Talking to yourself may seem a little shameful.
If you’ve ever been overheard *berating yourself for a foolish mistake or practicing a tricky speech ahead of time, you’ll have felt the social *injunction against communing with yourself in words.
According to the well-known saying, talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.
But there’s no need for embarrassment.
Talking to ourselves, whether out loud or silently in our heads, is a valuable tool for thought.
Far from being a sign of insanity, self-talk allows us to plan what we are going to do, manage our activities, regulate our emotions and even create a narrative of our experience.
Take a trip to any preschool and watch a small child playing with her toys.
You are very likely to hear her talking to herself: offering herself directions and giving voice to her *frustrations.
Psychologists refer to this as private speech – language that is spoken out loud but directed at the self.
We do a lot of it when we are young–perhaps one reason for our shyness about continuing with it as adults.
As children, according to the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, we use private speech to regulate our actions in the same way that we use public speech to control the behavior of others.
As we grow older, we don’t abandon this system–we *internalize it.
Psychological experiments have shown that this so-called inner speech can improve our performance on tasks ranging from judging what other people are thinking to sorting images into categories.
The distancing effect of our words can give us a valuable perspective on our actions.
One recent study suggested that self-talk is most effective when we address ourselves in the second person: as you rather than I.
We internalize the private speech we use as children–but we never entirely put away the out-loud version.
If you want proof, turn on the sports channel.
You’re bound to see an athlete or two gearing themselves up with a tart phrase or scolding themselves after a bad shot.
Conducting a dialogue with ourselves–asking questions of the self and providing answers–seems to be a particularly good way of solving problems and working through ideas.
The to-and-fro between different points of view means our thoughts can end up in expected places, just like a regular dialogue can, and might turn out to be one of the keys to human creativity.
Both kinds of self-talk–the silent and the vocal–seem to bring a range of benefits to our thinking.
Those words to the self, spoken silently or aloud, are so much more than *idle chatter.