As the blaring sound of your morning alarm fills the room, you grumble to yourself, "Why did I set it so early?" While briskly brushing your teeth, a thought crosses your mind, "I really need a haircut... unless?" Hurriedly rushing out of the front door, you reach out for your keys, only to realize they're nowhere to be found. Frustration takes hold, and you exclaim, "I can't seem to get anything right!" But just in the nick of time, you spot your neighbour nearby. Being caught in a moment of self-talk can be embarrassing, as some people unfairly label it as a sign of mental instability.
However, decades of psychological research have unequivocally established that talking to oneself is perfectly normal. In fact, the majority, if not all of us, engage in some form of self-talk on a daily basis. So, why do we talk to ourselves? And does the content of our self-talk actually matter? Self-talk refers to the internal narration that occurs within our minds, often referred to as inner speech. It differs from mental imagery or recalling facts and figures. Psychologists specifically define self-talk as the verbalized thoughts directed towards oneself or some aspect of one's life.
This encompasses personal conversations like, "I need to work on my free throw," as well as reflections throughout the day, such as, "The gym is too crowded tonight. I'll come back tomorrow." While most self-talk in adults tends to be silent, speaking aloud to oneself also falls under this category. psychologists believe that our earliest experiences with self-talk are predominantly vocal, as children often engage in out loud conversations while playing. In the 1930s, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky hypothesized that this kind of speech was crucial for development. By repeating conversations they've had with adults, children practice managing their behaviours and emotions independently. As they grow older, this outward self-talk gradually internalizes, transforming into a private inner dialogue. We recognize the significance of this internal self-talk, as it can help with planning and problem-solving.
We know for certain that the content of our self-talk can genuinely impact our attitude and performance. Engaging in instructional or motivational self-talk has been shown to enhance focus, bolster self-esteem, and aid in accomplishing daily tasks. For instance, a study conducted on collegiate tennis players revealed that incorporating instructional self-talk during practice heightened their concentration and accuracy.
A specific type of self-talk called distanced self-talk involves addressing oneself as if in conversation with another person. So instead of saying, "I'm going to ace this exam," you might think, "Caleb, you are well-prepared for this test!" Research indicates that this form of self-talk is particularly beneficial for reducing stress when faced with anxiety-inducing tasks, such as meeting new people or public speaking.
Positive self-talk can be beneficial, negative self-talk can be detrimental. Most people experience occasional self-criticism, but when it becomes too frequent or overwhelmingly negative, it can become toxic. Those who consistently blame themselves for their problems and ruminate on negative situations tend to experience more intense feelings of depression. Today, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment approach that focuses on regulating the tone of self-talk. Cognitive behavioural therapists often teach strategies to identify patterns of negative thoughts and replace them with neutral or compassionate reflections. Over time, these techniques can contribute to improved mental health.
So, the next time you find yourself engaged in self-talk, remember to be kind. That inner voice is a companion you'll be conversing with for many years to come.