Talking To Yourself Is Actually a Good Thing
We’ve all done it. You’re standing alone in the kitchen staring at an open cupboard and muttering, “baking soda, baking soda, baking soda”, until you find the can you’re looking for and continue making your biscuits. If someone had walked in on your rambling speech, you may have felt embarrassed about the fact that you were caught talking to yourself. But so long as you’re not talking to a hallucination, talking to yourself isn’t problematic. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that talking to yourself can be downright good for you.
First of all, talking to yourself is so common that, according to The New York Times, psychologists have a name for it—external self talk. Researchers are starting to realize that this external self talk can help people focus, become more confident, and improves memory and recall.
For starters, in a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists Daniel Swigley and Gary Lupya hypothesized that talking to yourself was a helpful tool for memory. To prove this, the researchers sent 20 volunteers to the grocery store with one item to find, like a loaf of bread or a banana. In the first trip to the supermarket, the volunteers were instructed to keep silent. In the second trip, the volunteers were sent to the store and told to repeat the item’s name out loud as they wandered the aisles looking for the item. According to Live Science, who reported on the study, when the test subjects wandered the grocery store saying “banana, banana, banana”, they found the bananas with greater ease. The psychologists believe that saying things out loud sparks memory, if you know what the object looks like. According to the researchers, if you know that bananas are yellow and have a particular shape, when you say the word “banana” your brain starts to activate the visual component of memory and helps you locate bananas quickly. However, there’s no point in speaking to yourself if you don't really know what an object looks like as repeating the word will either not help or may slow you down.
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Talking to yourself has more benefits than helping you hunt for groceries at the Publix or tracking down your “keys, keys, keys” that are somewhere in the house. There are two common types of self-talk, according to The Times, “instructional self-talk”, where you talk yourself through an event or speech or work decision, and “motivational self-talk,” where you psych yourself up for something.
When it comes to instructional self-talk, saying things out loud is a good way to work your way through difficult or important decisions and help set your priorities. “It helps you clarify your thoughts, tend to what’s important and firm up any decisions you’re contemplating,” writes psychologist Linda Sapadin at PsychCentral.com. “Saying [your goals] out loud focuses your attention, reinforces the message, controls your runaway emotions and screens out distractions.”
As for motivational self-talk, if you’ve ever looked at yourself in the mirror and said, “You’ve got this,” you’ve engaged in motivational self-talk. Turns out that it really works, too. For a study published in Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences and reported in The Times, researchers had basketball players motivate themselves by talking out loud and found that they passed the basketball faster. The researchers also found that players who used instructional self-talk while they played, had better accuracy when it came to passing and shooting. The researchers hypothesized that talking to yourself about what you’re doing can keep you focused on the task and make you more effective.
Motivational self-talk can also help people feel better. Psychologist and author Anne Wilson Schaef, told the BBC that when she has a patient who was angry, she would tell them to say what they were upset about out loud and the anger would disappear. Similarly, a 2014 paper by a professor at the University of Michigan showed that that self-talk can make people feel more confident and help usher people through tough times or face down challenges. Weirdly, though, they found that self-talk was most effective when said in the second or third person (“You got this” or “Sarah, you have this” instead of “I got this”). As reported in the Harvard Business Review, for some reason, talking about yourself in the third person helped people be calmer, more confident, and perform better.
So the next time you find yourself talking away in an empty room, don’t be embarrassed. It’s a good skill to have.