Returning for my 28th year of teaching high school English, I’ve been struggling with internal and external conflicts about teaching that often drive me to unhealthy introspection and self-doubt. Psychologist and researcher Ethan Kross calls this inner noise “chatter.” It’s a hot mess of negative self-talk that can sabotage our mental and physical well-being.
Kross has a helpful literary mind hack that might prove even more helpful and easy to use than most current cognitive behavioral or acceptance and commitment therapy strategies: Try shifting your interior dialogue to second or third person and try addressing yourself by your name as you work with your inner, messy self-talk.
There’s much more worth exploring in Ethan Kross’ Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It. Kross has thoughtful explanations of the psychological science, research, and practices that support the effectiveness of addressing yourself in the manner above, and I encourage you to read up on those explanations for yourself. The potential applications for helping coach my students to more effectively deal with their own inner chatter and perform better is particularly intriguing.
Having started my school year with an overwhelming feeling that I’ve been a really lucky imposter who has made it to almost three decades of teaching, I was most struck by Kross’ inclusion of Fred Rogers’ letter to himself in 1979 after taking a three-year break from producing Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood:
“Am I kidding myself that I’m able to write a script again? Am I really just whistling Dixie? I wonder. If I don’t get down to it I’ll never really know. Why dan’t [sic]… I trust myself. Really that’s what it’s all about… that and not wanting to go through the agony of creation. AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IT’S JUST AS BAD AS EVER. I wonder if every creative artist goes through the tortures of the damned trying to create.?. Oh, well, the hour commeth [sic] and now IS when I’ve got to do it. GET TO IT, FRED. GET TO IT.” –Kross, Ethan (2021-01-26). Chatter (Kindle Locations 1246-1249). Crown. Kindle Edition.
Sounds like that calm, cool, and collected Mr. Rogers struggled with self-doubts and the imposter syndrome too. Like Fred, we can do well to address ourselves by our first name, offer ourselves counsel, and tell ourselves to “GET TO IT, [YOUR NAME]. GET TO IT.”
Maybe the mission is not so impossible after all.