Jan. 23, 2023

Ethan Kross | How to Deal With The Voice in Your Head

Ethan Kross | How to Deal With The Voice in Your Head

Ethan Kross shares his expertise on the importance of managing self-talk and the negative consequences of "chatter" on our health, mood, social connections, and performance under pressure.

Ever feel like you're at war with the voice in your head? In this episode, we chat with Ethan Kross, professor and author of "Chatter" about how to deal with the constant internal dialogue that shapes our lives, work, and relationships. Kross shares his expertise on the importance of managing self-talk and the negative consequences of "chatter" on our health, mood, social connections, and performance under pressure.

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Srini: Ethan, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join.

Ethan Kross: Thanks for having me. I've been looking forward to the conversation all morning.

Ethan Kross: I was a member of a few different social groups in high school. I hung out with athletes. I hung out with theater people and I also hung out with brainiacs in the Venn diagram of overlapping circles that if you put each of those groups in overlapping circles of a Venn diagram, there wasn't a huge amount of overlap. I was pretty flexible in, interacting with people who had different kinds of interests. How did that impact my choices later on in life? Was that the

Srini: Yeah!

Ethan Kross: Yeah. I think those early experiences navigating different social groups helped me become comfortable speaking and interacting with people, who came from different walks of life and had different interests. And I guess that has been kind of a feature of my existence ever since. If we went back even further before high school, I actually went to a religious school growing up, which was interesting because I was not religious at all. And so I had this interesting experience of during the day when I went to school, we'd be learning about biblical studies and things like that. And then I'd come home and hang out with my buddies who came from all different walks of life. And I think really throughout my life I've been pretty comfortable moving back and forth between different circles.

Srini: Yeah. It's funny because, in my mind, right when I heard those three groups, I was like, wait a minute. In every one of those three groups, self-talk plays a role in performance for brainiacs, theater people, and athletes. But let's come back to that--that ability to navigate multiple social groups and be a social chameleon.

I feel like I've seen a handful of people who have that. My sister had it. She was just popular in high school even though she denies it to this day. Excuse me. But I wonder, is that something that is innate or something that can be learned? And if it is something that we can learn, how does a person go about doing it if it is not innate to who they are naturally?

Ethan Kross: I think that it's like so many complex psychological skills if you want to call it. There's probably a little bit of innateness to it, a little bit of learning, and a mixture of the two. I think what allows me to navigate different spheres, and what I would recommend to others who maybe are trying to do that, is to put on your curiosity hat. I am genuinely curious about other people and their lives and their experiences. I want to know them, and this is not a psychologist talking about getting inside your head. I want to know your deepest thoughts. Yeah. Sometimes I do want to know about those things when I'm doing research, but generally, I'm just interested in understanding how other people experience the world, and that makes it really easy for me to participate and get immersed in conversations with other people who are willing to engage with me at that level.

So, I think that curiosity is one piece of it, and the other attribute that I think is useful is knowing just enough about those different groups and their interests to spark conversation around issues that they care about. And, it's not really that hard to do that. Reading the paper, keeping up with the cultural zeitgeist, things like

Srini: Yeah, so that raises numerous questions about the way we consume information today and how we have almost like this sort of inherent confirmation bias in everything that we consume because of the way the internet has been set up, which almost I think goes against that whole idea of understanding how other people think, having conversations and dialogue with people who disagree with you. And so a couple of things I wonder, you mentioned curiosity, and I know that you are an educator, and this is something that I talk to almost every educator about. My dad's a college professor. But the reason this just came up was I had Craig Wright, who wrote the book The Hidden Habits of Genius, and he said something in our conversation that really struck me. He said, there's no university that has a course on curiosity, even though it's this fundamental skill. Because I think in my mind, at least when I was in college at Berkeley, it was just to choose from the options that are put in front of you and figure out what careers they'll lead to. And I know the University of Michigan is considered the Berkeley of the Midwest. But as an educator, if you were tasked with redesigning the entire education system from the ground up, which I

Ethan Kross: That's such a big question. We could talk about it for a hundred hours, not just one hour. I guess a few of the things that I would want to emphasize are a focus on learning, cultivating interests, going deep to understand ideas, and having an emphasis beyond just critical thinking more so than rote memorization. There are certain courses that do require you to memorize how things work, so to speak. But I think when you get to my side of the world, and we're talking about psychology and neuroscience, a lot of what I try to do in the classroom is really pushed students to find an interest and then go deep.

When new graduate students come into my lab, I'm actually jealous of them and the opportunity that is right before them, because what I invite them to do is start talking about what their big-picture interests are, having to do with the human mind, emotion, and how you can manage the mind and emotion to hopefully make the world a better place and help people live better lives. The moment we find some spark of interest, I invite them to dive into the literature and read one article and then find another leader in that article and it'll take them somewhere else, which will take them somewhere

Srini: So what is the challenge with doing that in undergraduate education? Obviously, I know Michigan is probably very similar to Berkeley in terms of the fact that you go into an undergraduate classroom, there are 900 people there and I'm just a number. I literally, you're just a number. You don't even have a name that they associate you with when you take a test; it's just your student ID number. To the point where I had a cousin who told me the guy was sitting in a final exam. The professor was like, the exams went over for 30 minutes, you gotta turn this thing in. And he was yelling at the guy, so he walked up to the front of the class, stuffed his blue book in the pile, and said, "Do you even know my name?" And he just left.

Ethan Kross: Yeah. I think when you're dealing with a large university, there are multiple constraints and I think the role of introductory-level classes is really to spark interest and excitement. I actually teach a course here called The Teaching Academy, in which all first-year graduate students in the psych department take this class and we go over what the goals what your goals should be as an educator when teaching different kinds of courses. And the temptation that a lot of people experience when they start teaching big intro classes is to be really comprehensive. And what I like to remind these incoming graduate students of is the fact that any topic that you have a day dedicated to can be exploded into a full semester-long course. So there's no way you can possibly cover all of the material for any different topic. So instead, I think what the goal should be for those intro-level courses is just to give students a taste, whetted their appetite, and make them somewhat informed consumers of the material so that they then know where to follow up and where to go next to satisfy their appetite for these topics further. Then, once you get them in an upper-level class, I think universities can make it easier for professors to do the kinds of things I'm talking about by keeping the classes

Srini: Now, how do we get from this position of being explorers of ideas, which I feel was common early on in the development of the education system - correct me if I'm wrong - to this sort of rote learning, where we're just stuffing people with information that they probably won't ever use or have no context to apply it in?

Ethan Kross: How did we get to this point?

Srini: Yeah!

Ethan Kross: I think that's a great question. I don't know if I have the exact answer to it. I think part of it is that there are some, we do need mechanisms for evaluating people and it's, and it certainly is easier to grade a multiple-choice exam with a Scantron machine. I haven't given one of those in a while. Do you even know, do Scantron machines still exist? Are they still in vogue or is there something newer?

Srini: I haven't been at a school or a college in so long that, yeah, but I, trust me, I'm all too familiar with Scantrons.

Ethan Kross: Like that's much easier. You can be objective. You can grade 350 exams in a few minutes with a Scantron machine. But if you're talking about evaluating pages, and weekly response papers, so gimme your best thoughts, what are you most excited about? What have you learned this past week doing that for 350 students if you're in one of these big courses? That just becomes really hard Especially when you have people who are doing multiple things. I think professors aren't just teaching. That's one thing they're doing. And many professors are really passionate about doing that, but they're also doing other things like their research. They're mentoring the students. And life tugs on people in lots of different ways. And I think sadly, one of the things that have been given has been the kind of depth of, or depth is the wrong word. I was about to say intimacy. I'm not using that in this context. The kind of one-on-one context that I think can be really useful for a truly educational experience.

Srini: Yeah. It sounds to me like what we need to figure out how to do is to scale a Socratic method of learning to the masses.

Ethan Kross: Yeah, that would be great if we could do that. And you do see that happening at smaller institutions and also at upper-level seminars. We're focusing mostly on improving, but I do think that many of these large institutions, like the University of Michigan, do a pretty good job of optimizing based on the hand they are dealt. The size of the undergraduate body and the need to educate a large number of students and give them a high-quality education. The fact that students can take a large introductory course early on, but then find time with their instructors and professors later on in a smaller setting. I do think that universities are doing a pretty good job.

Srini: What have you seen change in the approach to learning that students take throughout your career? Particularly, when you're at an elite school like Michigan, which I know is one of the top public schools in the country in the wake of something like a college admission scandal. Because every time I see that documentary about Rick Singer and I see those kids who look at this moment in their life as make-or-break, it pales in comparison to the moment I got my acceptance letter to Berkeley was like, "Oh, cool, I got the big envelope. Great. I'm not gonna be totally destitute." But the way these kids react is, "This is a matter of life or death."

Ethan Kross: Yeah, I think that we, I'm a parent of two daughters who are school-aged, one is approaching high school and you can already sense these kinds of conversations and sentiments about college begin to bubble up in parents' awareness. And I think it is really unfortunate that we put so much emphasis on, "you've gotta get into this one school". And the truth is, there are lots of fantastic schools and if you do well at any of a number of schools, you are in all likelihood gonna do really well later on. And so, I think the more we can make students aware of that in high school, and parents as well, the better for all of the kinds of chatter-related phenomena that we see playing out.

Srini: Yeah!

Ethan Kross: Those kids and their parents. And it is really unfortunate the kind of pressure that students and parents are placing on themselves. This is not to say that there should be no pressure. I think it's very easy nowadays. There's this common cultural movement towards "good vibes only". Is that the phrase? Am I getting it right?

Srini: Something like that.

Ethan Kross: Like that, that people have talked about this kind of toxic positivity movement where the goal in life should be to only be experiencing positive emotions at all times. A, that, that is not I don't think that is possible, and I don't think it's possible because we evolved the capacity to experience negative emotions for a reason. Negative emotions, in small doses, help us solve all sorts of problems. There's research that shows that experiencing a moderate level of anxiety is actually good for you. It enhances performance. And so, you don't want to eliminate all of that pressure. I think a little bit can be healthy. Let's face it. Life is also filled with various kinds of challenging situations that we need to learn how to effectively grapple with. Giving students opportunities to practice doing that in a relatively safe space - that is, high school, if anyone can call that a safe space - I think is useful.

Srini: Yeah!

Ethan Kross: I, we don't want to get rid of pressure and aspirational goals, I think we want to stop magnifying them to the point where they color everything we do and place huge burdens on us that ultimately detract from our thinking, performance, relationships, and well-being.

Srini: Yeah. I think that makes a perfect segue into talking specifically about chatter. I think negative emotions are really a good way to think about this, because, Dan Pink said this to me when we were talking about his book, the Power of Regret. He said we're over-indexed on positive emotions. And he said you want to have more positive emotions than negative emotions. He said the problem is that if you don't know how to deal with negative emotions, you're gonna have a lot of problems. But what has been the trajectory that led you to do research on this and write this book of all things? Because this doesn't seem like anything that you could end up on by following a linear path.

Ethan Kross: Well, my trajectory to studying chatter, which you could think of as your introspection run amok, right? So you've got this amazing tool, which is the mind, you can turn your attention inwards to try to work through problems. And our ability to do that is undoubtedly one of the reasons why we as a species have been so successful, figuring out how to do things like build spaceships and invent vaccines and solve all sorts of problems, right? Through this process of introspection, which often relies on language. So we've got this remarkable tool, but we know that this tool is pretty unwieldy. So a lot of the time when people experience hardships in their lives, they reflexively try to engage this tool, and it jams up on them. They end up ruminating and worrying and this can really make their life miserable. Miserable in the sense of undermining their ability to think and perform, undermining the quality of their relationships, and detracting from their physical and mental health. And I've always been interested in this puzzle of introspection, and my interest in it actually preceded college or high school. It actually went back to when I was a little kid and my dad used to

Srini: Yeah!

Ethan Kross: And so my response to her was, number one, fear not you. You're in your early twenties. You will likely have opportunities to manage your emotions and use this information in your life. So that was my quick, kind of shorthand, unsatisfactory response. And what I did after that was a classic teacher move when you don't know the answer: I deflected. And I said that's a great question. What do other people think about that? And I deflected because I didn't have a great answer to her question. That didn't leave me with a very nice feeling when I left that class.

And I kept thinking about that question over and over for the next few weeks, and it ultimately led me to do several things. One of which was to begin doing research on what the implications of teaching younger kids about the tools of introspection and how to harness it are like: would teaching students about this actually benefit them? It also led me to start working on the book that you read.

Srini: Now.

Ethan Kross: Several months ago. And that was another way to try to share what we've learned about this topic with folks out there in the world. And, the genuine hope was that sharing this knowledge would actually provide people with useful tools that they can implement to live better lives.

Srini: Yeah. It's funny because I laughed when she said, why are we learning this now? 'Cause I, that was my thought. Exactly. That is often my thought. Exactly. When I have conversations like this, damnit, if I knew this when I was in college, God, I would've saved myself from so many heartaches. But I want to start with a quote in the book, and this is out of order, but I thought this would be an interesting place to start. You say our verbal stream plays an indispensable role in the creation of ourselves. The brain constructs meaningful narratives through autobiographical reasonings. In other words, we use our minds to write the story of our lives with us as the main character. And it got me thinking about the external messages that we internalize that become our internal voice. It made me wonder, what role do parents play in shaping that inner voice? Every parent, I think, in the heat of the moment will say something that is hurtful to a child. There are things my mother said, I'm not gonna repeat them here because I thought at the time they were so awful. And yet, a part of me wonders, so what has been the long-term

Ethan Kross: Parents do play a profound role in shaping our inner voices because we often hear the things that our parents say to us. We repeat those messages in our heads and they can become internalized as part of our internal narrative. Now, one message that often gets lost in that discussion is this idea - the idea, even the way you posed a question to me, suggests that the path is one-way - our parents influence how we talk to ourselves. They shape the way we think about ourselves - there is some truth to that, but it is much more complicated than that. Number one, what we say to our parents can also influence how they talk to themselves. So, it's a dynamic process and it's recursive. It goes back and forth. We also know that our peers and the culture around us also play a role in shaping how we talk to ourselves early on in life. We're more heavily influenced by the conversations we have with our parents, but as we age, the role that our friends and teachers play in influencing the way we think about ourselves begins to play a more prominent role.

Now, the last point that I'd love to emphasize is that it's easy to think about all of this happening in a

Srini: I'm so glad you brought up adolescence because I think that, in particular, is a really challenging time when it comes to this internal narrative. In my mind, for example, I was an Indian kid in a predominantly white town in Texas, and I remember I didn't invite my parents to open house, and my dad's like, "Why?" I was like, "Cuz your accents are embarrassing," which is silly now. When you are in this sort of position of just profound insecurity as an adolescent or as a teenager, as a like joke if there's any phase of life I would happily never go back to, it's being a teenager because you just, you're a giant asshole and your parents are the most awful people in the world. Suddenly, what is going on there in terms of our internal narrative, like what is happening?

Srini: Yeah.

Ethan Kross: Now, that paints a pretty negative portrait. But I know plenty of adolescents who are quite happy and adjusted, too. So, there are ways of navigating it, but I think also just recognizing why adolescents can be so turbulent; that in and of itself, I think, is really important. If I could add just...

Srini: Yeah, sure.

Ethan Kross: To this conversation, I think we tremendously underestimate the power of normalization. One of the reasons I wrote my book was to really normalize the fact that, we all have an inner voice that manifests in different ways, and most of us have experienced chatter in the form of these negative thought loops at some point in our life. Not everyone is aware of that because we don't always talk about our inner world to other people. But what I've learned is that when people realize that they are not, suffering from an inner voice running amok, that provides them with a sense of comfort and understanding. And I think normalization as a tool is something that we could do a lot more to teach people about.

Srini: Yeah, I guess now that explains why the same things that seemed like the end of the world, when I was 15, are just a problem that will be gone tomorrow when I'm 44.

Ethan Kross: Exactly. Exactly. Youth and, I would throw it back to you and say, when did you have the realization that would be the case?

Srini: I think part of it was from building a business. I mean, I'm an avid surfer. I was, at least for the past 10 years, I'd been living in Colorado. So I stopped. But they asked me in an interview once, what is it that surfing gave you? I was like, you go out and get your ass handed to you by a big wave. Suddenly the fact that somebody gave you a one-star book review just doesn't seem that significant. You're like, "Ah, I almost drowned today." That puts things in perspective, which you get with age.

Ethan Kross: That's one theme that runs through chatter is the role that being able to zoom out and look at the bigger picture and attain that perspective.

Srini: Yeah!

Srini: Yeah. Let's talk about rumination in particular, because I think that to me is, where this inner voice really just starts to wreak havoc on our lives. At least it did for me. And I think this is a common one for a lot of people. You say that verbal rumination concentrates our attention narrowly on the source of our emotional distress, thus stealing neurons that could better serve us. In effect, we jam our executive functions up by attending to a dual task: the task of doing whatever it is we wanna do, and the task of listening to our pain-tainted voice neurologically. That's how chatter divides and binds our attention. And I think for me this is the place I saw it was at a.

And some of this just made me laugh when you talk about the fact that people feel compelled to talk to others about their negative experiences. And we just share this repeatedly, and you say repeatedly sharing our negative inner voice with others produces one of the great ironies of chatter and social life.

We voice the thoughts in our minds, to the sympathetic listeners we know in search of their support, but doing so excessively ends up pushing away the people we need most. And I don

Srini: Yeah.

Srini: Now.

Ethan Kross: That plays as a really helpful tool for managing our emotional life. And there are lots of ways to get perspective, so I love the fact that you brought up surfing and even a negative experience there. This is one of the reasons why people experiencing the emotion of awe can be a powerful antidote to negative emotional experiences. When you experience the emotion of awe, which by the way, you can get from experiences in the world like watching an amazing sunset or looking at a mountain peak, or even negative experiences too.

People are often awe-struck in a negative way when they imagine the vastness of space and its emptiness. But when you have that experience, you basically recognize that there's this vastness to the world, right? Like it is bigger than me. And that's a very powerful way of putting yourself in perspective.

It actually leads to what we call a "shrinking of the self". We feel smaller when we're contemplating something vast and indescribable. And when you feel smaller, so do your worries. And I think that is something we naturally learn over time. I think where the opportunity to help people is earlier on is to give them tools that hasten the pace at which they develop that awareness

Ethan Kross: And that is what is at stake here. That is why I think understanding our inner voice and how it can conspire against us is a hugely important task that we all face, and most importantly, familiarizing ourselves with things we can do to manage it.

Srini: Yeah. I think the natural follow-up question for me was going to be then how the hell do you make it stop? Because I remember thinking to myself, "Hey, I'm posting the unmistakable creative. I'm talking to people like you for 10 years. I should be able to get through this like a champ. I have all these tools and in the face of dealing with this problem myself, I remember a mentor Greg said to me, he's like, "When it's happening to you, it's the worst problem in the world because it's happening to you." I felt so paralyzed, despite knowing all the things that I do from having conversations I've had with people like you.

Ethan Kross: Come on, when? When do you see that there's an expletive, usually in the inner monologue too? No

Srini: Yeah, of course. Yeah. What the heck is this guy doing that I'm not?

Ethan Kross: That's so, I mean I, in those

Srini: And these are all friends of mine. Keep in mind

Ethan Kross: I think, then what I would want to do is sit down and figure out what tools you are using to try to manage this. Are they the right tools? And are you actually using those tools in those instances? There are many situations in which people know the tools that are out there, but they're not applying them. That's one way I think this breaks down. Another place this breaks down is, sometimes we use the wrong tools for us. In my book, I cover about 27 different tools. They're all listed in the back. As you've read the book, it's not a how-to book, it's a book about the mind and how it works. But I distill all the tools in one place in the back for an easy kind of review in case people want a refresher. I would have loved to have been able to do at the end of the book basically tell people these are the six things you should do to manage your chatter effectively for the rest of your life. And if you do these six things, you will be much happier until you die. This is the question I often get asked by the media. What are the two things you can do to manage your chatter?

Srini: Yeah. There's one other part of this that I want to talk about, which actually makes a perfect segue from that because I remember. I, I had Amy Chan, who had written a book on the Science of Heartbreak here, and I was talking to her about what happens when we stalk our exes on social media. And she said that's basically like emotional cutting. You are basically in a relationship with somebody who's no longer in a relationship with you.

But then you go on to say, although posting glamor shots of ourselves causes us to feel worse. That's because, at the same time, we're motivated to present ourselves positively, which may lead us to feel better, but we're also driven to compare ourselves with others and social media switches the social comparison hardware in our brain into overdrive.

And I can tell you firsthand, this happens to me when I see friends of mine who have bigger podcasts or friends of mine who publish books. I'm like, wow, okay. That guy hit the New York Times Best Sellers List. I'm so not successful at all.

Srini: Yeah. In the interest of time, I have one final question or two last questions about this. So I was driving to my dad's office. He's a tenured professor and he's almost retired, so he's letting me use his office I was listening to an episode of our podcast and it just got me thinking.

This made me want to ask you about this. As creatives, obviously, this inner voice plays a huge role in the life of any creative person. There's this inner critic and this inner supporter, and it got me wondering, when I'm listening, for example, to somebody like you on a podcast like this, or when I'm reading a book, what is happening in the inner voice in terms of facilitating my creative self-expression?

Because I realized 98% of everything I create comes from probably two to three sources much to my mother's dismay. Often conversations with her have pissed me off, as conversations that I have with people on this podcast, and books that I've read. And so I was wondering what is happening in the inner voice when it comes to creative creativity.

Like how are we translating what we're consuming, using our inner voice into creative self-expression, I

Srini: Yeah. It's funny you say that because I think that I've run across this very same variety of these exact words in virtually every famous writer's works about writing, whether it's Anne Lamott, whether it's Stephen Pressfield, or whether it's Dani Shapiro, all of whom basically say no writer sits down at a blank page and says, yeah, I'm awesome. I'm gonna kill this today. They almost all start off with just, a profound sense of insecurity. In fact, my favorite quote from Dani Shapiro's book, Still Writing, is that "masters of the form quake before the page."

Ethan Kross: Oh I love that. That's great. And there's a that's, you're normalizing this for all writers. Absolutely true. People ask what writing a book is like, and you've experienced this many times. It's filled with highs and lows and oh my God, are the words the worst? Is it all crap? Is it great? It's a huge rollercoaster.

Srini: Yeah.

Ethan Kross: The tools can certainly help.

Srini: Yeah. No doubt. This has been really fascinating. I have one final question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at Unmistakable Creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unique?

Ethan Kross: The inner voice often gets a bad rap because when it turns into chatter it can be so harmful. What I like to remind people of, and I'm thankful to you for asking this question, is that the inner voice is an amazing tool of the mind, and it can be invaluable when it comes to creating and being creative. So you can divide thinking in a very coarse way into a kind of verbal versus visual processes. And the inner voice is part of the verbal side of the thinking process. And oftentimes, we are working through ideas, using language, creating new connections and stories, and integrating information. We're using our inner voice to simulate possibilities for the future. So when I'm trying to think creatively about how to respond to how to put together a new creative presentation I'm gaming it out and simulating it with my inner voice. When I'm trying to work through a problem that I need to work through in order to get to a creative solution, I'm often relying on my inner voice to create a narrative to help me make sense of what is happening. So your inner voice is involved in that creative process in a variety of different ways because your inner voice is involved in thinking, and it's one of the reasons why it

Ethan Kross: What do I think makes someone, something unmistakable? I think it is the combination of passion and conviction coupled with substance; there has to be an actual idea or content there to be energized about. But you can also have situations where you just have a person full of energy, but there's nothing beyond that energy. And the flip side is you can have an idea that's really beautiful with no one to drive it. I think when you put those two things together, you get something that is unmistakable.

Srini: Beautiful. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, your book, your research, and everything else you're up to?

Ethan Kross: Thanks for having me on for a truly fun and stimulating conversation. Folks can get more information about me, my research, and my book at lots of information there. They can sign up for a newsletter, and get some other goodies.

Srini: Awesome. And for everybody listening, we'll wrap the show with that.

Ethan Kross: All consumed by then let's go to relationships. You're already not listening to the other people talking to you because you're so focused on your own problems. But then we know that when people experience strong negative emotions, they're highly motivated to share them with other people. They wanna share it, not just because they wanna bring other people down. They wanna share it because they want to get support. They want emotional support, but they also want coping support. They want help.

The problem is you're just spinning in your head, you start talking to someone and initially, they're very friendly and receptive. One would hope they're a good friend or partner, but the problem is still spinning in your mind. So you keep talking over and over again. That's how you get to the situation of your therapist telling you, "Hey, we're talking about the same thing over and over again. Are you not listening?" And that's how you can create friction in relationships that ultimately lead those relationships to degrade.

So we've knocked out your ability to think and perform. We've now knocked out your relationships. Let's take a small, 62-second detour to talk about your health, right? You're

Ethan Kross: Of course, I know Joe Peche when that happens. Completely. This is, we could have a whole other conversation on social media. I've been researching social media since the late 2000s and what's so interesting about it is you can think about social media as this new ecosystem that was created that we embraced, we just jumped into it without really understanding how it was going to impact us and how we would engage with it. Social comparisons are one piece of that puzzle. We are a social species, so it's how we derive all sorts of really useful information. We often talk about social comparisons as a bad thing, but they can be really good for us too, right? They can make us feel better. They can be a source of resilience when we imagine how we are faring compared to others who may be less fortunate. So that's a way of modulating our mood. They can provide us with important pieces of information that tell us how we can possibly do better.

So that person who is excelling and doing better than us, how can I learn from them? So social comparisons aren't toxic, per se. The problem with social media is that it gives us this opportunity to portray ourselves in these incredibly

Ethan Kross: That's that's a big question, And I would say that number one, again, there's variability, right? I know some people who think back to high school as the glory days of their life, and they would like nothing else than to go back to that moment in time. And instead, they would like to get rid of the time period of being a parent to little kids, which they associate with being absolutely miserable, sleep deprived, and so forth. I think number one, we've gotta realize that there's huge variability in terms of how people navigate through these different life stages. Having said that, sure, adolescence is tough. We are still, number one, our brains are still developing, and growing, including the infrastructure that we use to regulate our emotions. Number two, we haven't actually had the experience, the trial and error process of learning how to manage our emotions effectively. I often do a lot of work on self-control and emotion regulation, which you can think about as the scientific study of the tools we possess for managing our emotions for amplifying or diminishing them. And what I've learned, both in formal study, and also talking to folks all over the place, is that a lot of us stumble on

Ethan Kross: Yeah, this is the paradox of rumination, right? So you engage in rumination because you've got a really good mind and you want to solve a problem, and you're used to using this mind to solve problems that you encounter throughout your life. So it makes sense, right? There's a problem. I have this breakup, I want to fix it, so let me try to work through it. But once you start thinking about this negative experience, you zoom in very narrowly on the features of the experience that actually drive the negative emotions, which makes it really hard for you to think objectively about the experience. So you start instead of just spinning over and over again. You said for six months, that's not uncommon, right? When we experience really stressful, intense experiences that are unresolved, we keep trying to gnaw away at it, even though doing so simply digs us deeper and deeper into the hole of rumination. That act has all sorts of negative effects on us. I actually think of this as one of the big problems we face as a species, and I use that not to be hyperbolic, but I use it because I know what rumination is linked to. It undermines your ability to think and perform because