through astrophysics? Like I don't know that a lot of people do that. So So why don't you think you belong here? Like, is there actually evidence that supports that? Or, you know, you might do something like, hey, so, you know, Zack, you're wow, you know, what, what would you What would you do if I came to you? And I was telling you these things, what would you say to me say that to yourself, right? You know, use your name to do it. Alright, Zack, here's what you should do. Coach yourself through it like you're talking to someone else. So another thing you could do. A third thing you could do is, you know, find what I like to think of as your chatter advisors. You know, there are people in this world who some people are really good at helping us manage our chatter because they not only listened to us and and take the time to learn about and empathize with With respect to what we're experiencing, but they're also skilled at helping us reframe our experiences in ways that are really productive, right. So they're not just a sounding board to vendor emotions to, which we know can feel good in the moment, but doesn't really have long term benefit. But they can let us vent a little bit. But that really helped broaden our perspective, my go to those people, not doesn't have to be just one, get their advice, get their mentorship, I think we would all be much better off if we thought carefully about who are our coaches are. So those are just a few things you could do that I talked about in the book, there are lots of other things too. And I think the better off we are at managing those kinds of self disparaging beliefs, the better off we'll be in life.
Zack Arnold 40:45
Yeah, there's a couple of those that we're gonna dive into much, much deeper and a little bit, one of them to, and again, if I'm, if I'm using the wrong terms in any way, I've just gone off the top of my head from reading your book, but one of them would be distancing, this idea of creating distance between being stuck in your head. And it's all Me, me, me and II, and finding somebody else out there that can kind of provide that that third person perspective, and also this concept of time traveling, and kind of, you know, looking towards the future. And we'll go into those more a little bit later. But I want to dig even deeper into the sense of imposter syndrome and these limiting beliefs in the scripts that we have. This is something that I deal with extensively in my program, but also something that I deal with personally, myself. And one of the reasons that I decided to pursue this goal of becoming an American Ninja Warrior at the age of 41, with a massive dadbod and full time job and podcasts and two kids is that if I'm going to teach other people how to set audacious goals and overcome all the challenges along the way, I want to face this at the highest level, because that's how I'm going to learn is by going through the gauntlet myself. And what I found is that I had all the motivation in the world. I just I sat my wife down about three and a half years ago now during the holiday season. And I said, I've got a crazy idea. She looked at me She's like, I always have crazy idea. So it was no surprise there. So it was more of the look on her face was what's next. And I said, I want to be on American Ninja Warrior, and straight face. She's like, yeah, I can totally see that. That was it. Not excitement, like, Oh, my God, that's amazing. Just Yeah, okay, I can see that. And since then I've just been doing it have been very motivated. And I have found the right people that have provided the tools and the strategies and the training. But what I identified is that I have a very self deprecating sense of humor, that I always just kind of passed off as Oh, it's not really making that much that big of a deal. But I realized that the script that was in my head for every workout where I was working out like, Well, one of my trainers is Tony Horton, the guy that created the p90x programs. And I've been training with other top level ninjas, and going to all these workouts, thinking, How amazing is that I get to be here. But the damage was done. And I didn't realize until I actually got on the course. But the script that kept going through my head was I don't really belong here. What am I doing here? And the joke that I would make is I always said, I'm the Rudy of the group, right? I'm the guy that comes at, oh, put me in coach, I'm gonna do it. Like, I just want that one play on the field. But that pervaded my mindset, such that when I actually showed up on the course, guess what the first thought was that came into my head, not I've got this, or I can do it. It was, what am I doing here? I don't really belong here. And I could tell that that changed the way that I approached the course. And for anybody that's listening, that does creative work, maybe they haven't actually been in front of all the lights and the cameras and gotten to the point that I did on the show. But whether it's working with a director or being on set, you have that moment of, do I really belong here, like I shouldn't be here. I don't really know how to do this. And I see threads on Facebook all the time, I just saw on last week where somebody said, even though I've been doing this for years, I still get the feeling that somebody is going to discover that I don't know what I'm doing. So that had a tremendous power over my actual physical performance. And one of the things that really struck me about your research in this book that I want people to better understand about the power of this chatter is how it affects your executive function. Because I got to the point where I had been training for these obstacles multiple times per week. And one of the thoughts that went through my head right before they said go was I looked down on my feet, and I said, Oh crap, which one is my right foot. I forgot my left and my right about five seconds before I had to go. And I needed to lead with my right foot on the first obstacle and I forgot. And that happens to a lot of people, whether it's in a conversation or an argument or they're speaking on stage. Explain to us how all these limiting beliefs are not only just thoughts, but they can actually affect the way that we perform.
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Kit Perkins 45:18
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Zack Arnold 45:38
When people think of protein powders they think, well, I don't want to get big and bulky. And that's not what this is about. To me this is about repair.
Kit Perkins 45:44
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Zack Arnold 46:18
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Zack Arnold 46:50
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Ethan Kross 47:15
Because everyone I love that you did American Ninja Warrior, you know, I feel like you know I've set some audacious goals for myself. But they've involved you know, figuring out how to mulch mine. You've raised the stakes a little bit. So let's start with you touched on a lot of things in that in that anecdote that I want to come back to In turn, let's start with executive function and performance and what chatter does. And it's really simple. chatter breaks down performance. And it does so in ways that can be quite consequential. So there are two ways that chatter can sink us one were under the spotlight, whether it be the American Ninja Warrior spotlight, or you know, the NBA Finals, or having to just compute a set of computations or work on a problem at work. One thing that happens when we experience chatter is it consumes our attention. Now we only have so much attention that we can devote to things at any given moment in time. And when all of our attention, which by the way, is a big piece of what executive functions consist of how we deal with attention, when all of our attention is devoted to chatter, guess what, there's not a whole lot left over to devote to other things like, you know, determining which foot is left versus right, or how do I compute this mathematical problem? Or, you know, what were the talking points that are about what I was about to engage in. So that's one way that it can really, really undermine us. The other thing that chatter does is it zooms us in on the issue that we are worried about, right? So it consumes us as I've just described it at all of our attention. And so when you are when you're performing under the spotlight, the form that that immersion can take, is it you know, when you're performing like sports, a lot of the things we do are are these complex habits that we've developed over time, we've strung together very complex sequences of behavior. So I just played baseball when I was in high school I used to pitch and a pitching wind up is a really complicated movement, right? You get the ball, you set your arms, you step back, you lift your your knee up to as high as you can you then you know, lean back further, you redistribute your way you're squeezing the ball in a particular way with your fingers positioned appropriately. Super, super complicated. When when you're experiencing chatter, and you're not sure if you're going to perform well. What you do is you hyper focus on that complex behavior. And the result is it breaks it down leads to something called paralysis by analysis. So I'm up there on the mound and I'm not just Thinking about, alright, fastball, lights out, right instead it's, am I squeezing the ball tight enough? Am I you know, waiting enough time before I release it? Am I lifting my knee high enough? And once you start doing that everything breaks down. So those are two ways that chatter can really sink us now there are oodles and oodles of research that's a technical term by littles. Yes. oodles that that show how chatter in the form of rumination worry, or separation can sink people across the board, whether it is you know, people working in the creative arts or for performance. More generally, just recently, the World Health Organization put a price tag on the cost of anxiety and depression, which we know chatter fuels in the workplace, and for the global economy is over a trillion dollars. So these are huge issues. And you know, just to go back again to like, why it matters. Why did I decide to spend my life studying this? And why did I spend a significant portion of my professional life writing a book on it? We've already talked about our physical health, right? Really important thing to a lot of people, certainly myself, I think many others too. And now we've just talked about our work life and our recreational life like so we're rapidly you know, crossing off the areas of life that really make life worth living. And and chatter is the is the element that is crossing those things off.
Zack Arnold 51:27
Well, I just realized this may turn into a personal therapy session for me. And that may have no relevance whatsoever to my audience at this point. But you just gave me massive flashbacks to middle school, because you were just talking about being a pitcher in baseball. And I remember when I was in middle school, I was one of the only left handers and the high school baseball coach had singled me out and said, I want you to be our star pitcher in high school. So I was being taught I think it was in sixth or seventh grade being taken out for side sessions and private training sessions to teach me how to be a pitcher because I could be there as left hander. And when I was in practice, I was unstoppable. Like they were teaching me things and I was strike after strike after strike. And they put me in my first game, and it was a train wreck of a disaster. And you actually talk about how this happened to a professional pitcher. His name was rich was a recur Ricky Ricky Richie Rich, rich. So Rick Ankiel, who went through something similar on a much larger stage. But because of that experience, where I went from, I'm an ace pitcher. And I'm an you know, the seventh grader that's, you know, throwing all the strikes and strikeouts in practice. And in the game setting, it was wild pitches, and it was just a big mess. What I'm realizing now all of it's just starting to come to the surface. Like I said, it's going to be like our personal therapy session. Since that since that moment, I've had sports performance anxiety, where whether this had happened in high school as well, where once they realized it couldn't pitch, I became a really good hitter. And when I was in like the, I guess, Junior Varsity I bad 501 year, which if anybody that follows baseball, 500 is pretty good. As soon as they put me into my first varsity game, I couldn't have hit the ball. If you'd given me an eight by eight, like I just I struck out time after time after time. And it was because of nerves. And because of that everything that I've tried to do, that's been a live performance. Since then I've had that same performance anxiety, which I think is one of the reasons I chose my profession. Because as somebody that is I call myself a recovering perfectionist, but I'm very much a perfectionist. As a film editor, I get all of this time to myself to get it right, knowing that when somebody sees that nothing can go wrong, because it's finished. But a lot of the things from my middle and high school athletics experience came out when I was on that course. Because in practice, like the the obstacle that I ended up falling on, I could have easily done it had nothing to do with skill whatsoever. If you were to give me if I were to run it 100 times without cameras, I probably hit it 97 times out of 100. So what was all mental chatter?
Ethan Kross 54:02
Yeah, I mean, mental chatter is huge. In the performing arts, it's huge in sports as well. And, you know, interestingly, if you if you watch sports, you'll notice that a lot of athletes have rituals that they engage in, like before, before matches, not even before matches, but often before consequential moments in games, like if you watch, you know, a person in the NBA on the free throw line. And people have these, these, these rituals that they engage in before they take their their shot, right. And, you know, as I talked about in the book, rituals are actually one tool that are really an ancient tool that we have for managing our chatter, and they work in a few different ways. And maybe we'll talk about later. But all of this is to say that, you know, you're not alone. If you've experienced this kind of performance anxiety. Lots of people do. The good news is we know that there are things you could do to manage it. Now. I do want to come back to one point that I didn't address that is really important, I think and it has to do with your American Ninja Warrior exploits. So you mentioned that when you got there, you said to yourself, Oh,
I can't do this. So I love that. Not that you had that experience, but it really sets up and validates the science really well. So what we know, from lots of research is that when you put a person in a stressful situation, they they instantly ask themselves two questions. And this often happens subconsciously outside of awareness. The first thing they do is they scan the situation. And they Okay, well, what is required of me? And then they say, Can I do it? Do I have the resources to manage it? So it is two questions. If you if you ask yourself those two questions, what's your card mean? Can I do it? And you answer? Nope, can't do it. That elicits what we call a threat response. And a threat response has a particular constellation of outcomes associated with it, there's an elevated heart rate coupled with a constriction of your vasculature. And what that means is, your heart starts pumping blood really fast, but the tangle of arteries and veins that carry that blood throughout your body, and which needs the blood in a high stress circumstance, it starts constricting. Turns out that more more blood flow through a smaller space, not a good thing. That's how you get like bursted arteries and things like that. And we also know that this threat response, I can't do it, I can't do it doesn't just have that negative physiological profiling to it, but also a negative performance profile. So people bring reality in line with their beliefs, you can't do it. And guess what you don't do it, you screw up. What we also know, though, is you can answer that question those questions differently. What's required me? And what do I have to do? Yeah, I can do it. I've done it before I can manage this, or I think I could do it. And when you have that set of appraisals, when you make sense of the situation in that way, what that does, it leads to a different physiological profile. Your heart's still pumping blood to your body, because your body needs it, but your vasculature relaxes, so the blood can flow freely through your body effortlessly. Really good thing. We also know that when you have this challenge, orientation or mindset, you also bring reality in line with that mindset, you tend to perform better as well. Now, it's not just that some people reflexively view things as a threat. And other people view the same situations as a challenge. Yeah, there are those individual differences. But what I love about the research in this space is that we've discovered that these mindsets, these orientations, they're malleable, you can shift the way you think about these experiences. And when you do you get the concomitant physiological and behavioral effects. And so one tool people can use to do this is something called distance self talk, try to coach yourself through a situation like you would give advice to a friend, or someone that you were coaching, you know, maybe it's a kid, and use your name to do this silently. That's an important caveat. You don't want to do it out loud. But using your name, like our Ethan, what are you going to do here? We find that that's really useful, because what it does is it automatically shifts our perspective, if you if you imagine the mind has these these different modes, thinking about myself versus other people, using your name turns on the the neural machinery for thinking about others. And that's really important, because we know it's much easier to give advice to other people than it is for us to take our own advice. I often ask people I talk to about these kinds of things like to think about the self disparaging thoughts, they often think to themselves. And then I asked them, Hey, have you ever told someone else those things like you're a total, there's no way you'll ever do this, you suck. Like, I'm sure it happens at times in highly dysfunctional relationships. But no person has ever admitted to me that when their friend comes to them with a problem, that that's the way they coach them through it. In fact, what people often tell me is that they're embarrassed to even articulate out loud what they say to themselves silently. If we just pause for a second on that observation, I think it's really powerful. Many people are unwilling to even verbalize to a trusted other what they say to themselves, because it's so outlandish. It's so inappropriate, in a certain sense. And, and you know, not surprisingly, when we think those things, they can have harmful results. And so, you know, to get back to the solution, try to coach yourself through the situation like you were a friend use your name to do it. We find that that often activates this challenge orientation which can make a real difference when you're under The American Ninja spotlight or, you know, doing free throws for the NBA. We haven't actually done the disclaimers, we haven't done studies and those kind of ideas that we think they would.
Zack Arnold 1:00:10
I only wish that I had found your book like maybe three weeks sooner because I found it shortly after the Ninja Warrior experience. I was I think it was when I was reading Adam grants brand new book. And I think he had mentioned your book in there as well. But it was talking specifically about chatter and all the things that we're discussing now. And I was like, Yeah, I think this is probably what happened with the Ninja Warrior experience, because it wasn't like a massively failed, I was about an inch away from my toe being on the lip that it should have had to continue going forwards. And I've I think about the difference in getting that extra inch. And I reverse engineer because I like to break everything down into its component parts. As you talked about, that when you get to this point where all of a sudden, you kind of have what I what I've described and what other people describe as tunnel vision, where you really can't focus on much and the executive function goes away. And all of a sudden, like my heart was I thought my heart was going to explode out of my head. That's what it felt like. But at the same time, my arms and legs felt like they weighed 5000 pounds, because I didn't have that free flowing energy. If that hadn't been there, I easily would have had enough of the step off the one platform to the rope to the next platform that I wouldn't have missed that one inch that I was away. But now going back, I can distinctly remember when they do the the walkthrough beforehand, and they show you all the obstacles and they give you the rules. All I probably needed to do to make up that one inch was talk to myself and say, Zack, you've done obstacles like this. How many times before? Many, many times? Is there anything here that you're not physically strong enough to do? No, four years ago, I would have said, I am not physically capable of doing these things, which is why I spent years training. But if I looked at it objectively, or somebody else had been standing next to me talking about my ear, is there anything on here that you haven't really done before? Well, there's one that's a little bit out of my, my technique range, but the rest of them, I've done this 100 times. Is there any reason you can't get through this? No, absolutely not. That's not the voice that was in my head. The voice in my head was, oh my god, there are a lot of lights and look at all the cameras and I'm surrounded by professional athletes. What am I doing here? Right. And that's what made the difference in that one inch. But again, looking at the biology, it makes sense why I missed it by an inch.
Ethan Kross 1:02:18
Look, I'm an expert in these things, you know, presumably and I had a very similar experience. Recently, I had a really high stakes talk coming up it was during the pandemic and it was via zoom. And, and the organizers of the talk, it was almost like I was a subject in my own experiment because they kept on changing what they wanted me to do. One minute, they wanted me to tape record here the next minute, do it live here, then tape record them back and forth, back and forth. And you know is going up to the finish line on what is going on. This is not good. Oh, god, what if I screw this up? It's gonna be everywhere. And and then I you know, I just I didn't know the tool. And I used Ethan, you've you've given literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of presidents, you've never screwed one up terribly. Why are you worried about this? And guess what? It'll be over in three hours. And then you can go do what? And it's a switch and the switch was flipped. And it made that difference. So, you know, I think that's exactly what you're talking about. And I think this is this gets back to the importance of knowing what the tools are. If you don't know what the tools are, you can't use them. Right. And some of these tools just aren't on people's radar. Like when we first started doing work on this, what we call distance self taught coaching yourself like a friend. There were lots of examples of people doing this throughout history. So there are records of Julius Caesar, talking to himself like he was another person using his name. The Statesman Henry Adams more contemporary times, Julius Caesar and Jennifer Lawrence all did it under stressful circumstances. The name that was given to it was elitism. And people had speculated that this was just a sign of narcissism, like, you know, people who have inflated egos talk to themselves using their own name. Well, the science shows that a it's not linked with narcissism and b, this serves a function, it can help people and the scientists articulated how it works. And so I think that, that that's why these tools really matter. And it's why it's why we need the science really to understand how they work. I want to mention one other thing that you you touched on that I'll throw back to you. You said that this was a game of inches in a certain sense that you had all the physical tools you needed. And it was really the the mental or the psychological, literally inches in your case that undid you. I think that's a really important point to emphasize. Because when you get to the elite levels, which is really what we're talking about now, you're just looking for that inch level difference, right? You're not looking to you're not looking to get someone An Olympic sprinting event, you know, four seconds more in their race, you're looking for a few milliseconds more because it is the milliseconds, that makes the difference between first and second place. It's a person who can hit the free throw with under one second left on the shot clock that determines whether they win the championship or not. And that's really the terrain under which the mind that we have can make a difference. And so I think it's important to point out that that's what we're dealing with.
Zack Arnold 1:05:32
Yeah, no, just to iterate this one more time, you actually have a term that goes with this idea of how we give much better advice to others. And we do to ourselves, you call the Solomons paradox. And I think this idea of distance self talk is so important to learn how to do this. And it's actually a trick that I've learned in my coaching practice, where if I'm talking to somebody, and they're putting together a resume, or they want to get ready for an interview, and I want them to better understand the value they can bring to others. I'll first ask them, what what what are all the assets are the skills that you have? And like, Well, you know, I guess I need to do this or that I'm like, Alright, I'm going to stop you. Instead, I want you to think about your last employer. And they're going to recommend you for the job and all of your skills, what would they say? They completely change. It's amazing to watch this, we're all suddenly, well, they would say that, you know, Bob is incredibly organized and hardworking, and he's been a positive force. And like, you realize you're talking about yourself right now. Like, Oh, my God, that's so embarrassing. But I've noticed that people will do that when asked to speak of themselves, and the third person perspective. And the other thing I asked them, which kind of goes back to what you were saying, is when you talk about or you share what the negative thoughts are in your head, I asked them, How would you feel if somebody were talking that way about your best friend? Well, I've never allowed them to talk about my best friend that way. Well, then why do you allow yourself to talk about yourself that way, all the time, it's kind of a, an aha moment where they realize they wouldn't allow anybody to treat somebody that they care about in their lives that way. But that's the voice and the script is in their head. 24 seven.
Ethan Kross 1:07:04
And that's and I think having that aha is really powerful. And what it allows us to do is be a lot more deliberate with respect to how we address this chatter and challenge it. We don't have to wait to kind of figure out how to get over these self disparaging thoughts, which sometimes we never figure out how to do. But instead, we've got a go to techniques from a moment I find the chatter beginning to brew already, you can What are you doing, man? You know, what would you tell? Would you tell your buddy Jason, what would you say to him? And I say to myself, and it it, it neutralizes it? Right there. So. So I think that that does speak to the power. Now, one other point for listeners, you know, subtle question that sometimes comes up when we talk about these issues is, well, why do we do this in the first place? Like, you know, if you believe in evolution, which I do, why would we you basically evolve in ways that enhance your ability to pass on your genes and your survive and thrive all this stuff? so wildly, you know, evolve to experience chatter, why do we default to these negative states? And I think the reason that this happens is, this is this is an instance of a well intentioned response that runs awry, right. So just to kind of give people as a way of making sense of why this happens. So when you're under threat, or when you're experiencing something you don't know you can handle. It makes sense to a certain degree to zoom in on the problem, right, let's, let's put everything else aside. And just hyper focus, I'm not gonna worry about what I'm making for dinner tonight, or what shows I'm going to watch, I'm just gonna think about this issue I'm dealing with right now. Right. So that's a very adaptive response. The problem is that concomitant with that zoomed in focus, we have this infusion of negative emotion, that then gets stuck there. And so we then lose the ability to flexibly zoom out and think about all the things you just mentioned. And that's in a certain sense, what we're reminding people to do with all these different tools, or a lot of them is, hey, you can zoom out, there's a lot of different ways to do it. And if you do, you'll benefit from it. So it's about shift. It's about shifting when we get stuck there.
Zack Arnold 1:09:22
Yeah. And I think that when we're talking about this idea of distance, self talk, another thing you mentioned, is just lending some perspective, right? Let's just kind of doing a big zoom out. And like, what, what, what really is going to be the implication of this one meeting or this one presentation? Or, you know, is it really going to matter in five or 10 years if something goes wrong, like this idea of time traveling forwards? And I think in 99 out of 100 cases, if somebody were to ask, Is this really going to make a difference in 10 years? The answer would be no. I actually just had this conversation with my wife where something had come up with our kids or school or something, whatever it was, she was getting really upset and really getting stuck. into it. And I said, Take a breath. If this works out the way we think it's going to, is this going to matter to their development in five or 10 years, we'll know. Well, then why worry about it? Right? It's really not that big of a deal. But the flip side of it is that when I stood on the starting line, I was getting ready to go, and I'm thinking to myself, in five years, is how I perform on this course is going to matter. And it did, right, because this is the kind of thing let's say that I go out there and just crush the course and hit a buzzer. That's a life changing experience. And with American Ninja Warrior, you get one shot, you don't get a few practice runs you to get to know the course you get one shot, I stood around for nine hours in the warm up area, before I got in front of the camera, and I got to be on the course thinking, if I fall, that's it. That's three and a half years of training gone. And succeeding could make a difference in five or 10 years. And it's all that pressure in your mind. It's all about this one thing.
Ethan Kross 1:10:57
Now this is why. So you know, one theme of the book and the theme of my release. Yeah, it's funny, as a researcher, I sometimes struggle to pronounce that damn word. When I was recording the audio book for chatter as an aside, the the director Kappa, you keep changing how you're pronouncing his research, one sense for search. Anyway, an important feature of my research is Phantom I genuinely truly believe in is that a there's no one size fits all tool that works for all people in all situations. And I think your your, your experience here really powerfully demonstrates that life. So when you were in the waiting room, what we call temporal distance in which is imagining how you're going to feel about this a year or five years from now, which often does make people feel better when they're grappling with acute stressors, like, Alright, you know, there's this this talk I got to give, I'm all stressed out about how you're gonna feel about it next week. Well, I always forget about these things after I'll feel better. You identified an instance in which that particular tool wasn't serving you, well, that doesn't mean it's not going to serve you well. In other instances, I would venture to guess that it might be really useful for other things for you. But in that moment, it wasn't working for you. And that's where we need to begin to think about really beginning this process of doing some self experimentation to figure out well, what are the combinations of tools that work best for us, given the unique challenges we face because not every challenge we have looks the same. And so you know, there are some instances where the golden ticket for me for for nipping. The chatter in the bud involves distance self talk. So you know, coaching myself, like I was talking to a friend, mental time travel that we just discussed, and going for a walk in nature. In other instances, you know, I may have to layer on to that consulting, my chatter advisory board, my friends and colleagues are really helpful, or doing the ritual or cleaning up a space, right. And sometimes, it's just the rituals and cleaning up the space, I don't want to do cognitive stuff. I don't perfectly know how everything you know what combination is going to work best for every single challenge. But what I have is this elaborate toolbox. So I can very quickly sort through things and find a combination that does work. And I have yet to be to be stumped. Just to punctuate the message, you wouldn't expect the same tool to work for every single situation, giving the complexity of the kinds of situations that there are out there and the complexity that we bring to the situation. So I think the more we can shift away from searching for these magic pills, the better the magic pill is in the having access to the entire toolbox, not having one tool
Zack Arnold 1:13:47
Exactly. And not looking looking forwards to, you know, God willing having the opportunity to do this again next year. And hopefully, they won't disregard me so well, he fell, so we don't need him back. I am pretty good at crafting a story. He does what I do for a living. So hopefully I can create another audition video and get myself back on. But what I've learned what I then want to apply it to other people's experiences is that number one, I spent way too much time talking to myself as I, I can or I can't do the following. And if I had stepped outside myself being a coach, which is ironic, because I coach people all day long. But it's a lot harder to do that for yourself and for others, which again, if somebody wants to dig into that deeper in your book you call Solomon's paradox, I need to kind of step outside myself more to realize these are things that I've done before. One of the most important tools that I use to get over anxiety or arguments or things breaking down or whatever it is, I always asked myself the question, is this really going to matter in five years, but I should not have used that tool in this instance? Because the answer was a big giant. Yes, this is going to matter in five years. And then I think the other one that I really didn't establish at all or look at is rituals, because I know that a lot of athletes have very specific rituals, whether it's, you know, I'm going to tap my toes 10 times or whatever people on the outside think it looks ridiculous. But as you talked about a little bit, and you talk about a lot in the book, it establishes a sense of control, this is a behavior I can control, which then allows the blood to flow more freely to my legs in my arm, so I don't miss by an inch. And I didn't really have any rituals. And one of the things that really threw me off was that as soon as they can assure you to the stage, all of a sudden, you've got what you need to stand over here, get on the sex, okay, the cameras gonna be on you, I need to I need two sentences, I want you to be inspirational, oh, my God, you know, he needs to go over don't go up the steps. Yeah, we need I need to give you a five count, then you get on the steps, make sure to wait to your family and your brains like, ah, right, which is why I said to myself, which one's my right foot again, because I just couldn't process all the information. But had I had rituals, I could have felt like I just was more centered. And that stuff was just white noise, as opposed to that was driving my thought process. There's so much cognitively happening, that my brain just shut down and said, Nope, can't do it. And then when they say go, I'm like, Oh, crap, what do I do? So I know for sure, I would establish rituals. But the last place that I want to go very quickly, and I know that we have to wrap up shortly, is for anybody else, this listening to this. Now that's not going to be on an American Ninja Warrior course. But they are battling imposter syndrome. That's a big thing in my industry. They're thinking to themselves, I don't belong here. And they're labeling themselves as I am or I am not either. I am not good enough at this, or I am bad at building relationships, or I am just a procrastinator or whatever it is that the that's driving them. What is one of your tools that can help them very simply start to reframe, or rewrite the way that they talk about themselves with an IM label, and the area that I want to go. And I think it's I mean, frankly, if there's one sentence that stood out in your book that made me want to reach out, it was that you said we need to reframe our threats or our problems as challenges. So how can we start to rewrite these labels and limiting beliefs that cause imposter syndrome? As challenges to start to get over them?
Ethan Kross 1:17:00
I think it's as simple as shifting from I can't to I can, you know, that's the goal, right? The threat, what drives a threat responses? I can't do it. I don't belong. The challenge responses, I can do it right. I've gotten here, I do belong. And once you have that orientation, I think what you find is that that in turn, it not just impacts your physiology. It there's a chain reaction, right? It activates this self fulfilling prophecy in which you then begin to act in ways that bring those cognitions to life. And I remember when I started my faculty position here at the University of Michigan, you know, I had those feelings of imposter ism, like you were describing to at one moment, I'm a graduate student. next minute, I'm a faculty member. And I'm, you know, I'm dealing with going to lunch with some of the most famous scientists ever in psychology, right? And so, oh, my God, when are they going to figure out they made the wrong decision, right? And then zoomed in on that, and then I zoom back? Well, look, you work hard. Everyone starts off at this point, it's natural, it's normal to feel this way. Everyone I've spoken to does. normalizing our experience is also really important. We talk about this in the book, too. And there are things you could do to to normalize your situation, I think, actually knowing that if you're experiencing this imposter ism, it's not it's not actually this rare event they hear. You know, it's, it's a lot of people experience that too. Same is true, of course, chatter. I think knowing that can also be really empowering for helping people make sense of things. So So I mean, if to go back to your question, what's the one thing you can say you want to shift from I can't to I can, and you know, use that distance self talk to help you do that to help coach yourself through it like you would another person.
Zack Arnold 1:18:58
And one other thing just to add on really quickly. And you can tell me if I'm wrong being the the expert here and me being the novice, but whenever people are dealing with imposter syndrome, and they say, Well, I can't just reframe it from I can't, I can that that's just too simple. And that's not even true. What I will have them do. And that's exactly the way that I moved forwards with my goal with American Ninja Warrior, is you just pick something that's the tiniest bit beyond what you already have proven that you can do. So for example, if you're an editor or director or whatever. Well, have you done this before? in some capacity? Well, yes, well, maybe now you're working with a bigger director or to bigger film or a bigger budget, or instead of 100 people seeing what you're going to edit 100 million are going to see it. Like for me jumping on Cobra Kai, I can't even comprehend that on the computer that I have sitting next to me. Over 100 million people across the entire planet are going to watch my decisions. I don't even think about it. I just think about I know that I can cut a scene. I know that I'm going to get good at putting together a training montage or an action sequence. That's something that I can do. So I see it imposter syndrome, you just have to chip away at it, you find whatever that little thing is that you know you already can do. Maybe it's a little bit harder, but you do it next. And you basically are proving to yourself over time that I can do it. And I don't know if, if that's, if that's good advice, or I should be giving other advice.
Ethan Kross 1:20:17
No, I think that's great advice. It's making these shifts like tiny shifts, and it's refocusing people on, you know, less what we call anxiolytic ways of thinking about things. So makes total sense. The only thing I would add is that for the people who say, objectively, I can't, isn't true. And I would argue this all around with subjectivity, when when, you know, we're not talking about a case of a new editor being asked to now translate, you know, a Japanese film into Chinese like, or Mandarin. Like, you can't there is an objective, no, you can't do that. And I think there's value in being able to recognize that there are some things that we cannot do. But that's not the terrain that we're dealing with. We're dealing with a much fuzzier terrain of a person being in a situation where it's just not clear whether they can or can't, there is no objective, yes or no, it's a maybe. And, and I think what we've learned from assignments is when you're in that maybe circumstance, there are ways of shifting the way you think that can make a big difference.
Zack Arnold 1:21:27
And there's one tiny thing I'm going to add, because I know you have to go, I actually was put in this position of editing a film 100% in Mandarin when I didn't speak a word boy. And the way that I reframed it was I can't do this yet. I know how to edit a scene. I know how to edit action. I don't know how to speak Mandarin. But I understand people and I understand performance, and I understand emotion. So I can't do it yet. But if I edit and I learned Mandarin at the same time, I'll figure it out. And I did I ended up editing an entire film shot completely in spoken in Mandarin with no subtitles, and it took me longer, but the reframe was I can't do this yet. So that was one of our one of the additions. I love it. I mean, that speaks even, I just thought was hilarious. You brought that up as an example.
Ethan Kross 1:22:10
But and for those of you who are listening, this was not planted at all next time, I'm going to have to choose a much more extreme example like building a spaceship. There you go. Do you be aligned chef at a restaurant?
Zack Arnold 1:22:23
Exactly? Well, I want to be respectful of your time. And I know that you've got another call to be on very, very soon. But I'm hoping that everybody listening today that's going through some of these issues with their chatter with imposter syndrome, whatever it might be, they seek you out and they seek out your book, How can they do so easily and efficiently?
Ethan Kross 1:22:40
They can go to my website, www dot Ethan Kross Kross with a K Kr oss.com www.EthanKross.com you get info about me, my lab, the book there, and I hope it I hope you enjoy and I hope it helps people,
Zack Arnold 1:22:57
I have no doubt that well, it's been tremendously beneficial. For me, it opened up a whole new world of things that I can train far beyond pull ups and push ups or editing scenes or whatever it might be like that now I have a much deeper area to explore that's going to have much more profound positive results in the future. And although it's there and you know, 170 glorious, very simple to get through pages. So Oh,
Ethan Kross 1:23:19
thank you very much. I mean that that makes all the work for me. And I feel like it was worth it. So thank you.
Zack Arnold 1:23:25
You bet. On that note, I just wanted to thank you again for your time and your expertise. And I appreciate having you here today.
Ethan Kross 1:23:30
Right Zack thank you good luck with everything.
Zack Arnold 1:23:34
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Optimize Yourself podcast. to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes as well as to subscribe so you don't miss future interviews just like this one, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast. And as a quick reminder, if you'd like me to answer your burning questions on an upcoming Q&A episode, all you have to do is visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast, subscribe via apple and then leave us an honest review. At the end of your review. Leave your question and we will answer it in depth on an upcoming Q&A episode and we're even going to give you credit for it. And once again, a special thank you to our sponsor Ergodriven for making today's interview possible. To learn more about Ergodriven and my favorite product for standing workstations the Topomat, visit optimizeyourself.me/topo, that's t o p o and to learn more about Ergodriven and their brand new product that I'm super excited about New Standard Whole Protein, visit optimizeyourself.me/newstandard. Thank you for listening, stay safe, healthy and sane and be well.
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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.
His book, CHATTER: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It, is a National Bestseller and was chosen as one of the best new books of the year by the Washington Post, CNN and USA Today and the Winning Winter 2021 selection for Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Susan Cain and Dan Pink’s Next Big Idea Book Club.
The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).
Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.