How to Stop Negative Self-Talk and Rumination

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Chatter" by Ethan Kross. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you talk negatively to yourself? How can you silence your negative self-talk and rumination?

In his book Chatter, neuroscientist and experimental psychologist Ethan Kross says that you can stop negative self-talk by engaging in rituals. Kross explains that rituals combine the benefits of multiple other strategies that also reduce negative self-talk.

Let’s explore three reasons why rituals are effective at silencing negative self-talk.

Reason 1: Rituals Often Involve Our Communities

Kross claims that rituals that involve other people, such as religious ceremonies, quiet our negative self-talk. This is because other people can reduce feelings of isolation and help us cope with negative emotions.

(Shortform note: Kross doesn’t explicitly explore why spending time with others can help you stop negative self-talk, but we can infer that it accomplishes this in two ways. First, spending time with others reduces your self-immersion by directing your thoughts away from your cyclical self-talk and toward socializing. Second, community rituals can expose you to your support network, which increases your access to actionable empathy.)

Reason 2: Rituals Direct Our Attention Elsewhere

Kross also argues that rituals require you to channel your brain power away from negative self-talk and toward the steps in the ritual behavior. For instance, imagine you’re one half of a comedy duo. You and your partner engage in the following ritual before every performance: You drink a shot of soju, do a secret handshake, then look into each other’s eyes and exclaim, “You’re the funniest person I know!”  This ritual distracts you from your internal cynic’s worries that you’ll freeze on stage and fail to deliver a funny routine.

(Shortform note: Rituals may be particularly effective before you engage in some sort of performance. While Kross focuses on the ways that rituals distract you from negative self-talk, other neuroscientists emphasize that rituals reduce overall performance anxiety. When you perform a ritual before a performance (such as a comedy act or a sports game), you experience less anxiety if you fail during the performance (for instance, by botching a joke or missing a goal).)

Reason 3: Rituals Give You a Sense of Control

Finally, according to Kross, rituals give you a sense of control. Having a sense of control reduces your internal cynic’s power over you. Kross elaborates that rituals create a sense of control because they’re a type of placebo. A placebo is something that you believe will help you, even if there’s nothing specifically about the placebo itself that helps you. Believing in a placebo reassures you that the future will be better, which quiets your internal cynic’s pessimistic worries. Furthermore, when you believe a placebo will make things better, your brain’s threat response decreases.

For instance, imagine that you’re in the process of searching for a new job, and you develop the ritual of listening to your favorite song before each interview. Even if there’s nothing about the song itself that reduces your nerves, your belief that it reduces your nerves gives you a sense of control. This sense of control quiets your internal cynic before and during your interviews.

(Shortform note: You may find it hard to commit to a ritual that you know is a placebo: It may feel hard to “trick” yourself into believing it’ll help you if you know the ritual isn’t inherently helpful. Therefore, consider engaging in rituals that provide other clear benefits. You’ll engage in the ritual to experience those benefits, then you may also experience the benefit Kross names—an increased sense of control, which can quiet your internal cynic. For instance, engage in a gratitude ritual every evening. Reflect on three things from your day that you’re grateful for. Research reveals that feelings of gratitude boost your well-being. The sense of control this ritual provides you with may also help quiet your negative self-talk.)

How to Stop Negative Self-Talk and Rumination

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Ethan Kross's "Chatter" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Chatter summary:

  • How negative self-talk interferes with your happiness, health, and success
  • Research-based strategies for managing negative self-talk
  • Four actionable tips for quieting your internal cynic

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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