Why Talking to Yourself is a Really Good Idea

People who refer to themselves in the third person are often considered weirdos. If I were to say aloud, “Go Samantha. You can do it!” before lifting a large weight at the gym, fellow gym-goers may justifiably cringe and slowly move away.

While talking to oneself aloud may raise some eyebrows and conjure up cheesy self-help advice (“I’m good enough. I’m strong enough…”) new research highlights how self-talk can be harnessed to bring out the best. People naturally talk to themselves and most research has focused on the negative voice in our head, the one saying, “I am such an idiot,” whenever we lose our keys.

Psychologist Ethan Kross studies how self-talk can be deployed strategically to boost confidence and make better decisions.

How people conduct their inner monologues has an enormous effect on their success in life. Talk to yourself with the pronoun I, for instance and you’re likely to fluster and perform poorly in stressful circumstances. Address yourself by your name and your chances of acing a host of tasks from speech making to self-advocacy, suddenly soar.

In other words, speaking to yourself in the third person, albeit quietly, has important advantages.

By toggling the way we address the self—first person or third—we flip a switch in the cerebral cortex, the center of thought, and another in the amygdala, the seat of fear, moving closer to or further from our sense of self and all its motional intensity. Gaining psychological distance enables self-control, allowing us to think clearly, perform competently. The language switch also minimizes rumination, a handmaiden of anxiety, after we complete a task. Released from negative thoughts, we gain perspective, focus deeply, plan for the future.

When used strategically, self-talk is a powerful instrument. Related research shows it can help us face disappointment, handle negative feedback and deal with challenges.

On that note, “Samantha needs to work on her book.”

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman