Why you should talk to yourself

Last year, acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith wrote a short book of essays called Intimations. It’s a succinct, pocket-friendly book, that collates her reflections about the first months of the pandemic and lockdown. In the foreword, she writes that she’s learnt how “talking to yourself can be useful.”

This is no surprise. Talking to yourself is definitely a useful activity, and moreover, it’s something we often do without realising.

Charles Fernyhough’s book The Voices Within explores the different types internal talking: there’s the continuous (often incessant) voice, which delivers a personal monologue that happens faster than you could speak it; there’s the voice that is self-doubting and questioning, used when trying to reason through a problem; there’s the voice that accompanies reading; and so on.

According to Fernyhough, we hear some kind of internal voice for at least 25% of our waking life.

It’s surprising then that talking to oneself out loud is often stigmatised. It’s written about as something to be embarrassed by, or as a sign of being crazy. For example: “we caught Jane talking to herself, she must have gone mad!” However, there’s no strong link between talking to yourself out loud and any mental illnesses. When done unconsciously, it’s often just an extension of that internal voice.

But not only is it a normal activity. It’s also something profoundly beneficial. Paloma Mari-Beffa, a neuro-psychologist from Bangor University, showed in an experiment that talking out loud improves control when performing complex tasks, as it boosts your ability to concentrate.

Talking through things out loud gives us a way to reason through problems or work through emotions. There’s a huge benefit that comes from putting things into words.

Therefore, why shouldn’t we make an effort to talk to ourselves even more?

Talking to yourself has the potential to be raw, unfiltered, and totally honest. At first, this can be difficult. As humans, we’re used to filtering every single thing in our lives. This is escalated in our world of social media. We rarely have opportunities to be totally honest with others, and therefore being honest with ourselves is hard.

But making ourselves talk to ourselves can lead to breakthroughs. It can help us break down complex feelings, and process emotions and thought patterns we may not have been consciously aware of.

When talking in your head, everything comes out fast and jumbled. There’s not enough space to process it. But speaking out loud means slowing down, thinking more rationally and calmly — and often coming to breakthroughs that couldn’t be reached non-verbally.

It’s clear to see that there are huge benefits from trying to consciously talk to ourselves more. We call this sounding off, and we’re working to make it easier than ever to unlock those benefits.

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