Alexi Berry, used with permission
Source: Alexi Berry, used with permission

Everyone talks to him or herself. Most keep it internal, rarely muttering a word aloud. Some talk out loud to themselves, and get strange looks. There are positives and negatives to talking to oneself, both silently and aloud, and this post will hopefully provide some guidance.

A few years ago there were a several studies that became all the rage in psychology circles. Tim Newcome wrote a short piece for Time magazine about how talking aloud to yourself doesn’t mean your “bananas” anymore. He referenced a study from the “Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology” which indicated talking aloud to oneself allows for quicker functioning and may help augment thinking.

Psychology Today Blogger Guy Winch, Ph.D. discussed other studies in his post titled, “Why you should start talking to yourself”, that demonstrated using third person pronouns for oneself created psychological distancing during self-talk, and allowed participants to perform the task significantly better. This research has also been discussed in a short NPR story entitled, “Why Saying Is Believing — The Science Of Self-Talk”. The story uses research on self-talk where the negative wording is reframed and removed, as well as the research noted above where third person pronouns are substituted for first person pronouns.

In another article, Linda Dapadin, Ph.D points out four ways talking aloud to yourself is beneficial. She discusses how complimenting yourself and using self-motivational talk to get things done can help you feel better about yourself. She goes on to discuss how having an outer dialogue can help in the decision making process and how verbalized goal setting, such as telling yourself, “okay, let’s get focused and get that post written for Psychology Today”, can help one feel smarter and make better decisions. Planning and goal setting is a circumstance where I have witnessed self-talk frequently used with success.

Another place self-talk, whether internal or external, can be used positively is in challenging irrational thoughts or expectations. Often negative emotions arise as a result of cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs, or unrealistic expectations. Cognitive therapists teach individuals how to identify and challenge these thoughts. Self-talk is absolutely necessary to this process, and can often be done just as effectively aloud.

This is a lot of evidence indicating correctly used self-talk can be beneficial. As someone who is often caught talking to himself, I would not argue. There are times, however, when talking to oneself is contraindicated.

There is the obvious negative self-talk, such as putting yourself down, chastising yourself, or otherwise treating yourself in a negative way. Then there is less obvious negative self-talk, such as when you’re feeling justified feeding your anger or planning what you’ll say when you see that so-and-so again. Then there is the much less obvious wandering-mind self-talk that does no good and burns mental energy. But there is a way to, using Ram Dass’ description of the mind, to take the mind from being a horrible master, and make it a wonderful servant:

  • Say positive things to yourself. Do this more and more often.
  • Reassure yourself of your ability to control yourself. Those who believe they have better than average self-control perform with more self-control than those who do not. (Weissman, E; 2015)
  • Pat yourself on the back for accomplishments and daily goals attained.
  • Decide who you want to be, in line with the personal goals you have for yourself, and decide how to enact that in this moment. For example, when you are eating healthier but have an urge for the vending machine, remember who you want to be, challenge the urge, and take pride in your victory (even verbalizing “I’m proud of myself for not buying that candy bar!”). Remember you are the one in control!
  • When faced with a daunting task, use your name or, “you” in self-talk rather than, “I”. For example: “You can do this William. You can write a great article for Psychology Today that will be read by millions”.
  • When looking at mistakes or errors, use the third person pronoun or your name to address yourself, whether internally or externally.
  • Use your self-talk to redefine who you are. When people make a healthier choice part of who they are, they are more successful in the behavioral change. (Eyal, N; 2015)
  • Set goals out loud. When you need to get something from another room, say it aloud.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk yourself through a project or task. It enhances focus and concentration, and those who do function more efficiently.
  • Every once in a while stop, and become acutely aware of your thinking.  Evaluate its merit. Often you will find it ridiculous and can take a breath, clear your mind out, and dwell in the present moment.
  • When enjoying a moment, stop and let it resonate with you. Talk to yourself about how great the moment was.

These techniques may seem strange, and some have been made fun of in sitcoms. (“Seinfeld”, among others come to mind). But studies indicate they work, improve self-image, make one more focused and efficient, and they can lead to a greater sense of peace.

Copyright William Berry, 2015

References:

Dapadin, L; 2012; Talking to yourself; a sign of sanity; Psyc Central; retrieved on September 15th from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/12/07/talking-to-yourself-a-s...

Eyal, N; 2015; None for me, thanks; Psychology Today; October, 2015; p.22.

Newcome, T; 2012; Talking to yourself may actually be a good idea; Time Magazine; retrieved on September 15th from: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/04/25/talking-to-yourself-may-actually-be-...

Starecheski, L; 2014; Why saying is believing — The Science Of Self-Talk; NPR Shots; retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/10/07/353292408/why-saying...

Weissman, E; 2015; The power is yours; Psychology Today; October, 2015; p.18.

Winch, G; 2014; Why you should start talking to yourself; Psychology Today Blog, The squeaky wheel; retrieved on September 15th from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201405/why-you-sh...

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