In Praise of Talking to Yourself

An opportunity to self-motivate, reflect, and be in the moment.

Posted Oct 04, 2020

Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain

The stereotype is that people who talk to themselves are mentally ill. Yet we all might be wise to talk to ourselves often. It’s a bit like journaling without having to write, and you can do it anywhere, in the moment. It’s self-empowering and it’s free. Here are situations in which talking to yourself can be helpful:

Thinking about a problem. Walking yourself through a complicated task can make it easier. To take a high-stakes example, a bomb dismantler might do well to whisper to himself, “Okay, cut the blue wire first, then the red one. Then, gently pull away the detonator. Gently, gently.”

In writing, when I’m stuck, I’ll occasionally talk to myself. For example, if I’m not clear on how to word an idea, I’ll pretend the readers are in the room with me and I aloud try to explain it. More macro, when I wrote movie scripts, I would describe the plot or character aloud to myself and to others. Invariably, it would iterate and improve.

A vivid if unseemly example: Yesterday, a client told me he had constipation. Aloud, he told himself things like, “I shouldn’t force it. It could be harmful. Just push moderately for a few seconds, then wait, then do another few-second moderate push.” He found that verbalizing it clarified what he wanted to do, and he was comforted by having some control over the situation.

Pep talk. Sometimes even a pep talk to yourself can be helpful, for example, “Attaboy; good job, Mart. Onward. . .  You can do it. Just keep at it” or ‘Think of how good you’ll feel when you get it done . . . All right!”

Mindfulness. If you're verbalizing what you're doing or feeling at a given moment, that's an example of the vaunted exhortation to be mindful, in the moment: You will be more focused, reap more pleasure, and less likely to be saddled by your past failures and future fears.

Verbalizing in the moment also can help you stay with your psychological “program." Regularly state its essence, for example, “As soon as that unhelpful thought intrudes, distract yourself to something constructive. What would that be?”

Negative self-talk. Of course, negative self-talk can be hurtful, for example, overgeneralizations such as, “I can’t do anything” or “I’m a total failure." But negative self-talk can also be helpful:

  • For example, even if you fail at many things, would some reflection suggest how you should reallocate your time at or after work so you’re more likely to succeed, perhaps getting help for essentials that are your weaknesses?
  • Negative self-talk can moderate an overconfident person. It can highlight weaknesses that require acknowledgment.
  • Negative self-talk can even motivate success, for example, “Come on, you piece of crap. No, it doesn’t come easy to you but you need to do it.”

The takeaway

Self-talk can be motivating and facilitate reflection and being in the moment. Rather than try to quash your self-talk, ask yourself where it has and could be helpful.

I read this aloud on YouTube.