Dear Alice,

I frequently drift into talking to myself when alone or even when walking on the street. Is this healthy? I find that so long as I don't talk for a long time, it leaves a good effect on me. However, sometimes it's just a sub-conscious way of wasting time. Should I actively try to stop myself from this self-talking, or should I let myself "be natural"? I am twenty-four!

—Self-Talker

Dear Self-Talker,

Well, hello there! It's great that you have a means of channeling positive feelings that make you feel good. Self-talking can be a powerful tool that people use to calm down, increase mental toughness, prepare for a conversation, and/or get psyched for a particular event. Self-talk can be healthy, provided that the talk does not revolve around negative thoughts and messages and does not interfere with the ability to function day to day and carry on relationships with people in your life.

People put self-talk to use in a number of ways. Self-talk may function as a coping mechanism. It may also allow us to think through problems and gain perspective (our own, of course). Several athletes and performers use self-talk to increase self-confidence, lower anxiety levels, and improve performance. These examples point to the ways in which self-talk can be healthy.

Of course, self-talk may not always be healthy. In some cases, it may be annoying to others, such as co-workers or other students within hearing range. In addition, beware of the unhealthy, negative self-talk that tells you that you're a loser, are to blame for everything, and can't do anything right. If you find that the dialogue with yourself is self-defeating, blameful, and/or hostile, you may want to consider speaking to someone that you trust and/or a counseling professional. Signs that self-talk may be unhealthy include:

  • Exaggerating the importance of problems or personal flaws
  • Blaming yourself for situations that are not completely within your control
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Telling yourself positive experiences are not the norm in your life
  • Seeing situations as all-or-nothing, i.e., not "looking on the bright side"

You've mentioned that self-talk can have a "good effect" on you and that you suspect that you may use it as a "way of wasting time." In this regard, it may be helpful to consider monitoring your self-talk. Spend some time listening carefully to what you're saying and, if you feel comfortable doing so, write it down. What kinds of feelings do you have after self-talking that you may not have when not talking to yourself? If you feel that you're just self-talking to waste time, consider whether you are procrastinating to avoid, for example, studying for that final exam, talking to your boss about a difficult topic, or are just enjoying the solitude of your own mind for a while. Additionally, have you noticed others' reactions to your self-talk? Has anyone expressed concern and/or annoyance at your self-talking? In addition to the above, you may also want to consider whether self-talking the only way to achieve that "good effect." Exploring enjoyable activities and/or hobbies that have positive effects on attitudes and wellbeing, such as yoga, meditation, or tai-chi, can be valuable for improving mental wellbeing and building self-confidence.

If you would like to stop talking to yourself, for whatever reason, you may choose to discuss this with a counseling professional. If you are a student at Columbia, you can make an appointment with a counselor from Counseling and Psychological Services by calling x4-2878. If you are not at Columbia, you can visit the American Psychological Association website to locate a provider in your area.

Unless you're concerned about self-talking, others are finding it annoying and/or concerning, and/or you find yourself becoming caught up in negative, disturbing thoughts, feel comfortable to talk the talk. 

Alice!

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