"Q&A With Ethan Kross"

"Q&A With Ethan Kross"

Book: Chatter

Photo by Meredith Heuer

Author: Ethan Kross

Author Bio:

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 studies how the conversations people have with themselves impact their health, performance, decisions and relationships.
Ethan was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude. After earning his PhD in Psychology from Columbia University, Ethan completed a post-doctoral fellowship in social-affective neuroscience to learn about the neural systems that support self-control. He moved to the University of Michigan in 2008, where he founded the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory.
Ethan’s research has been published in Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. He has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed on CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition. His pioneering research has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, The Economist, The Atlantic, Forbes, and Time.
Ethan lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two daughters. Chatter is his first book.”


1.  How important was it for you to release this book “Chatter”, especially during a pandemic when people’s self-talk could have increased from isolation?

While I began drafting Chatter several years before the pandemic began, I believe that this past year of COVID-19 has really shown the ways that we can all improve with our self-talk, making this launch a really timely moment for society. In this book, I share some of the insights of my research over the years, as well as real-life stories from my own experiences and observations that really show how important it is to master chatter, especially in these times of isolation.


2.  Being a professor, what are the effects that you have seen among your students' overall performance in class in relation to how much chatter they might experience?

I've seen chatter form in a variety of different ways for my students, but overall the most common distinction is their ability to perform well on exams and presentations. When chatter takes over it can consume our attention, leaving little room for us to focus on anything else. 


3.  In your book, you share experiences with chatter from people such as King Solomon to LeBron James. How has chatter changed through time, if any? And did you do any studies about chatter amongst different ethnic groups? 

That’s a hard question to answer because academic research on this topic is, relatively speaking, very recent in terms of the history of our species. That said, ancient philosophers in both the East and West have repeatedly talked about the importance of emotion regulation. So, I think chatter probably has likely been with us for quite some time and is an age-old problem. 


4.  When was it that you realized that this book needed to be made?

I'll never forget this moment. When I was teaching an undergraduate seminar on the science of self-control, a student pulled me aside on the last day and asked why we were just learning about this material now. This question was a wake up call for me that there was a need to translate what research shows about how to tame our mind, which in turn motivated me to write Chatter


5.  How important was it for you to write in a way that highlighted and compiled the research psychology at a high level but was conveyed to the reader in layman's terms?

Extremely important. If people don’t understand what the science says, then writing about it doesn’t have much effect. I’ve always tried to convey material using easy to understand language. The simpler the better as far as I’m concerned!


6.  Are you able to better understand how your very own brain works after researching and writing “Chatter”?

Absolutely, I learned a lot while writing Chatter. For example, although I was familiar with how certain ways of interacting with our physical spaces could help us manage the conversations we have with ourselves, I didn’t fully understand the extent to which our spaces influence us until I dug into the research for the book. Based on what I’ve learned, I have made several changes in my life as a result that I mention in the book, such as going for more walks in green spaces, to seeking out awe-inspiring experiences, to creating order in my surroundings when I experience chatter. 


7.  How has chatter helped or hurt you in the past?

I think of chatter as the “dark side” of the inner voice. So, when I’ve experienced it, it has only hurt me rather than helped me. A few ways that it has impacted me negatively, that I also mention in the book, is that chatter made it harder for me to focus on work, created friction in my relationships, and certainly made it harder for me to sleep at night. Fortunately, I haven’t suffered from chatter for prolonged periods of time—I’ve relied on many of the tools I talk about in Chatter, and they’ve helped. 


8.  What is the earliest age that chatter or the inner voice begins to function?

There’s evidence that the inner voice begins to function in a rudimentary form, beginning as early as 18 months old. It is quite possible that chatter can form sooner, but studies haven’t demonstrated that yet. I want to emphasize that the inner voice is not the same thing as chatter. The inner voice is a tool that can be helpful or harmful, and chatter is the harmful manifestation of the inner voice. 


9.  When did you realize that the inner chatter could be harnessed for your benefit?

My starting point was that the inner voice is usually helpful. So, for me, the question was never, “Could the inner voice be useful?” Instead, it was, "When we find the inner voice not being useful, what can we do to bring it back on track?"


10.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?

Remind yourself that most authors experience writer's block, and that eventually, it will fade. Going for walks, taking breaks, and trying again when I was done always helped me when I felt like I hit a mental wall. 


11.  What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?

“This too shall pass." 


12.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

Ask me in six months! Chatter was a four-year project, so right now I’m just looking forward to sharing the work, learning about people’s reactions, and taking a break from the computer. :)


Places To Find More From This Author:

Twitter: @ethan_kross

Linkedin: Ethan Kross

Website: www.ethankross.com


Get Your Copy of Chatter Today!

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