Episode 1: Harnessing Your Inner Voice for Fundraising Success with Dr. Ethan Kross

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Introspection can be this amazing tool and help us solve problems, be creative, control ourselves
so forth and so on. But at other times it can make life pretty miserable.

–  Dr. Ethan Kross 
Episode #1


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

I talk to psychologist, neuroscientist, and author Dr. Ethan Kross. His book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, resonated so much with me, I had a million questions to ask. In fact, his book is what ultimately inspired me to start this podcast because I believe so deeply that this is one of the most critical tools for fundraisers to have.

Do you hear negative voices in your head? Don’t worry, having an inner voice is completely normal! But what happens when your negative mental chatter becomes SO overwhelming that you become paralyzed?

There is so much chatter that inhibits action, like negative thoughts and limiting beliefs about perfectionism, scarcity or what someone will think if we ‘ask them for money’. Dr. Kross explains a few of the tools from his book to help reduce toxic mental chatter and together we focus them on fundraisers. How can the nonprofit space benefit from these tools in day-to-day life?

Chatter is so useful, thought-provoking, and such an easy read! I read it in under 24 hours because I couldn’t put it down! This book takes science and makes it meaningful to people’s lives without the complicated jargon and terms. I promise you should be reading it right now.

It is episode zero of the What the Fundraising Podcast, and I decided to kick it off by sharing with you who I am, what I do, and why I’ve started this podcast. So I asked my lovely friends, John and Becky from We Are For Good, to interview me to answer the question: Who am I?

We talk about my vision of the nonprofit world, the core values I put into my work, and the crazy journey that led me into fundraising by chance. Also, I share what my framework around Power Partners and this podcast is all about skills, lessons, and learning from inside this framework can revolutionize this field. No more outdated guides and frameworks! 





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episode transcript

[Mallory]: Here I am with Dr. Ethan Kross. Ethan, thank you so much for joining me today. Ethan is the author of Chatter, One of honestly my favorite books of all time. The voice in our head, why it matters, and how we harness it. I am so excited to talk with you about it today and talk a little bit about how we can apply your learning through the lens of a fundraiser, or a nonprofit leader, who often learns personal or professional development tools, but doesn’t integrate them into the ways they show up as fundraisers. So thank you.

[Ethan]: Yeah, thanks for having me. Thanks for your kind words about Chatter, and I’m excited.

[Mallory]: I’ve been thinking about doing this podcast for a long time, and then I read your book in 24 hours. I literally couldn’t put it down and I messaged you right away, and I was like, “I have to launch this podcast with you and with this book”, because it just resonated so strongly with me.

I also just want to give it one more praise, everyone should be buying it right now. The other thing I just want to say is what an easy read it is and how hard that must have been to take complicated scientific studies and make it just so digestible and the storytelling… I just can not imagine the labor of love that went into it and just wanted to appreciate that.

[Ethan]: I thank you for saying it, and I would invite you to not imagine it because it was not a fun enterprise.

[Mallory]: Okay.

[Ethan]: It wasn’t all misery doom and gloom, but it was a lot of work. It’s wonderful to know that the message is landing and the intent of the book really was to take science and make it meaningful for other people and not get hung up on the terms and the jargon.

I think it’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture when we start using complicated concepts and terms, and we don’t have to do that.

[Mallory]: Yeah. Oh, my pleasure. So tell us, I know a little bit about your background and what brought you to this moment, but just for all of our listeners who are getting to know you for the first time, will you share a little bit about your journey here?

[Ethan]: Sure. I’ve been doing research on introspection, turning our attention inward to make sense of our problems, using the voice in our head to do that. I’ve been doing that formally for about 20 years, but I’ve been thinking about that for much longer, more like 35, 36 years.

Because, when I was a little kid, my dad used to continually tell me whenever anything bad happened, “Go inside, try to find a solution to your problem, introspect, and then move on”. And that advice served me really well throughout my childhood and adolescence. Bad things happen, nothing crazy, rejected, arguments, things like that, and I turned my attention inward to problem solve and that’d be it, I’d move on.

So this was a skill that always served me really well. And then I got to college, I took my first psych class, and we started getting to the topic of introspection about halfway through this semester. What I realized is that a lot of people do exactly what my dad told me to do, but they don’t always benefit from it.

In fact, this is what makes life miserable for many people. They turn their attention inward, and rather than coming up with solutions for their problems, they ended up worrying and ruminating, catastrophizing, getting lost in thought in the most harmful ways.

So I got really interested in why it is that sometimes introspection can be this amazing tool going inside, helps us solve problems, be creative, control ourselves, so forth and so on. But at other times, it can make life pretty miserable. I went to graduate school too, to figure out how to use science, to try to figure out the answers to that puzzle. I’ve been doing science on the topic ever since, and the book Chatter tells us what I’ve learned during those intervening 20 years about that.

[Mallory]: So is chatter only the negative thoughts? When you use the word chatter, are you using it to describe both what people are having success with that internal dialogue and challenges? Or tell me about that.

[Ethan]: Yeah, that’s a great question and really important, I think to clarify, if we step back, when I say ‘voice in our head’ or inner voice, what I’m referring to is our ability to use language silently, to reflect in our life, or do lots of different things. And this language is a tool and it’s a remarkably useful tool that lets us do many different things.

I often describe it as a type of Swiss army knife of the mind. So your inner voice lets you do things like, remember what groceries you have to buy when you’re in the grocery store.

If I were to ask you to repeat a string of numbers in your head, like zero to three, repeat that right now three times.

Did you do it? Okay. Was it easy to do that?

[Mallory]: Yes

[Ethan]: Good sign. That means you’ve just used your inner voice. So we use language often to keep information active in our heads. We do it when memorizing a phone number when we repeat it in our head, we do it when we repeat what we need from the grocery store, and countless other things.

That’s one basic function that our inner voice serves, but also lets us do lots of other things. When I’m preparing for a big presentation, I will walk around the neighborhood and I will simulate in my head what I’m going to say. I’ll go through the talking points in my head. I’ll rehearse them all. Then sometimes I get to the end of the speech in my head and I’ll hear what the audience… what questions they’re going to ask, and then I’ll practice responding.

This is all happening in my head, and my inner voice is allowing me to do it.

That’s another thing, our inner voice lets us do: simulate and plan. It also lets us control ourselves when we’re working on a really difficult puzzle, which for me nowadays is figuring out how to put together toys for my kids with instructions that come in a four-point font, how the heck do I do this?

“Okay, hold this piece here, and then screw this here”. I literally coach myself through it. We use our inner voice to do that. Then finally our inner voice helps us make sense of our experiences in the world in ways that shape our understanding of who we are.

So bad things happen all the time, we get rejected and people we love die. You could fill in the blanks for all the different kinds of adversity we face. Many people when they experience adversity, they reflexively turn their attention inward to try to make sense of it. “Why did I get rejected?” “Why did this person die or something wrong happened with him?” “Why am I feeling this way?”

And what we’re doing there, by turning our attention inward, we’re trying to come up with some explanation or a narrative or story to explain our experience. Stories help us make sense of who we are and our inner voice helps us do that. I mention in the book, it storifies life.

If you step back and think about all of those different functions that our inner voice provides, it’s an amazing tool that you would not want to live life without. In fact, people who have their inner voice incapacitated, like from a stroke that wipes out their language centers, this makes it really hard to live life.

The only other point to emphasize here though is, despite all of these assets that the inner voice provides you with sometimes, like many listeners will no doubt have experienced, we go inside to activate this useful tool and we don’t get a useful benefit as a result.  Instead, we end up spinning, we ruminate, worry and that’s chatter.

And chatter is specifically the negative dark side of the inner voice, that is totally common. It is very normal and something that I think most people have had experiences with.

[Mallory]: Okay. I love that. I really loved that you used the word harness and I know you use it really intentionally, right? From what I’ve heard you talk about this before, that it isn’t about making your inner dialogue out to be some demon, but to recognize that there are times when it really serves you, there are times when it’s not serving you and in those moments where it’s not, how do you harness it?

I love that at the end of the book there’s a toolbox. I just think that’s so critical, so many of them are really quick. I’ve been coaching for years now. And a lot of the principals that I coach run overlap with a lot of the themes.

But there were some things in there that totally blew my mind. I think when you talked about using your own name, whoa! No one, in all the things I’ve ever read, that advice had never come out before. And I was like, that’s just so quick, right?

Like the self-distancing, using your own name to pull you out of that sort of tunnel vision moment where you’re not seeing opportunities. And I do it, and I think so many of us do it, right? We’re like, “Okay, Mallory, you can do this. Or “Okay, Mallory you’ve done something this scary before”, “Janet, you got this” like we do those things maybe without realizing it.

And I think for me to be like, “Oh my gosh! That is how I’ve pumped myself up in a scary moment” was just, and I know you have a fun story about how you came upon that one too.

[Ethan]: Yeah. With a lot of the tools that I talk about there, tools I talk about in the book and I list them at the end. Some of these things, as you say, we’ve stumbled on, we somehow know they’re there in our repertoire for managing adversity. You see a lot of instances of people using these tools, but they’re often doing it without even being aware of it.

And as a scientist, Absolutely fascinating. I can tell you, we don’t yet understand exactly how some of these tools have gotten into people’s toolboxes and we’re doing studies to figure that out, but we do know that they could be useful and help people. And so, the distance self-talk where you use your name and the second person pronoun “you” to coach yourself through a problem, this is an instance of one of those tools people just reflexively revert to when they’re under stress.

I was just talking to someone earlier today who had experienced the loss of a child, a really devastating experience. Arguably, one of the most devastating experiences you can imagine, most chatter-provoking, and the person was really struggling.

And the way they broke out of it is they stopped at one point and just said, “What are you doing?” You need to stop this using their name and that helps them. And we see instances of this play-out time and again.

And importantly, experiments show that when you tell a person who’s struggling with chatter, “He tried to give yourself advice, coach yourself through the problem” Like you were talking to someone else and use your name to do it, it helps people as to why this works so quickly, which we find both very interesting and also exciting because we know people are more likely to use tools that are easy to use.

Two things we know are this: Number one, it’s much easier for us to coach other people on their problems than it is to take our own advice. So, Mallory, you are a coach for a living. I’m going to be willing to guess.

We haven’t talked about it. Swear to God. We have not talked about this before, so I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to guess you’ve been able to coach your clients through issues really well seamlessly, but when the very same issues have occurred in your own life, you’ve maybe struggled a little bit more.

Is that a fair summary?

[Mallory]: A hundred percent. I say all the time that every good coach has a coach, 100.

[Ethan]: There’s even a technical name for this. We call it Solomon’s paradox. It’s named after the Bible’s king Solomon who to this day is still known for being one of the wisest leaders of all time. But if you dig into his personal story, you find that he made a slew of terrible decisions when it came to his own life.

So he didn’t live wisely himself. He was able to coach other people. So the first thing we know is it’s much easier to coach others than ourselves. Then let’s think about this distance self-talk, this seemingly odd tactic where people use their own names. To advise themselves through a problem effectively. What do we know about names and second-person pronouns like you, these are parts of speech that are almost exclusively used when we think about and refer to other people.

Most of the time when I use names, like I’m using the name of my kids, my friends, we’re thinking about others. So in the mind, there’s an incredibly tight link between names. Second person pronouns and thinking about others, the idea here is that that link is so tight. When you use your own name to think about your problems, it’s, in essence, activating the neural machinery that we use to think about others.

And because of that, we have the distance, the space, the objectivity to weigh in on our own problems more effectively, that’s how that works. I use that tool quite a bit and it’s a fun tool for sure. You do want to do it silently, not out loud.

[Mallory]: So I don’t want to put a banner behind my desk that says, “Mallory, you can do it!”.

[Ethan]: As long as no one else sees that banner, you’ll be fine. There is potentially some value that comes from talking out loud. There’s surprisingly a lot less research on the function of actually talking out loud to yourself, but what we do know is that you don’t want to walk down a city street talking to yourself, because that violates social norms.

I want to say one more thing about this distance self-talk though, and it’ll link us back to some of the other ideas that we’ve been chatting about, and maybe we’ll chat more about. This is one tool and one theme of the book that I really lean into, and it’s a message I really believe very strongly, is that there are no single panaceas, no cure-alls, no individual tools that work well for all people in all situations.

By way of metaphor, no one would expect another person to be able to build a house, for example, with a single tool, right? A builder comes in as a carpenter, he or she has a whole tool belt with lots of different tools they’re used in combination to achieve the goal of building a house. And yet, if you think about our daily life, that assumption doesn’t always translate over.

We’re often looking for a single quick fix and, studying this for over 20 years, I can tell you that I have not come across any single quick fixes. What we do know though, is that there are lots and lots of different tools. The idea is that using some of these tools and combinations can be really helpful and it may be different combinations or cocktails,  nonalcoholic cocktails.

[Mallory]: I really love that, and I love that theme in the book too. It reminds me, my sister recently had a baby, and she and I were talking and she was like “She used to like this thing, this chair, and now she doesn’t, and now she likes this thing”. And I said to her, I was like, “The reality of early infant babies is that you just move them from thing to thing and you see what works at that moment and what doesn’t”. They might’ve loved the boppy yesterday and tomorrow they love the DockATot. I was like, “That’s why there are so many baby things because you’re finding what fits that moment.”

As you were talking about that, I was like, “That’s another metaphor”. I think it is really empowering, to be like, “Look, you try this one thing and if it doesn’t work, you have so many other things to go to”. I like the thinking about the tool belt, another visualization I have a lot is around like muscle building, right?

I talk about things like chatter that maybe happened in a really high profile situation. A fundraiser is ashamed at a board meeting, for example, for not closing a certain grant, right? The chatter that comes from that is so intense. The self-doubt, the language, the deep beliefs that it’s triggering around them not being good enough.

One of the things, when I start to work with them around the narratives and controlling the language in their head, is yes, that’s going to be a really hard situation to start using some of these strategies with, but as you start to incorporate them into maybe lower state situations throughout your life, they then become more accessible and available, or you even think about them more than when there are these bigger situations.

What do you think about that?

[Ethan]: I think it’s interesting, and in our own lab, we’ve done a lot of research taking some of these tools. We first studied them, in let’s say, medium intensity situations, and then once we get a sense of how they work, we typically then try to amp up the volume even further.

And we do that in a few ways, sometimes we make the stressor more intense, we make those boardroom people that you’re talking about really intimidating, really nasty or sometimes we just bring into the lab people who are predisposed to experience chatter. So we all vary our tendency to experience this, and some are more prone to it than others.

What we tend to find is that many of the strategies in the book, not all of them, but a lot of them, work as well but sometimes they’re even more effective in the high-intensity situations, which is somewhat that, going into that work years ago, that was not obvious that would happen.

My interpretation of that is that you might call it “The Tylenol Effect”. If you take Tylenol and you don’t have a fever, it’s not going to move your temperature at all, but as your fever goes up, there’s more room for the Tylenol to bring down your fever. There’s more signal to play with.

I think that is true of how some of these strategies work as well. If you’re not really experiencing chatter, if you’re not truly distressed, there’s not a whole lot of work for these strategies to do.  Like right now,  thank goodness, I’m not having chatter at the moment.

Like  “How are you going to manage this?!” I got nothing to manage, but if I’m really struggling, then there could be room for it. So to bring it back to the question of “try it here and then build it up”, I would say, just try using these strategies. See how they work and start self experimenting because the beauty is the commitment that is needed to try this is so low because most of the tools are so simple to use.

Just give it a shot. It’s not like you’re committing to three months of therapy, or anything.

[Mallory]: Yeah. You know what? That is such a good point. I think that’s another reason why I love this book so much is that the tools were just right there at your fingertips. Everyone can use their name and you.

Some of the deeper coaching work tends to be like belief work, right? It’s that you believe that you have to be perfect or else you’re going to get fired. So when you have a situation that illuminates the fact that you’re not perfect, because nobody is perfect, and the stakes are lower, that’s a certain level of chatter versus when you’re ashamed at a board meeting for not doing something perfectly, the depths of that belief is intensified.

That’s different than I think your strategies, which are just like, you’re spiraling down in that chatter and you need immediate distance from that, and so these are the tools to allow you to do that. Then maybe you go, at some point, to the deeper belief work.

[Ethan]: Yeah and sometimes, using some of these tools will help with the belief work too. Like when some people are really struggling with chatter and they use tools, they start off in total threat mode thinking “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m not prepared”, or, “It’s too intimidating”.

But when they switch to let’s say, using your name and saying “Alrighty, then can you manage this? How are you going to manage it? Yeah, you know what? I’ve done lots of these board meetings before, and some of them have been really tough and this might be tough too, but I’ll get through it. I seem to have done so every other time I’ve tried.”

So some of the beliefs there change, you get some reframes there as well. I think it’s hard to know when those beliefs will click in, and those beliefs shift. I also want to emphasize when we talk about distance, sometimes people think that distance means to avoid thinking about the problem and that’s not at all the way that we’re talking about it or that I talk about in the book or the way it’s been studied.

What distance really speaks to is the ability to just step back a little bit to then approach the problem with a tiny bit more objectivity that will hopefully let you see the bigger picture in ways that are useful. So it’s not avoiding the problem, which we don’t want to encourage folks to do.

[Mallory]: Yeah, and I, in another life, was a yoga teacher certified and there’s a term that they use there called ‘Cultivating the Witness’. I feel like there is some synergy there. There have been moments where I’ve called myself to do that and just step back and tried to observe a little bit more objectively what just happened.

And instead of internalizing maybe anger that came my way or something, just to assess and then figure out how I want to engage and how I want to participate.

[Ethan]: Totally. The idea of being able to distance or detach has been with us for millennia. It’s spoken about in both Eastern and Western philosophy, the way it’s been translated often differs a little bit, depending on the practice and the tradition. For example, some yoga philosophies and other meditative practices emphasize witnessing and observing and not reacting at all, accepting the presence.

In my mind, that’s distancing in order to just observe, but then you can distance in order to problem-solve. Distancing isn’t synonymous with observing. There are lots of things you could do to step back, and I think the value, you can get value from doing many different things from the discs.

[Mallory]: Yeah. I really appreciate that too,  that differentiation there and just really how all of this is focused on,  “Okay. How do you apply this? How do you get this to help you do the thing that you’re trying to do?” So that’s why when I read this book, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, fundraisers need to read this”.

There is so much chatter that inhibits action as a fundraiser. Being in this society that we’re in today, money still being a very taboo subject, there’s a lot of stigma around the non-profit sector. The amount of times in my career, I would say “I’m a fundraiser” and I would either hear “Oh my gosh, wow! I could never do that”, or I’d hear, “Don’t ask me for money”. Like those types of things. As fundraisers, we live with this perception of what we do every day. So I think that can lead sometimes to a lot of chatter.

Say, “Okay. If I asked this person to increase their gift they gave $2,500 last year. I know they have the capacity to do more. I’ve been building a relationship with them. I want to ask them to give $5,000 this year.” We start to hear chatter like, “Oh, no. If you give them more than that, they might not give it all cause they might be upset that you ask them for more” or “What if they don’t like you?”.

There’s a lot of pre-reaction chatter, and then when people say “NO”, there’s a lot of post-experience chatter.

[Ethan]: Yeah, you’re not describing a fun state of mind. That’s also, as you’re describing it, another theme of the book. When we experience chatter, we zoom in on the negativity and the potential negatives. So one of the reasons why we think distancing is useful is because what distancing helps us do is step back and focus on the bigger picture, it broadens our perspective.

If you add that to the world of fundraising, yeah, there’s a taboo in this culture about talking about money, let alone asking about money. I was just in a previous conversation a few days ago. It was literally about money, the whole conversation was about money. And yet we couldn’t talk about money, but why can’t we talk about money!

There’s a very strong taboo, and if your whole work-life centers on that, that can be troubling. But going broad, I think in the nonprofit fundraising space can be really helpful because, why are you asking people for money? It’s to support these great nonprofits who have these wonderful goals to do X, Y, and Z.

And guess what? If they don’t have money, they can’t do what they need to do. It’s not unlike a physician, physicians are tasked with saving lives. If physicians don’t charge for their services, they can’t do what they need to do. The same thing goes for basic science if we don’t have grants. I’m applying for money all the time because I needed to run my lab.

If you don’t have money to do that, we can’t do the science. For better or worse, money is something that allows great things to happen. So what I’ve done here is I’ve mushroomed out. I’ve gone away from this tunnel vision of “Oh my God, what are they going to think about me? If I ask them for more money, they’re going to think I’m weasley”.

And all the associates came up and said, “Come on now, bigger picture. What’s the goal? What’s the mission? What’s the purpose?” and then it becomes a lot easier to have the kinds of difficult conversations that you’re describing.

[Mallory]: I love that, and I would say another strategy that I asked people to think about is not even just what is the organization doing?, but what does inviting someone to participate in giving do for that donor? We go right into that kind of tunnel vision about the negative aspects of money movement.

One of the things I hear a lot is “Don’t make it transactional”. This is a term we hear a lot, and I was thinking about this the other day and I was like, “A transaction is not inherently bad”.

People buy a house, that is a wonderful transaction. People buy a car,  people love that transaction. What are the beliefs? What’s the chatter around giving to nonprofits being transactional? And how can we start to address that to recognize it’s actually a really amazing opportunity for someone to change the world in the way they want to change it.

How cool is that? So if we can start to pull back into some of those narratives, then we’re going to show up totally different.

[Ethan]: Totally. Even you describing that makes it more exciting and wanting to get involved. And what you’ve done there is you’ve just broadened my perspective surrounding this topic. It’s not just about getting money from one bucket and putting it in another, it’s about change.

This is not distortive in any way, this narrative. I think that’s another important thing to emphasize to listeners. These distancing tools and perspectives broadened tools, they’re not leading you to unauthentically live life, to come up with these false narratives that explain your existence. Instead, these narratives are often reflective of reality. It’s just, we’re not focusing on the bigger picture often because we’re so zoomed in on the potential threat.

[Mallory]: I love that. I think what you’re also talking about is that oftentimes the chatter that we’ve developed or that is happening is based on a false assumption that we’re making. We’re telling this story that making an ask is we’re guilting someone into doing something they don’t want to do. We’ve made up this whole narrative around the interaction that then is leading to this false chatter.

[Ethan]: We do know that, and this is something that is important for listeners to remind themselves of. There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that bad is stronger than good. So losses loom larger than gains. Basically what that all means is that we are predisposed to over-focus on the negative side of things as compared to the positive.

When you talk about the false narrative, it’s all a matter of degree and what we choose to focus on, and what we choose to focus on has implications for the narratives we create. Recognizing that in general, we choose to over-focus on the negative stuff, and pulling back a tiny bit can be really useful for correcting that.

[Mallory]: I love that. I really like what you’re saying about our predisposition to focus on something negative, and goes back to something you were saying before, which is when you were using that distance self-talk to say, “You’ve done this before. You’ve done this before and it’s been incredibly successful”.

That’s what’s a little bit mind-boggling to me about fundraisers, right? They have been fundraising successfully, most of them, for many years, but successful fundraising inherently involves rejection. It’s a numbers game, so not everyone is going to be aligned with you, that’s okay.

It’s about finding the right funders for your organization who want to make the change that you are trying to make. And the process of fundraising is just figuring out who those people are, but there is so much focus on the constant rejection, as opposed to the fact that you just raised like $3.5 million last year. Why don’t you think you can do it again?

[Ethan]: Yeah, exactly, and the reason why is, it’s often a matter of perspective. We’re so zoomed in on the potential threat of rejection we’re not thinking about that bigger picture. Once you know how to zoom out, you can get shifts pretty quickly.

Just last week I had to give a presentation, it was a pretty big deal and not everything was going right about it. The organizers initially wanted me to tape-record it and I sent them the tape recording and the lighting’s not good. And then I’d do it again, and then it got cut off. Then they said, “Just do it, live and blah, blah, blah”. And I started to get a little bit filled with chatter and then I said “Ethan, you’ve literally done hundreds and hundreds of these, and Ethan, they’ve never gone bad”.

And once that broadening of perspective was set, it was easy. That’s really what we’re talking about, but then again, this is just one tool we’re talking about amidst lots of ways of doing this. There’s no way we’re going to talk about all the different tools and we don’t need to; they’re all in the back of the book. You go to my website, there are some downloads there.

But the beauty is that… a magical kind of discovery that I had researching the book was this awareness that tools are all around us. They’re hidden in plain sight, they’re in our minds, they’re in our relationships or our physical environment, they’re there and they’re waiting to be used.

It reminded me of, by way of analogy or metaphor I guess,  several years ago, my wife is from South Africa and we visited her family, and then we spent a couple of days in the bush with animals and all sorts of predators that I don’t really like. And we spent one day in the Bush on a nature walk.

I was standing super close to the ranger, like super close, probably uncomfortably close, cause he had the gun and I wanted to be close. Just being very clear, I grew up in the city. Don’t mess with me! But as we’re walking, all I see is bleakness and like potential threat, like death. I’m seeing predators in the distance and this guy instead starts pointing things out. He points to this raggedy-looking bush and he says,  “You see what that is?”.

“It’s like a dead plant”, I say. “That’s Charmin”, that was like toilet paper if you’re in there. And then he points to another bush and he says “That’s like an anti antibiotic”. And he does this for all these different things.

If you know where to look, you could find tools, resources, and I would argue that the same is true when it comes to chatter. If you know where to look for the tools they’re there and you could avail yourself of them. So the hope is conversations like this, the book, and so forth really helped people find those tools.

[Mallory]: Yeah, I totally agree. People: I’ll make sure I have the links to all the things, buying the book, getting the toolkits. I really liked the diversity of tools that you talk about. You talk about nature, like getting out in nature and how that is helpful for chatter.

You talk about physical touch, appropriate physical touch, which is so interesting. As I was thinking about our conversation today, I started to reflect on that and I’m not, if you do the love languages thing, I don’t score very high on physical touch. It’s not something that I feel like I crave.

But when I was thinking about it last night, I have a daughter who’s almost two, and I was thinking about how even on the hardest days, she grabs my hand or sits on my lap and it’s gone. Even if I’m spiraling, something about that zooms me way out to the bigger picture, and you talk about that’s another one.

I won’t go through all of them, cause you’re right. There are too many, but you talk about awe and I think that in the non-profit sector, we have the ability to be inspired all the time. And I look at my clients, I look at the organizations I work with, and I am in utter awe in the same way as I am when I travel, and the same way than when I watch her learn a new word.

Recognizing, taking that moment now to be like, “Wow, that was awe.” Maybe involuntary awe, but it’s also this tool that I need to remember when I am feeling like, “Man, running my own business as a new mom is not easy,” where can I pull back and infuse these different tools that do work for me, that I have found through that experimentation that you recommend and really build them into my life.

[Ethan]: Yeah, totally. You’re describing the value of being aware of what the tools are, and then using them flexibly and getting with affectionate touch that’s wanted in both directions. Touch is so interesting because it’s such an easy tool to lose sight of, but touch is probably the first most primitive tool we use to regulate ourselves.

The moment a baby is born into this world, what do we do? You put the baby on the mom’s chest, like skin-to-skin contact, you hold the baby. When our kids are in distress, we console them, we hug them and give them kisses and we value touch throughout our lifespan. There’s research that shows the simple affectionate embrace releases, stress-fighting chemicals, and of course, it also reminds us that there’s more to life than maybe dealing with.

This is why it’s not about one tool, a little distance self-talk, mix in some touch, affectionate and wanted, find some awe, go for a walk in a green space, perform a ritual, find a chatter advisor to talk to someone who’s skilled at really helping you work through your problems, not getting you to ruminate more.

Like we just gave a cocktail to someone to help them with their chatter. The hope is that people learn about this information, and then they start doing some self experimentation to figure out, “Well, which are the tools that really work best for me, given the unique chatter triggers that I face in my life?”.

[Mallory]: There are two questions I’m just dying to ask you. I was talking about how fundraisers have pre-event chatter and post-event chatter. Do you find that when people use strategies in their post-event chatter,  when they’re beating themselves up about something that they did and they have success there, that it naturally decreases the pre-event chatter? Or is it all pretty disconnected and compartmentalized to the moments that we’re in?

[Ethan]: Unfortunately, there’s not enough data. You’re asking a really great and sophisticated question, which is, does the implementation of different tools following a chatter-provoking event, buffer you against subsequent bouts of chatter? And we just don’t know the answer to that question. I wish I could answer with a clear-cut answer, but I can’t. That’s good news, it keeps people like me in business.

So if you ask me now, not to cite a specific study, but if you’re just asking me for my intuition, what I think is that the better you get at using these tools, the shorter the period of chatter becomes.

You get to nip it in the bud much more quickly. I do think that has some downstream implications for how potent subsequent episodes of chatter are because you’re getting better at correcting it and nipping it in the bud right away. So you’re shortening the period in which it happens.

I don’t think we’re ever going to rid ourselves of chatter altogether. We can’t possibly predict the range of situations that are going to instigate it. Something can happen that might be devastating to you, and it’s just unpredictable. And so you would expect a person, one in the face of extreme adversity, to begin to experience chatter. I don’t think we can ever totally buffer ourselves against it, but we can certainly minimize, in a significant way, the negative effects it has on our lives.

[Mallory]: Yeah, I love that and I think that goes back to your point about it’s not all bad. There are important reasons why we hear this chatter and I tend to think when my chatter is increasing that it’s a good sign that I’m leveling up. I figured out how to control the chatter on X, but here’s a new thing that I’m doing: This is here to remind me that when I’m really taking risks, and doing something bigger, that I’m going to hear a little bit more of that, and then I’ll learn how to control it and I’ll use my strategies and I find with myself, then they go down over time. On the 10th, I do a webinar. There’s way less, or it’s much quicker, to overcome the chatter.

But then, when I do my first new thing, somewhere else, it comes back. And I think we talked about this a little bit before, around how fundraisers sometimes learn skills or tools like this, and they apply it in other areas of their life, but they don’t apply it to their fundraising. I think what you’re really illuminating, through the book and this conversation, and some of the other talks that you’ve had, is just  how important it is to consistently be trying out different tools and different situations.

So, if one tool worked for you when it came to chatter around your marriage, and it doesn’t work for you when you try it immediately preparing for that donor meeting, that means nothing about whether or not you can actually control the chatter around that major donor meeting. It just means like you got to go look in your toolbox because you’re trying to build your kid’s play house with your actual table soft.

[Ethan]: Exactly. You’ve got it exactly right, A+.

[Mallory]:  I’m back in Michigan and I’m doing great!

[Ethan]: You’ve said it perfectly. Just to summarize, negative emotions aren’t something we want to avoid. Negative emotions are elegantly adaptive. It is useful to experience a small jolt of anxiety or even a medium jolt before doing something consequential that’s new. That anxiety motivates you to do what you need to do.

I don’t really ever set my alarm clock, I don’t have it. Because I know that if there’s something important that I need to do, my internal alarm clock will get it,  I’ll have some motion that gets me going and says,  “Okay, time to wake up at six to start working on this presentation or paper or whatever.”

That’s okay, and we want to listen to those negative emotions and let them do the good work they’re designed to do, which is to prepare us appropriately for what we’re facing in the world. What we don’t want to have happen of course is have those negative emotions and morph into chronic chatter, which then makes it hard to do what we want to do.

One of the reasons why chatter is so toxic is it consumes us. It doesn’t leave over any attention for us to focus on the things we need to focus on, our jobs, our presentations, our kids, and so forth. So we don’t want to get rid of the negative side of life, a little bit of negativity is okay. We want to get rid of the chatter.

And then, yeah, don’t use a saw to do the job of a hammer and preferably bring both tools to any given situation so that you have the flexibility to figure it out. Another way to think about this as you may be presented with a new puzzle, let’s say, and you may not know which tool is best for that puzzle, but if you have both, or all six, or all 26, then you can start experimenting to figure out which key fits the lock, so to speak.

So I think that just gives people a lot more opportunity to be successful, than if they put all their quote-and-quote “money”, on one tactic.

[Mallory]: I love that. And I just love the way that harnessing this chatter builds capacity of people by reducing paralysis, or the time they’re spending obsessing about something when they want to be in action. These fundraisers, they do want to be raising more money, and I think if they can harness the chatter, they’re going to.

That’s what I said when I first reached out to you, like “I think this is it”. People think that the secret to fundraising more is in this next tech tool or in having a different job, having a different management system, having a different whatever. I actually think this is it. I think if people can harness the chatter around fundraising, we will see a revolution in the nonprofit sector.

We will see so much more money in the sector, which is not a fixed market. The reality is the nonprofit sector is as big of a market as we can inspire people to be a part of. I’m so grateful for your work and for this book. I did say that I want to end this episode by giving you a chance to highlight a nonprofit that you really care about and inviting our listeners to go and check them out, to just bring this full circle in support of the sector.

[Ethan]: I couldn’t agree with you more. I really do think solving the chatter problem would have transformational effects, so I hope we can do it. I value the work you’re doing to help make that happen. In terms of a nonprofit that I find really inspiring, I would say Angela Duckworth’s The Character Lab, which is a nonprofit that’s devoted to taking scientific insights and applying them in schools so that you can give kids a science-driven edge when it comes to their social and emotional lives.

[Mallory]: Oh, I love that. Okay, everyone go check that out right now. There are so many amazing nonprofits that we don’t hear about, so I love having an extra chance to shine a light on them. Thank you so much, Dr. Kross, for joining us today and for helping launch this podcast with something so meaningful and so transformative. I’m incredibly grateful for you.

[Ethan]: I’m grateful for all the work you’re doing and I’m honored to help you kick it off. And I will be tuning in to see how things are going and having my fingers crossed.

[Mallory]: Thank you.


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