Chatter. The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness it (2021) by Ethan Kross


16 May
16May

Overall opinion

A fantastic book – I would highly recommended this to clients and fellow therapists. Many aspects are directly applicable to therapy and our everyday lives.  5 stars!

Central theme in a sentence

Essentially, what and how we are thinking is a better predictor of our happiness than what we are doing 

Our inner voice

Our inner voice is incredibly helpful. It allows us to:

  • hold information in our working memory
  • to reflect and learn from the past
  • to consider different options and simulate different futures. 
  • influence our emotions and update the narrative about who we are

However when we feel overwhelmed we tend to zoom our attention in on the problem (a real or perceived threat) at the expense of other things and our inner voice can become repetitive and anxious called ‘chatter’. 

In this mode we are less objective, less consciously rational, less able to problem solve. We also have a strong need to share our strong emotions with others  to ‘tend’ and ‘befriend’. 

Chatter will encourage us to look for and see other problems and negative issues because of the associative nature of our memory and mind and the ‘frequency illusion’.  These can fuel a vicious circle. 

Chatter is an important natural adaptive response, and we all experience it from time to time but when it becomes a sustained response there are negative consequences for our health and wellbeing. 

Using recent neuroscientific evidence the book illustrates how chatter has a physiological impact on our bodies and how emotional pain triggers responses in our mind and body similar to physical pain (see page 39). Chatter can instigate our fight or flight mechanisms just like actual physical threats and can potentially turn on certain genes if groups of cells remain in a sustained threat response. 

The book shows how we are often more objective and solution orientated about other people’s lives (The Solomon Paradox page 55) – a clue to helping ourselves.

Zooming in, Zooming out

Zooming in,
being immersive

Narrows our attention, magnifies the issues, fuels emotions, extends the duration of the impact of emotions. In high stress responses is associated with the turning on of fight flight of freeze responses. Chronically this can be associated with increased cardiovascular and other disease risks and a higher likelihood of stress, anxiety and depression. (see page 48). Negative thoughts are likely to trigger other negative thoughts through association. Zooming in can be good if we want or need to be attentive to something or enhance our emotions or feelings.

Zooming out, distancing
Broadens our attention, dampens emotional responses both in intensity and duration. It dials down fight, fight or freeze responses and allows us to be more objective and is associated with letter go and moving on from the past.


Tools and techniques to help

The books sets out a suite of tools, described as a ‘psychological immune system’ which are proven to reduce chatter by helping us zoom out, gain perspective and become more objective. These are summarised as follows:


Tools to help ourselves   

  1. Use our own name, e.g. 'Andy, what's best to do here', 'what would Andy do"?
  2. Imagine advising a friend, son, daughter
  3. Consider the issue in the scheme of things, e.g. historically, over time
  4. Reframe  the issue from threat to challenge 
  5. Reinterpret body messages and symptoms for what they are
  6. Normalise – information which shows we are not alone
  7. Mental time travel – “a year from now” 
  8. Be a fly on the wall peering down on the scene, panning out like a camera 
  9. Writing – expressive and journaling Act like a neutral third party 
  10. The power of belief, expectation, placebo and the use of positive, nurturing lucky charms or rituals


Tools and techniques to help others 

  1. Address people’s emotional need first and then cognitive needs. (Providing only emotional support risks co-rumination and adding fuel to the emotional fire)
  2. Provide invisible support (support that the person doesn’t realise you have given)
  3. Imagine being a superhero (particularly for children)
  4. Touch (affectionately but respectfully)
  5. Be someone else’s placebo – offering positivity, optimism and hope


Receiving chatter support from other

  1. Have a ‘board of advisors’ to offer us different types of support (e.g. a Captain Kirk (emotional support) and Spok (for cognitive support)
  2. Make contact or accept physical contact (even inanimate objects, teddy, blanket)
  3. Use photos of loved ones or important others
  4. Rituals with others (games, teams, meditation etc) 
  5. Use social media to gain support (but be cautious of impulsive social media use and over sharing, minimise passive social media usage)


How our environment can help reduce chatter

  1. Create order in any aspect / dimensions of our lives (anything helps, even small acts can make the world feel less threatening, less unwieldly)
  2. Increase exposure to green spaces (even images and sounds can help invoke positive involuntary attention
  3. Seek out awe-inspiring experiences (shrinking the self)

My thoughts on how themes in the book could be used as part of Solution Focused therapy  

  • Using the language of zooming in, zooming out + referring to any of the tools above (where relevant to the person)
  • Zooming in to magnify positive steps, discovered strengths etc (e.g. during What’s Been Good)
  • Referring to the recent neuroscientific studies to enhance the brain-based information (e.g. re emotional pain causing physical consequences in our bodies, or how talking to others (co-rumination) doesn’t help reduce chatter and can exacerbate it)
  • Using of third person as part of the solution focused conversations (to enhance) e.g. “What is it about John Curtis that made achieving that possible”.
  • Being aware of the benefits and risks of unguarded use of social media (particularly for young people)
  • Using images of nature in therapy room and as part of  hypnotherapy language patterns. Using natural sounds as part of audio tracks.
  • Miracle Question: being aware that order brought about by the client in any part of their life can be a benefit, however small.


See here for the official Chatter site, a Chatter Quiz and links to lots of other reviews

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It (ethankross.com) 


In my view this was a most enjoyable read and the key findings and proposed suite of tools are directly applicable to the theory and practice solution-focused work.

Andy Hill

Hypnotherapist, Solution-focused


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