As the morning's alarm rings, you murmur to yourself,
“Why did I set it so early?”
When brushing your teeth, you consider,
“I need a haircut... unless?”
Rushing out the front door, you grab for your keys and find they’re not there. Frustrated you exclaim,
“I can’t do anything right!” just in time to observe your neighbor.
Being caught talking to oneself may seem humiliating, and some people even stigmatize this practice as a symptom of mental illness.
However, decades of psychological studies reveal that talking to oneself is entirely natural. In reality, most, if not all, of us participate in some type of self-talk every single day. So why do we speak to ourselves? And does what we say matter? Self-talk refers to the narrative within your brain, commonly termed inner speech. It varies from mental imagery or remembering facts and statistics. Specifically, psychologists describe self-talk as verbalized ideas aimed at oneself or some element of your life.
This includes personal talks like “I need to work on my free throw.” But it also contains thoughts you experience during the day, such as “The gym is crowded tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.” And although most self-talk in adults turns to be quiet, talking to oneself out loud also slips into this group.
Psychologists think our initial encounters with self-talk are primarily verbal since youngsters typically speak to themselves out loud while they play. In the 1930s, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky thought that this style of speech was crucial to growth.
By replicating talks they’ve heard with adults, youngsters learn to control their actions and emotions on their own. Then, as kids get older, this external self-talk tends to become internalized, changing into a secret inner conversation. We know this internal self-talk is crucial and may help you prepare, work through tough circumstances, and even inspire you throughout the day.
However, investigating self-talk may be tricky. It depends on research volunteers recording activities that are spontaneous and frequently done without conscious control. For this reason, scientists are still attempting to address fundamental problems, such, as why some people self-talk more than others. What parts of the brain are active during self-talk?
And how does this activation vary from typical conversation? One thing we know for certain, however, is that what you say in these talks may have meaningful consequences on your mood and performance. Engaging in self-talk that’s educational or motivating has been demonstrated to enhance concentration, promote self-esteem, and assist in managing daily chores. For example, one research on college tennis players showed that introducing instructional self-talk during practice boosted their focus and accuracy. And just as conversing with a buddy may help relieve stress, speaking directly to oneself may also help you control your emotions.
Distanced self-talk is when you speak to yourself, as if in discussion with another person. So, rather than “I’m going to thrash this exam,” you may think, “Jesse, you are prepared for this test!” One research indicated that this form of self-talk was particularly useful for lowering tension while engaged in anxiety-inducing behaviors, such as meeting new people or public speaking. But while good self-talk might assist you, negative self-talk can hurt you.
Most individuals are critical of themselves periodically, but when this behavior is too regular or extremely negative, it may become toxic. High levels of negative self-talk are generally predictive of anxiety in children and adults. Individuals who persistently blame themselves for their issues and reflect on such events generally suffer more extreme emotions of despair.
Today, there’s an area of psychiatric treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which is largely focused on managing the tone of self-talk. Cognitive behavioral therapists typically teach ways to recognize cycles of negative ideas and replace them with neutral or more compassionate views.
Over time, these strategies may enhance one's mental health. So the next time you find yourself conversing with yourself, remember to be gentle. That inner voice is a companion you’ll be talking to for many years to come.