As I get older, I find the temptation to talk to myself growing stronger every day. Am I just desperate for intelligent conversation? More likely, experience is revealing to me what many researchers have started to recognize: talking to yourself can be very helpful.
What’s so special about sharing aloud the incessant internal dialogue that runs through most minds? External self-talk works precisely because the practice moves the chatter from inside our heads to outside of them, providing a crucial sense of perspective. Plus, effective self-talk has purpose, either motivational or instructional. Carrying on a conversation of one about your favorite sports team isn’t helping anyone!
The very idea of talking to yourself aloud may sound too silly to take seriously, but external self-talk has been linked to all kinds of desirable outcomes, from deeper learning of unfamiliar material to better passing and shooting on the basketball court. If you’re willing to give self-talk a shot, make the most of your efforts with a few powerful guidelines:
1. There is no “I” in self-talk
Apparently, talking to yourself is more effective when you pretend that someone else is doing the talking. A team of researchers found that using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name–as opposed to first-person pronouns–during introspection enhances self-distancing, which leads to better outcomes.
TAKEAWAY: Talk to yourself in the second- or third-person.
2. Instructional, not motivational
Self-talk should always be positive and supportive. But mere motivational speech impacts physical performance more than mental mastery. According to the New York Times, “talking to yourself out loud in an instructional way can speed up cognitive abilities in relation to problem-solving and task performance.”
TAKEAWAY: Instructional self-direction helps with tasks involving focus, strategy and technique.
3. If you can’t teach someone else, teach yourself
Teaching material to others has proven time and again to be a highly effective route to knowledge retention. But what if you can’t find a study group? Talk it out anyway: research suggests that people who verbally explain ideas to themselves learn almost three times more than those who stay mum.
TAKEAWAY: When studying solo, learn lots by acting as both teacher and student
Obviously, coaching yourself out loud through a challenging math problem on test day can become the surest route to being unceremoniously ejected from the test center. But any task that requires learning and study–from schoolwork to test prep–can benefit from a willingness to verbally talk yourself through the toughest parts to ensure they don’t stay tough. If you’re embarrassed, feel free to stay quiet about your methods!