External Self-Talk: Why Talking to Yourself Can Be a Good Thing

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

External Self-TalkThe other day I was in the grocery store when an attendant came to ask me if I needed any help. Instantly, I realized I’d been talking to myself…and this wasn’t the first time. My wife has repeatedly told me that she’ll often stand out of sight and listen to me self-talk, just for giggles.

Am I crazy?

Not according to some recent research. In fact, what might sound like some nutty, confused muttering to observers may actually go a long way toward influencing and improving your focus, behavior, and cognition.

How Self-Talk Could Be Good for You

Psychologists call talking aloud to yourself “external self-talk.” And studies suggest it can help with decision-making, completing tasks and challenges successfully, problem solving, and motivation.

1. Changes Your Point-of-View

Central to its effectiveness is how self-talk creates distance and objectivity from firsthand experience. This seems to be especially true when self-talk occurs from the second- or third-person perspective, where you’re able to remove yourself from a situation.

For example, if I’m trying to put together an Ikea bed frame for my son, I might say, “Adrian, relax; you’ve got this.” And it can relieve the anxiety and frustration of all those little pieces. The words allow some distance, so I can better see the problem in front of me and address it rationally and logically instead of emotionally. Like getting mad at that pile of parts that never seems to get any smaller!

2. Increases Your Focus

Research has also shown that self-talk can help you find something faster, like when you’re looking for a specific product at the grocery store. Saying the name of the item out loud when you’re looking at a crowded shelf can help it pop, increase your focus, and get you where you want to be a little easier and faster. Pretty sure my bad habit of forgetting where I put my keys is going to get worse as I get older, so I think my unconscious self-talk habit is going to be quite helpful in the years to come!

Self-Talk: A Great Workout for Your Brain

Self-talk is likely to work so well because it provides perspective and helps block out distractions. So, next time you need to parallel park, follow a recipe, locate an item, or just increase your focus, have a little chat with yourself.

And I’d even say to go a little further. Sometimes I’ll work out an entire problem out loud, completely alone in my office. It helps me get organized and—as weird as this may sound—approach a problem with eyes other than my own.

So, if you’re wary of judgment for talking to yourself, don’t be. It’s extremely helpful in reducing that unhealthy stress and boosting your brain power.

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Kross, E., “Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb. 2014; 106(2):304-24. doi: 10.1037/a0035173, last accessed June 20, 2017.
Lupyan, G., “Self-directed speech affects visual search performance,” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2012; 65(6):1068-85. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2011.647039, last accessed June 20, 2017.
Wong, K., “The Benefits of Talking to Yourself,” New York Times, June 8, 2017; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/08/smarter-living/benefits-of-talking-to-yourself-self-talk.html, last accessed June 20, 2017.