My teenager is home on break from college and my husband quit his job to freelance, so now we both work from home. I love having them around, so I couldn’t figure out why I’d been feeling stressed out. Then I went for a long walk alone and immediately understood what I’d been missing: talking to myself.
I talk to myself. Out loud. A lot. And when I don’t, I’m like an athlete who can’t practice his sport or a musician denied time with her instrument.
When you talk to yourself, you’re paying attention to someone who often gets short shrift in your life: you. If you berate yourself for behaving idiotically or painfully regret something you’ve done, obviously your self-talk is going to make you feel worse. But if you get a good dialogue going between you and yourself, you can make real headway in clarifying your thoughts and even lifting your mood. I’d go so far as to say the practice is a form of mindful self-compassion.
And get this: It’s even been shown to give you a cognitive boost. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology published results of a study in which 20 volunteers were shown lots of pictures of objects and told to pick the one showing a banana. Half did the task quietly and the other half repeated the word “banana” out loud the whole time. The self-talkers found the picture of the banana a little faster. It’s also known that children learn better when they talk their way through a new skill—something they do instinctively. We only lose this helpful habit when we grow up and fear that talking aloud to ourselves may be taken as a sign of madness.
I certainly don’t do it to find bananas or learn to finger-paint, and I try not to do it in earshot of others (though I know I’ve inadvertently revealed the habit more than once). There’s something about your words traveling from mouth to ear with no one else listening that can be incredibly freeing. I admit on occasion to even asking myself “What do you think?” after explaining one possible solution to something that’s troubling me. “You,” of course, is me…but it’s also my subconscious, which I’m happy to tap for advice. Talking out loud is a great way for your conscious brain to communicate with your subconscious.
Here are a few things self-talk can do for you:
- Give yourself a shoutout. Even if no one else seems to be appreciating you at the moment, compliment yourself on the way you handled a difficult situation, left your comfort zone for a new adventure, or just got through a busy day.
- Give yourself a pep talk. We could all use a motivational speaker from time to time, but we don’t always have one handy. Self-talk can help you motivate yourself to achieve a goal at work, in a relationship, or in your personal behavior.
- Debate both sides of a difficult decision. Saying your options out loud and elaborating on the pros and cons can help bring the right choice to light, and you might be surprised at the unexpected direction your thoughts take when they’re audible.
- Blow off steam. If you’re not the type to confront people who tick you off, talk to yourself about how they bother you or how unfair a situation is. Introverts are especially prone to missing opportunities to assert themselves. Put the “self” back in self-assertion.
- Understand your thoughts better. Sometimes we’re sure we think one way, but our psyche tells us differently. Have you ever found yourself crying when you didn’t think anything was wrong? That’s your subconscious letting you know. Invite it to join your conversation to bring you to new levels of self-awareness.
- Rehearse a difficult conversation. Practicing what you need to say to get your points across clearly and without anger will put you in a much better position when it comes time to communicate about a tough issue.
- Boost your memory. Research shows that saying the location out loud when you place an object will help you remember where you put it.
- Shake off stress and anxiety. Who couldn’t use one more way to get rid of stress? Work it through with a monologue.
- Improve attention span and concentration. Indeed, many people with ADD talk to themselves to help bring a tangle of thoughts into focus. Notice how often you see athletes muttering under their breath before an event; they’re calming themselves down (#8) and pumping themselves up (#2). It works.
Leaving my husband and daughter at home, I took a 2-mile walk, stretching my legs and my mind as I chattered to myself about my blessings, complaints, and confusions. I didn’t solve everything that had been bothering me, but I did lift some weight from my shoulders by listening to the sound of my own voice as it brought forth some notions I hadn’t been aware of.
So whenever you see people talking to themselves, remember that it’s a sign of sanity, not insanity. It makes us wiser, calmer, and more motivated. What are you waiting for? I can’t hear you.