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How to control your negative inner voice

There’s no escape from the voice in our head, whether it’s memorising information or creating cataclysmic scenarios, and it impacts everything we do.

It’s why Ethan Kross, a psychology professor at the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, says the most important conversations we have are the silent ones, with ourselves.

‘I like to think of the inner voice as a Swiss Army knife of the mind,’ says Kross, who collated years of research for his new book Chatter: The Voice In Our Head And How To Harness It.

‘It does lots of things for us. Whether you’re repeating a phone number silently, planning for the future, preparing for a presentation, or reviewing life experiences, you’re using your inner voice, even if you’re not aware of it.’

Within the pages he breaks down the science of introspection and highlights the difficulty in remaining ‘present’.

On a positive note, this inner voice allows us to be creative and daydream. ‘Like so many, I’ve been in the same physical space for months in lockdown and I greatly enjoy imagining the positive future and what it might bring,’ says Kross. ‘But as many people will have experienced, there are moments where this valuable tool can run off course.

‘Rather than using this capacity to make sense of problems and move on, we get stuck worrying and catastrophising.’

‘When we experience chatter, we tend to zoom tightly on the problem at hand. By reversing that process, we can bring the inner voice back on track, and we can do that by using various tools,’ says Kross, who divides these techniques into three areas:

Change the way you talk to yourself

The first toolbox encompasses techniques you can use on your own such as mental travel (‘think about how you’ll feel a month, a year or even longer from now’), reframing the experience as a challenge rather than a threat and changing the way you talk to yourself.

‘Coach yourself through a problem like you’re talking a friend,’ says Kross. ‘It’s more effective if you refer to yourself using your own name. I call that distanced self-talk.’

Choose your confidantes wisely

‘Other people can be a tremendous asset or liability when it comes to our chatter,’ Kross says. ‘It depends on who we talk to and how. Another person can be useful to help us think about the bigger picture and potential solutions, but that doesn’t always happen.

‘Sometimes, in an attempt to be supportive, others essentially just have us relive what happened, so you be really deliberate about who you choose to go to for chatter support.’

Clearing your physical space helps your mind

‘Cleaning our surroundings gives us the sense of order we often feel we’re lacking when our mind is spinning. This sense of control can be really helpful.’

Mother nature, ideally in real-life but even in pictures and films, can also be a be a powerful tool for managing chatter. ‘It provides us with a mental recharge of sorts,’ he says.

‘The emotion and awe we experience when in the presence of something vast, makes us feel smaller – and our concerns shrink as well.’

Other tools to quieten the chatter:

Chatter: The Voice In Our Head And How to Harness It by Ethan Kross (Vermillion) is out now.

To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join Metro.co.uk’s Facebook group, Mentally Yours.

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