Why do we talk to ourselves? Psychologists call the habit of talking to yourself out loud “external self-talk.” Speaking to yourself from time to time is a widespread habit, and you’re not the only one who does it. Evidence suggests that self-talk can have many psychological benefits. Research shows that this self-talk relates to various mental functions, including problem-solving, reasoning, planning, motivation, and attention.
Although this habit may sometimes cause problems or be a sign of a mental illness, it is not a cause for concern in most cases. This article examines why people talk to themselves and some possible benefits of this behavior. We will also introduce you to strategies to help stop self-talk and related warning signs.
Why do some people talk to themselves?
Children begin to talk to themselves at two or three, and by age five, they do so quietly so that others cannot hear them.
Self-talk is a habit that is rarely wholly broken. Most people talk to themselves sometimes, but some get used to it. Although externalizing self-talk is relatively common, more research needs to be done on its causes. Researchers consider the following possible reasons to be effective in the formation of this habit:
Why do we talk to ourselves: Social isolation
According to some researchers, those who spend much time alone may talk to themselves more. Because these people interact less with others, they probably substitute talking to themselves for social communication. There is a lot of research supporting this theory. Studies have shown that single-child individuals engage in external self-talk more than others in adulthood.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Cognitive impairment
According to this theory, some people may talk out loud to themselves because of cognitive problems often triggered by stress or other similar events. For example, feelings of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive tendencies (obsessive-compulsive) cause cognitive impairments that are associated with increased self-talk.
One study found that people who are afraid of public speaking talk to themselves more when preparing for a speech. Also, this study showed that people who talk to themselves in a negative or self-critical way are more likely to experience anxiety during a lesson.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Types of self-talk
People talk to themselves in different ways. Self-talk is either positive or negative. However, the purpose of doing it can be other for different people:
- Positive and negative self-talk: Positive self-talk includes words and phrases that help you stay motivated, but negative self-talk consists of terms that focus on self-criticism and self-blame.
- Instructional self-talk: This form of self-talk is dedicated to discussing the steps you need to take to solve a problem or perform a specific task.
- Motivational self-talk: This type of self-talk focuses on encouraging you to do a specific task. For example, you might congratulate yourself for your efforts or remind yourself that you can succeed.
Research shows that talking to yourself in a positive, educational, or motivational way can help improve your performance. Negative self-talk doesn’t always hinder performance and can sometimes help you improve your performance by providing helpful and realistic feedback. However, overly negative self-talk can undermine self-confidence in the long run, so avoiding making it a habit is essential. Self-talk can have many benefits, including:
Why do we talk to ourselves: Thought and reflection
Self-talk allows you to step away from your experiences and reflect on things happening in your life. Creating this distance is a great way to see things more objectively. Self-talk controls your emotions so that you can see things clearly and logically.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Strengthen motivation
Talking to yourself also helps to increase motivation. Think of times when you prepared yourself to face a challenging situation by saying things like, “I can do this.” It is helpful to have these thoughts even if they are not spoken. However, when you say these positive phrases out loud to yourself, you will feel more motivated.
A study of basketball players showed that when the athletes spoke to themselves with instructional or motivational statements, they made more progress than a control group. Those who used instructional phrases completed tasks more accurately, and those who used motivational words completed tasks much faster.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Improve memory
If you find yourself talking to yourself while walking down the aisles of the grocery store, don’t worry. Research has shown that talking to yourself may help you remember items on a list.
In one study, participants had to search for items in a store without speaking. In the next step, they were told to repeat the names of these items while searching. This scientific research showed that self-talk helps people find what they are looking for more easily. According to the researchers, talking to oneself improves memory and creates a strong association between spoken words and desired visual targets.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Problem-solving
Self-talk is effective in finding solutions to problems. This tactic will help you track your progress and improve your performance while solving the problem. A few moments of talking to yourself will allow you to focus on the issue and the options available to solve it. Self-talk can have many benefits, but to get the most out of this habit, you should use the following strategies:
Why do we talk to ourselves: Use positive words and phrases.
Negative self-talk, whether in your head or spoken out loud, has a detrimental effect on your health. If negative thoughts come to your mind most of the time, you must find a way to deal with them. This advice does not mean thinking or speaking unreal things.
For example, don’t say, “I’m the best person to do it” instead of saying, “I can’t do it.” Instead, focus on positive but realistic statements. For example, say, “It’s hard, but I’m learning, and I’m getting better every day.”
Why do we talk to ourselves: Ask questions
Asking yourself questions about what you’ve learned or the meaning of words and events can be a powerful tool for improving memory. Since you know something and then teach it yourself, the information is more effectively fixed in long-term memory.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Be consistent with what you say.
Self-talk is very beneficial when you pay attention to what you’re saying. Listening to and reflecting on what you say can be a helpful way to gain more self-awareness.
Why do we talk to ourselves: Use second-person or third-person pronouns.
Instead of talking to yourself in the first person, change the pronouns to the second or third person. In one study, researchers found that when people spoke to themselves in the third person, they were better able to control their emotions, especially when dealing with unpleasant or stressful feelings.
Using the third person pronoun helps you distance yourself from your feelings and evaluate them more objectively as if you are observing other people’s thoughts instead of your own.
Why do we talk to ourselves: How to control the habit of talking to yourself?
It’s usually okay to talk to yourself, but sometimes you must hold back from expressing your thoughts. For example, if you share a space with other colleagues, your talking may disturb their work. The following strategies help control this habit:
- Talk to others. If you are talking to yourself to solve a problem or to motivate yourself, you can speak to the people around you instead. Ask them if they want to comment on your ideas.
- Distract yourself. To reduce the tendency to talk about yourself, entertain yourself. For example, chewing gum, drinking water, or sucking on candy.
- Write your thoughts. Writing down your thoughts is a helpful exercise that can help you process emotions, discover solutions, and even relieve stress symptoms.
Why do we talk to ourselves: When should you be concerned?
Talking to yourself is not always a positive habit. Negative self-talk can affect your self-confidence and self-esteem. Sometimes you may find yourself meditating or constantly talking about sad and negative thoughts. This type of self-talk may signify a mental illness such as depression.
Delusional self-talk is also worrisome. Instead of talking to oneself, the person is talking out loud to an external source that does not exist. Hallucinations may be related to some problems, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In most cases, talking to yourself is not a sign of a severe problem. However, you should speak to a doctor or therapist if the self-talk is very harmful, difficult to control, or accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations. The doctor examines the relationship between this habit and your mental health and recommends appropriate treatments. Sometimes talking to yourself is considered strange or even pathological, but it is a common habit many people practice. This habit helps to control emotions and improve memory. For example, you can enjoy its benefits when shopping at the grocery store or preparing for a big speech. However, if this habit seems uncontrollable or is accompanied by hallucinations, you should see a doctor.
If reading this article was helpful, we suggest you also read the “12 Steps to Learn to Love Yourself” article.