Many of us have an inner monologue. You know, the one that runs through your to-do list or practices conversations you’re never going to have with your ex. But not everyone’s inner monologue takes place inside their heads. We all know someone whose self-talk isn’t so internal — someone who talks to themselves. It may seem odd, but is talking to yourself a sign of anything serious or a sign of genius?
Kids know it’s ok to talk to themselves
It turns out that talking to yourself is innate. During the toddler stage, children begin to use language as a way to self-regulate. They stop getting so frustrated once they’re able to express themselves functionally. They also use self-talk to cement concepts and direct their own behaviours. This is why toddlers narrate their behaviour, often issuing commands and reminders to themselves — “run,” “dance,” “hot.” This stage is temporary, however, and most kids switch to internal self-talk by about seven or eight.
Self-talk helps us learn better
It seems like toddlers might be onto something. In a small study, researchers asked one group of participants to read instructions out loud and another to read them in their heads. Just like those toddlers, the group reading the instructions aloud ended up with a better grasp of the material. In other words, participants who talk themselves through tasks do better than those who only read instructions silently. So the next time you’re struggling through an instruction manual, try reading it out loud to yourself.
Self-talk helps you up your game
Our minds are pretty hard to control. Try not thinking about something and you’re sure to have nothing else in your mind. It’s like the infamous example, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” There’s a good chance a pink elephant has just entered your thoughts. Focus your attention on something specific, however, like an enjoyable book or riveting TV show and you’re usually able to shut out everything else. Self-talk can serve this function by giving your mind a way to focus on a specific task. Studies with children bear this out. Both well-regulated kids and those who struggle more with behaviour issues perform better when using self-talk to work through their tasks.
Professional athletes know this too. There’s no shortage of competitors talking — or grunting — to themselves during competition. In fact, positive self-talk is a key component of sports psychology. And no one thinks it’s crazy when NFL players do it.
Talking to yourself improves visual processing
Talking to yourself isn’t just advantageous when you’re trying to focus your attention or upgrade your golf swing. It turns out that self-talk might help to improve your visual processing too. One study found that participants looking for objects were more likely to find them when they talked to themselves. So the next time you misplace your cell phone, try talking yourself through the process of finding it. You might boost your chances of success.
Does talking to yourself correlate with mental illness?
So if talking to yourself is ok and actually advantageous, why aren’t more of us doing it regularly? Well, it’s because it’s not socially acceptable — consider the stereotype of a mentally ill person ranting to themself. But, talking to yourself and mental illness aren’t the same. Schizophrenics are often thought of as talking to themselves, but they’re actually responding to auditory hallucinations. In other words, they’re talking to another voice in their mind, not themselves.
Talking to yourself improves your ability to control and focus your mind on something important, whether that’s preparing for a hard conversation, trying to find your keys, or upping your tennis game. While it might be embarrassing to get caught doing it, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s probably making you smarter, more focused, and more competitive than the person who caught you. So chat away and feel free to tell yourself how smart you are for doing it.