Talking to yourself ain't crazy (but you're doing it wrong) cover image

Talking to yourself ain't crazy (but you're doing it wrong)

Dorian Minors • August 7, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Talking to yourself is awesome. You've been doing it since you were two. Ever notice kids playing often talk themselves through what's happening? Say they were playing with a Tonka truck, it might sound like this:

...the wheels go here, the wheels go here. Oh, we need to start it all over again. We need to close it up. See, it closes up. We’re starting it all over again.

That is possibly the most famous example of 'private-speech'; these words, jotted down after watching 'David' play in the sand have been repeated in almost every book about self-talk published. Psych legend, Lev Vygotsky was the first to realise (or to popularise the idea) that this 'private-speech' was the child talking themselves through a task. It's their interpretation of what they've learned from their parents and teachers, reimagined and repeated for their own purposes. You might, like Lev did, notice that the harder the task, the more eloquent the child becomes.

Why do we talk to ourselves?

Thing is, adults do this too. We just internalise it. Vygotsky said that as we found the task easier, the less we needed to talk it through out loud. So it simply disappeared inside our head. But we still do it. Something you've probably already realised; that 'inner monologue' that spells out all the things you're doing, or should do, or want to do, is the grown-up version of 'private-speech'.

. Me personally? Well, I do this. Every morning. In the shower. I have a lot to say...

Moreover, that inner monologue often pops back out again. Hence why you talk to yourself. It's not crazy, it's just us slipping into old habits (or doing something particularly tough). More than that, it's actually a big help.

One trick that makes talking to yourself even better in three ways

New research out of the University of Michigan has found that talking to yourself in third person dramatically improves your success in three ways:

  1. Wisdom - using third person increases your psychological distance. Achieve this and we think in a more measured and wise way. You're able to step outside your biased viewpoint and see more of the big picture.
  2. Performance - using third person (as opposed to first person) appears to help us become more articulate during self-advocacy. Using our names instead of 'I' during a pep-up talk before we need to talk ourselves up (think, a job interview) sees an increase in performance.
  3. Well-being - not only can using third person reduce the amount of stress we feel in complex situations, it can reduce the amount of 'post-event processing' (PEP) after we're done. Ever walked away from a situation reflecting on how badly you performed? That's PEP, and it's no surprise to note that it's thought to be a key factor in anxiety disorders.

Yep, it's that easy. Just by using third person, we see dramatic improvements in these three domains. So, my advice? Keep talking to yourself. Not only can it not hurt, it can actually help! As Tom Stoppard wrote:

A man speaking sense to himself is no madder than a man speaking nonsense not to himself.

Liked this? Well, you'll love learning how talking to others is the key to creating intimacy. While you're at it, learn how one simple phrase can double your persuasiveness. And finally, if you find it hard to talk to people, learn about Social Phobia. It's more common than you'd think. Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

Questions? Comments? Comment sections are a pain to moderate. But this inbox is always read, so send an email. You'll get a reply. Your question might even get a whole article of its own.

More articles? View them all, or check these out:

Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.