Why Do You Talk to Yourself?

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Psychologists refer to the habit of talking to yourself out loud as external self-talk. If you talk to yourself sometimes, then you are not alone. Far from being just an occasional tendency, it is actually quite common.

Some evidence suggests that talking to yourself can actually have a number of psychological benefits. Research suggests that this type of self-talk is connected to a range of different mental functions including problem-solving, reasoning, planning, motivation, and attention.

While there are times it might pose problems or be a sign of a mental health condition, in most cases, you can go ahead and talk to yourself without it being a cause for worry.

This article discusses some of the reasons why people talk to themselves and some of the possible benefits of this behavior. It also covers what you can do if you'd like to stop talking to yourself and some of the signs that it might be a cause for concern.

Why Do People Talk to Themselves?

Children begin talking to themselves around the ages of two and three, but it is generally not much different from other social speech at this early age. Around the age of five, kids become more covert about their self-directed talk. They still talk to themselves, but often speak more briefly, quietly, or privately to avoid having others overhear.

And while it often becomes less obvious to others, self-talk rarely disappears completely. Most people talk to themselves at least on occasion, while some do so with much greater frequency.

While external self-talk is relatively common, there has not been a great deal of research into why some people talk to themselves out loud and others don't. A 2019 article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology explored a couple of different explanations that have emerged. 

Social Isolation

One theory suggests that people who spend more time alone may be more likely to talk to themselves. Because they have fewer interactions with others, their self-talk may serve as a form of social communication. 

There is a fair amount of research supporting this theory. Studies have shown that adults who were an only-child are more likely to engage in external self-talk.

Another study found that people who are lonely and have a strong need to belong are also more likely to talk to themselves. Self-talk, in this case, serves to fill a need that isn't being met by limited or unsatisfactory social relationships.

Cognitive Disruption

This theory suggests that people may talk to themselves out loud due to cognitively disruptive events that are often brought on by stress or other similar events. For example, feelings of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive tendencies can create cognitive disruptions linked to increases in self-talk.

For example, one study found that people tend to talk to themselves more when preparing to give a speech if they are anxious about public speaking.

The study also demonstrated the impact of positive and negative self-talk. Those who talked to themselves in a negative or self-critical way were more likely to experience increased public speaking anxiety.

Types

There are a few different types of ways that you might talk to yourself. Self-talk tends to be either positive or negative, but it can also differ in terms of its intended purpose.

  • Positive and negative self-talk: Talking to yourself in a positive way may involve delivering self-affirmations or statements designed to help you stay motivated and inspired. Talking to yourself in a negative way often centers on statements that are self-critical or blaming.
  • Instructional self-talk: This form of self-directed speech is centered on talking through the steps that you will need to follow in order to solve a problem or perform a task.
  • Motivational self-talk: This type of speech is focused on providing encouragement to perform a task. For example, you might congratulate yourself for your efforts or remind yourself that you are capable of succeeding.

Studies suggest that talking to yourself in a positive, instructional, or motivational way can help improve your performance.

Surprisingly, researchers have found that negative self-talk doesn't always impair performance. On the contrary, sometimes it can provide helpful and realistic feedback that can help you improve how you do in the future. Too much negative self-talk, however, can undermine your confidence in the long run, so it is important to avoid making it a habit.

Benefits

Talking to yourself can have a number of different benefits. Some of these include:

Reflection

Talking to yourself can be a useful way to gain some distance from your own experiences. It allows you to reflect on the things that are happening in your life. By providing you some distance, it can be a great way to see things more objectively.

It can minimize the immediate emotion and knee-jerk feelings you might have in the moment so that you can see things in a clearer, more rational way.

Motivation

Talking to yourself can also be motivating. Consider the times you've hyped yourself up to face a challenge by telling yourself "I can do this" or "You've got this." Such thoughts can be useful when you keep them inside, but externalizing such ideas can often be even more motivating.

One study found that when basketball players talked to themselves with either instructional or motivational statements, they showed significant improvements over a control group.

Those who used instructional statements showed greater accuracy in performance and those who used motivating statements performed the tasks much more quickly.

Better Memory

If you've ever talked to yourself as you roam the aisles of the grocery store, don't fret—research has shown it might actually help you better remember the items on your list. 

In one experiment, participants had to search for items in a store without saying anything. During the phase of the experiment, however, the participants were told to repeat the names of the items they were looking for as they searched. The results showed that those who talked to themselves found it easier to find what they were looking for. 

According to the researchers, by talking to themselves, the participants improved their memory and created a stronger association between the words they were saying and the visual targets they were seeking.

Problem-Solving

Talking to yourself can also be a way to work through problems you might be facing. This tactic, known as self-explaining, can help people monitor their progress and improve their performance as they work through a problem.

Spending a few moments talking to yourself can give you the time you need to really focus and reflect on the problem and all of your options. 

Uses

Talking to yourself can clearly have benefits, but there are also things that you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of your self-talk. Strategies that can help are listed below.

Keep It Positive

Negative self-talk, whether it's in your mind or out loud, can have a seriously detrimental impact on your well-being. If you tend to dwell or ruminate on negativity, finding ways to reframe your words can be beneficial. 

This doesn't mean saying things that are overly positive or unrealistic. For example, you don't want to replace a negative statement such as "I'm terrible at this" with "I'm the best at this."

Instead, focus on making positive but realistic statements that foster a more optimistic mindset. For example, you might say "This is hard but you are learning. You're getting better every day."

Ask Questions

Asking yourself questions about what you have learned or what something means can be a powerful tool for improving memory. Because you are essentially learning something and then teaching it to yourself, it helps reinforce the information and cement it in long-term memory more effectively.

Tune In to What You're Saying

Talking to yourself is most beneficial when you actually pay attention and listen to what you are saying.

While you might sometimes simply narrate what's happening in a more stream-of-consciousness manner without really paying attention to the content of your words, listening and thinking about your self-talk can be a helpful way to gain greater self-awareness

Use the Second or Third Person

Instead of talking to yourself in the first person, try switching to a second or even third-person perspective. 

In one study, researchers found that when people talked to themselves in the third person, they were able to better regulate their own emotions. This can be particularly helpful if you are dealing with difficult or stressful feelings. 

Using the third person can help give you some distance from those feelings, which can help you evaluate them more objectively, almost as if you were observing someone else's thoughts rather than your own.

How you talk to yourself can have an important impact on your self-esteem, learning, and self-awareness. Treating yourself with kindness, asking yourself questions, and paying attention to your words can help you make the most of your self-talk.

How to Control It

There's usually nothing wrong with talking to yourself, but that doesn't mean that there might not be times when you want to keep your thoughts to yourself instead of verbalizing them. For example, others might find your self-talk disruptive, particularly if you are sharing a workspace with other people.

So what can you do to manage your tendency to talk to yourself? Some strategies that can help include:

  • Talk to other people: If you talk to yourself in order to think through a problem or motivate yourself, you might find it helpful to talk to those around you instead. You might pose questions or ask if they want to offer feedback on your ideas.
  • Distract yourself: Finding other ways to stay occupied can help minimize your desire to talk out loud. For example, you might chew some gum, sip some water, or suck on a mint or piece of hard candy.
  • Write it down: Journaling can be a helpful practice that may help you process emotions, explore solutions, and even relieve symptoms of stress

When to Be Concerned

Self-talk isn't always a positive force. If you are engaging in negative self-talk, it can take a toll on your confidence, self-esteem, and mental well-being. 

Sometimes you might find yourself engaging in self-talk centered on rumination, or continuously talking about the same sad, negative, dark thoughts. This type of self-talk may be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression.

Self-talk can also be a concern if it occurs as a result of hallucinations. In this case, a person would talk aloud to a non-existent external source rather than engaging in a conversation with themselves.

Hallucinations may be connected to a number of different conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance use, metabolic conditions, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Self-talk that is illogical, incoherent, and accompanied by disordered thoughts can be a sign of schizophrenia or a related condition.

In most cases, talking to yourself isn't a sign of an underlying mental health problem. However, if this self-talk is extremely negative, difficult to control, or accompanied by auditory or visual hallucinations, you should talk to your doctor. 

A doctor or therapist can help determine if you might have a mental health condition and recommend appropriate treatments. They can also help you learn to manage the behavior and avoid negative self-talk.

A Word From Verywell

While talking to yourself is sometimes viewed as eccentric, quirky, or even pathological, it is important to remember that it is actually incredibly common. Not only that, it can have a number of important benefits including regulating emotions and improving memory.

So go ahead and talk to yourself when you're walking down the aisles of the grocery store or preparing yourself to give a big speech. While it might seem silly, it actually works.

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8 Sources
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