Having finished Ethan Kross' book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, I want to share some tools listed at the end of the book for dealing with the voice in our head when it gets too annoying.
These are the tools that Kross says can be implemented on your own. They're in order of how easily each can be implemented when chatter strikes. A basic theme is that they're aimed at stepping back from the echo chamber of our own mind.
The last two involve embracing a superstition or performing a ritual. All perfectly fine for even us atheists, since there's no need to believe in the supernatural to do these things.
(1) Use distanced self-talk. One way to create distance when you're experiencing chatter involves language. When you're trying to work through a difficult experience, use your name and the second-person "you" to refer to yourself. Doing so is linked with less activation in brain networks associated with rumination and leads to improved performance under stress, wiser thinking, and less negative emotion.
(2) Imagine advising a friend. Another way to think about your experience from a distanced perspective is to imagine what you would say to a friend experiencing the same problem as you. Think about the advice you'd give that person, and then apply it to yourself.
(3) Broaden your perspective. Chatter involves narrowly focusing on the problems we're experiencing. A natural antidote to this involves broadening our perspective. To do this, think about how the experience you're worrying about compares with other adverse events you (or others) have endured, how it fits into the broader scheme of your life and the world, and/or how other people you admire would respond to the same situation.
(4) Reframe your experience as a challenge. A theme of this book is that you possess the ability to change the way you think about your experiences. Chatter is often triggered when we interpret a situation as a threat -- something we can't manage. To aid your inner voice, reinterpret the situation as a challenge that you can handle, for example, by reminding yourself of how you've succeeded in similar situations in the past, or by using distanced self-talk.
(5) Reinterpret your body's chatter response. The bodily symptoms of stress (for example, an upset stomach before, say, a date or presentation) are often themselves stressful (for instance, chatter causes your stomach to grumble, which perpetuates your chatter, which leads your stomach to continue to grumble). When this happens, remind yourself that your bodily response to stress is an adaptive evolutionary reaction that improves performance under high-stress situations. In other words, tell yourself that your sudden rapid breathing, pounding heartbeat, and sweaty palms are there not to sabotage you but to help you respond to a challenge.
(6) Normalize your experience. Knowing that you are not alone in your experience can be a potent way of quelling chatter. There's a linguistic tool for helping people do this: Use the word "you" to refer to people in general when you think and talk about negative experiences. Doing so helps people reflect on their experiences from a healthy distance and makes it clear that what happened is not unique to them but characteristic of human experience in general.
(7) Engage in mental time travel. Another way to gain distance and broaden your perspective is to think about how you'll feel a month, a year, or even longer from now. Remind yourself that you'll look back on whatever is upsetting you in the future and it'll seem much less upsetting. Doing so highlights the impermanence of your current emotional state.
(8) Change the view. As you think about a negative experience, visualize the event in your mind from the perspective of a fly on the wall peering down on the scene. Try to understand why your "distant self" is feeling the way it is. Adopting this perspective leads people to focus less on the emotional features of their experience and more on reinterpreting the event in ways that promote insight and closure. You can also gain distance through visual imagery by imagining moving away from the upsetting scene in your mind's eye, like a camera panning out until the scene shrinks to the size of a postage stamp.
(9) Write expressively. Write about your deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding your negative experience for fifteen to twenty minutes a day for one to three consecutive days. Really let yourself go as you jot down your stream of thoughts; don't worry about grammar or spelling. Focusing on your experience from the perspective of a narrative provides you with distance from the experience, which helps you make sense of what you felt in ways that improve how you feel over time.
(10) Adopt the perspective of a neutral third party. If you find yourself experiencing chatter over a negative interaction you've had with another person or group of people, assume the perspective of a neutral, third-party observer who is motivated to find the best outcome for all parties involved. Doing so reduces negative emotions, quiets an agitated inner voice, and enhances the quality of the relationships we share with the people we've had negative interactions with, including our romantic partners.
(11) Clutch a lucky charm or embrace a superstition. Simply believing that an object or superstitious behavior will help relieve your chatter has precisely that effect by harnessing the brain's power of expectation. Importantly, we don't have to believe in supernatural forces to benefit from these actions. Simply understanding how they harness the power of the brain to heal is sufficient.
(12) Perform a ritual. Performing a ritual -- a fixed sequence of behaviors that is suffused with meaning -- provides people with a sense of order and control that can be helpful when they're experiencing chatter. Although many of the rituals we engage in (for example, silent prayer, meditation) are passed down to us from our families and cultures, performing rituals that you create can likewise be effective for quieting chatter.