Why Talking To Yourself Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy

By Debra Kelly on Wednesday, December 24, 2014
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“The one self-knowledge worth having is to know one’s own mind.” —Francis Herbert Bradley

In A Nutshell

Getting caught talking to yourself is always a little bit embarrassing. There’s a certain taboo attached to it, not the least of which is the suggestion that talking to yourself is what crazy people do. But researchers have now found that talking to yourself not only helps you focus your mind and motivation, but it can help with a healthier self-image and enhance performance.

The Whole Bushel

It’s something we pretty much all do, and when we’re caught doing it, there’s a certain amount of embarrassment that usually goes along with it. We’ve always been told that talking to yourself is the first sign you’re going off the deep, and it’s been associated with mental illness and instability.

But now, research has found that there’s absolutely no need to be shy about talking to yourself. Far from being a sign of mental illness, it’s quite the opposite.

Because everything has to have a new and updated name, the idea of talking to yourself is called self-talk or, in some cases, it’s referred to as private speech.

Different people talk to themselves in different situations and in different amounts—some say something aloud to themselves once or twice a day, some have entire conversations with themselves on their commute home from work. Regardless of how often we do it, it’s been found that it can serve a very positive purpose and certainly isn’t something to be embarrassed about doing.

Researchers first tested people by asking them to find something in a store. One group was told to repeat the name of the item, the other group was instructed not to. The group talking to themselves was much more successful much faster, and a subsequent experiment has found that self-talk can be particularly useful when you already have something of a connection with whatever you’re saying. You’re more likely to have a better success rate practicing repetitious self-talk when you know what it is you’re looking for, as opposed to, say, looking for a business in a plaza when you you have no clue what their sign looks like.

Self-talk might not mean you’re crazy, but it can still be harmful. Researchers from the University of Thessaly in Greece have found that self-talk has a measurable impact on not just mood but motivation. Being positive in your self-talk can make a huge difference in our performance of certain tasks.

Next time you start to talk to yourself, listen to how you’re addressing yourself. If you’re saying “I” a lot, start referring to yourself as “you.” Researchers suggest that simply switching how you refer to yourself might help the brain process the information you’re giving yourself. Rather than scolding yourself in the first person, suddenly the words take on the air of the advice of a trusted friend.

You’re not crazy when you do it, but you can damage yourself emotionally by criticizing yourself too much—especially when you say it out loud.

Self-talk begins when we’re young. Listen to a child just learning how to talk, and you’ll probably hear her repeating words back to herself that she’s learning. It’s a good way for children to start developing language, and as they get older, the role of self-talk changes—but becomes no less important. Toddlers and young children will often reinforce their successes with praising themselves, and we do much the same thing as we get older.

So, it’s a completely natural thing to do, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed about holding an entire conversation with yourself.

Show Me The Proof

Scientific American: Talking to Myself—Is That Normal?
Wall Street Journal: ‘Self Talk’: When Talking to Yourself, the Way You Do It Makes a Difference
LiveScience: Talk to Yourself? Why You’re Not Crazy