So I says to myself... (talking to yourself)
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!
The relationship that you have with yourself is the longest one that you’ll have. Perhaps for you, just like in other relationships, that means chatting and checking in from time to time! The good news is that self-talk is considered to be a common phenomenon that most people engage in during their lives. That being said, it may be helpful to think about why you like to talk to yourself and whether or not you’re using your voice to build yourself up or tear yourself down. Read on for more information about the types of self-talk.
Self-talk is any form of speech that is directed at, well, yourself! It may be either external (like talking out loud as you mentioned) or internal (like an ongoing dialogue in your thoughts). A popular theory is that self-talk is a way in which we can perform everyday self-regulation. For example, have you ever found yourself reciting the items on a list aloud? This repetition can help you remember tasks more easily, provide a plan of action for what you will do next, and even provide some motivation. Athletes are notorious for their use of self-talk, engaging in it both automatically and strategically to improve their performances and reach their goals. Other researchers have also suggested that self-talk allows us to solidify commitments. When you say “I’ll go to the store,” for example, you’re making a promise out loud that you will complete the action of going to the store.
Talking to yourself in a positive manner has a number of potential benefits. When you are engaged in self-talk while completing a task, it’s likely that you’re blocking out possible distractions, thus improving your focus. Using positive self-talk can also reduce feelings of physical and mental exertion; when you make encouraging statements or say instructions out loud, it can make work seem less challenging. Additionally, researchers theorize that maintaining an optimistic internal dialogue allows people to more effectively cope with difficult situations, which in turn reduces the harm that stress can cause the body. Positive self-talk may result in:
- Improved attention
- Improved ability to problem solve
- Improved motivation to complete tasks
- Improved emotional awareness
- Better cardiovascular health
- Stronger resistance to some illnesses (like the common cold)
- Reduced depression
- Reduced distress
However, self-talk isn’t always positive. Some people are highly critical of themselves and may use self-talk to reinforce negative beliefs about who they are and what they are doing. Over time, this behavior can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and other mental health challenges. Frequent self-talk may also be the result of loneliness, as people try to create social interactions even if there is no one else around. Other research suggests that self-talk may be how people try to understand upsetting situations. While this can be a form of healthy emotional regulation, it can also lead to obsessive-compulsive tendencies if a person becomes overly aware of their mental processes. Four of the most common forms of negative self-talk are:
- Filtering: a magnification of negative aspects and an erasure of positive aspects. For example, if you received a good grade on an exam, your focus is entirely on the answers you got wrong.
- Catastrophizing: the assumption that the worst is bound to happen no matter what. For example, if you have to give a presentation, you may conclude that you will forget your notes or that no one will listen even though you have no evidence to do so.
- Personalizing: the assumption that every negative event is your fault. For example, if your friend has to cancel plans, you may immediately decide that it’s because they don’t want to hang out with you.
- Polarizing: the division of events or characteristics into entirely positive or entirely negative. For example, if you don’t get a perfect grade on an exam, you might claim that you're a horrible student.
While there are benefits and drawbacks to self-talk, depending on how it’s used, it’s also worth mentioning that if the self-talk starts to feel like you’re conversing with another person or you begin to hear noises that aren’t really there, it might be time to get support. If you notice these changes, it’s recommended that you meet with a mental health professional as these can be symptoms of serious mental health disorders.
When it comes to deciding whether or not you should stop talking to yourself, it may be helpful for you to consider the tone of your inner (and sometimes outer) voice. Are you motivating yourself to stay on task and seize the day or are you beating yourself up over small mistakes? How do you feel when you engage in self-talk? Is it helping you to organize your thoughts or is it cluttering your mind? Spend some time listening carefully to what you're saying and, if you feel comfortable doing so, write it down. If you feel that you're just self-talking to, as you mentioned, “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. You may also want to think about your surroundings; while talking to yourself alone poses no problems, doing so in a crowded area might be disruptive or raise concerns.
If you find that you want to adopt a more positive form of self-talk, you might want to try the following:
- Identify parts of your life that you’d like to change. If there is something that you have a negative attitude about in your life, it may be helpful to try and find small ways that you can make your outlook more positive. For example, if you have a long commute to work and find yourself frustrated with it, you could spend time admiring your surroundings or listening to your favorite music.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Have you ever heard the expression that positivity is contagious? By spending time with optimistic people, you’re more likely to get supportive feedback and advice.
- Emphasize your strengths. Everyone is good at something! Maybe you are an excellent chef or are the friend who can make anybody laugh. By focusing on your talents and positive characteristics, you may be able to feel more confident.
Unless you find that self-talk is having a harmful impact on your mental health or is disturbing those around you, you can feel comfortable continuing your solitary chats. Just remember to reach out and talk to friends if the conversation ever gets dull!
All the best,
Originally published Apr 27, 1995
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