Talking to yourself is incredibly common – in fact, research shows that we all do it! Some estimates suggest that as many as 96% of people talk to themselves on a regular basis. But why do we have full conversations with ourselves, as if someone else is in the room? Let’s take a look at some of the top reasons.
It Helps Us Think Through Problems
One of the most common reasons we talk to ourselves is to work through problems or make decisions. When faced with a tricky situation, speaking your thoughts out loud can help organize your thoughts and approach it from different angles. Psychologists believe that self-talk allows us to better focus our thoughts and to clarify our feelings. The act of speaking triggers many areas of the brain, almost like we’re bouncing ideas off another person. This back-and-forth conversation can provide mental clarity and insight that silent reflection may not achieve.
It Motivates Us
Self-talk can also be a source of motivation. Telling yourself “I can do this!” or “Just get it done” can give you the extra push needed to complete tasks or achieve goals. Speaking aloud lights up the auditory cortex in the brain as if another person just gave you a pep talk. Saying the words imprints the motivation on a deeper level. Athletes commonly use motivational self-talk to psych themselves up before big games or competitions. It reminds the brain why the effort is worth it.
It Boosts Confidence
In a similar vein, talking positively to yourself can boost self-esteem and confidence. Making self-affirming statements like “I am capable” or “I am worthy” reinforces self-belief and a sense of empowerment. This is especially effective when preparing for nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, interviews or dates. Our brain believes what we tell it – so make sure you tell it good things!
It Strengthens Memories
Verbalizing thoughts creates another pathway for memorization. Saying something out loud while studying or trying to remember an idea cements it more firmly in the brain. Researchers believe that speaking creates an additional code or cue for retrieval from memory down the road. That’s why students often read textbook passages aloud when cramming for exams – they can recall the information more easily after speaking it.
It Helps Us Socialize
Interestingly, self-talk starts as a way to communicate with others at a young age. Children learn language through interactions with their parents and vocalize themselves at play as practice. Kids often narrate their thoughts aloud or speak for their dolls and stuffed animals. This socializing continues into adulthood in the form of self-talk. Speaking fills a need for connection, even when physically alone. It’s a way to feel like part of a conversation.
It Provides Company
Self-talk can provide a sense of companionship, especially in solitary situations. Scientists believe this stems from humans being social creatures at our core. When alone for long periods, talking to yourself is a self-soothing behavior that activates areas of the brain usually stimulated by real social interaction. For many people, it helps combat loneliness.
It Lifts Our Mood
Hearing your own voice, even quietly in internal self-talk, has mood-elevating effects. The comforting, familiar sound of your own voice triggers dopamine release in the brain’s reward pathways. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, also decrease. This explains why simply vocalizing thoughts, feelings or observations out loud can provide a mood boost when you’re feeling low or anxious.
It Aids Emotion Processing
Putting feelings into words is a powerful emotional processing tool. Speaking about emotions helps label and identify exactly what we’re experiencing. It moves feelings from the instinctual limbic system to the rational prefrontal cortex, where they can be examined objectively. This is why therapists often have clients verbalize emotions – it engages multiple areas of the brain to improve control over our feelings.
It Improves Focus
For tasks that require close focus and concentration, murmuring instructions and descriptions aloud can improve performance. Think surgeons talking their way through procedures or artists narrating creative choices out loud. Self-talk helps direct attention, especially on detailed work. It acts as a guide to keep focus steady and can catch errors. Saying each step as you do it helps the brain coordinate thinking and actions.
It Expresses Creativity
The constant stream of consciousness running through our minds often surfaces through self-talk. Putting those thoughts into words, however disjointed or incomplete, is its own creative process. Observing and vocalizing ideas as they arise, without filtering or judgment, is freeing in itself. This is why filmmakers, novelists and other artists often speak out loud as they sketch or draft early versions of their work.
When Is Too Much Self-Talk Unhealthy?
While most people’s inner monologues are harmless, excessive self-talk may signal underlying issues for some. Here are signs that constant or compulsive self-talk is unhealthy:
- It interferes with relationships and ability to socialize
- It impairs work or school performance
- It contributes to anxiety, depression or other mental health disorders
- It includes extremely negative or harmful self-statements
- It feels like an uncontrollable compulsion
If inappropriate or excessive self-talk is interfering with your life, it may be helpful to talk to a counselor or mental health professional.
Tips for Managing Unhealthy Self-Talk
If your self-talk tends to be negative or anxious, there are steps you can take to turn it in a healthier direction:
- Be mindful: Notice when self-talk arises and what triggers it.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Ask yourself if a negative self-statement is completely true or rational.
- Keep a thought log: Jot down negative self-talk and write a more positive reframe for each.
- Limit vocalized self-talk: Practice quieting your inner voice, especially around others.
- See a therapist: Talk therapy can help reveal thought patterns and better manage self-talk struggles.
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
For most people, talking to themselves is a harmless and even beneficial experience. Self-talk provides mental organization, confidence, emotional processing and other cognitive perks. Like any human behavior, it can grow unhealthy if taken to extremes. But in general, don’t worry too much about chatting with yourself occasionally – science shows it’s perfectly natural!
Self-talk is an important cognitive process that the majority of people engage in regularly. When used constructively, speaking to yourself can boost motivation, mood, memory and emotional processing. It kickstarts creativity, helps solve problems and provides comfort in isolation. However, excessive self-talk may also signal underlying mental health issues like anxiety, depression or compulsions. Most people’s internal conversations are healthy, but be mindful if your self-talk seems destructive. With some adjustments, you can reframe negative self-talk into a positive outlet for growth.