What do you say when you talk to yourself?

Sometimes, it helps to talk to yourself with a friend. (Photo by Rega Photography)
Photo by Rega Photography

I don’t only talk to myself when I’m writing dialogue. I had to work late in the office one night. I thought I was alone, so I talked to myself as I added some new information to a manual. It turns out that I wasn’t alone in the office that night. The next day, I chatted with the engineer I saw at work. He admitted that he too talks to himself, especially when he’s trying to work though a complicated problem.

Talking to yourself can help you solve problems, but it can also create them. Self-talk can delude us or cause us to tear ourselves down. If we are careful about what we say when we talk to ourselves, it can be a positive and constructive experience. Here are a few tips.

Be imaginative

Suppose you are stuck on a difficult problem. Try as you might, you can’t come up with a solution yourself. Now, imagine a genius has arrived to help you. Maybe Albert Einstein or a leader in your particular field. How would they address the problem? Combining imagination and self-talk can help you find a solution. Do some role playing. Try emulating the sound of their voice or have a picture of that person in front of you as you talk to it. This sounds crazy, but using your imagination can give you a different perspective, unlock your thinking, and help you solve the problem.

Be expressive

Suppose the problem you’re trying to solve involves people. Perhaps you’re angry with someone and want to tell him off. Or there is someone in your class you’re attracted to, but you’re too nervous to approach her. Or you have to tell someone some bad news.

Find a private place and role play what you would want to say to that person. A picture of that person or a doll you can talk to can help. You’re not rehearsing what you will say, because you will probably say something different once you start talking to that person. You may find that your anger came from a misunderstanding, the person you’re attracted to isn’t really someone you would want to date, or the person already knows the bad news and is prepared for it.

The benefit of such expressive self-talk is to get difficult feelings off your chest. You can vent all of your anger towards someone with all the profanity you like. You can express feelings you’ve been too afraid to say. You can discover what really behind your feelings and see what things you need to change about yourself. Once you have released your feelings, you can approach the other person with clarity and in an appropriate and effective manner.

Be honest

Self-talk can also be the source of our problems, especially when we use it to delude ourselves. We can talk ourselves into rationalizing bad behavior. (“Everyone I know in school smokes weed. Why can’t I?”) Or justifying immoral conduct. (“My stupid boss doesn’t pay me enough. Why shouldn’t I take these parts to sell online? He won’t notice.”) Or allowing ourselves to accept mistreatment. (“I believe him when he says he’ll stop drinking. I know I can change him.”) We wind up lying to ourselves so much that we no longer see what the truth is.

In this case, you need another voice: Someone who sees the truth and tells you what you need to hear. When you find yourself tempted by self-deceptive self-talk, imagine that person butting in to talk you out of that bad behavior. Then, cultivate the habit of being honest in your self-talk. Learn to question the things you say to yourself and seek out the truth.

Be kind

The worst kind of self-talk is when we are hateful to ourselves. (“You’re too fat! You’ll never be good enough! That’s not the way girls are supposed to act!”) This negative self-talk may have been etched into your mind by family members, religious leaders, and the media. Like deluded self-talk, we repeat these negative words so much that we can’t see ourselves as any better.

Here too, you need another voice: Someone who is supportive and nurturing to you. Their kindness can teach you to be kind to yourself. You also need to learn to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Affirmations help. When the destructive self-talk starts, confront it with positive words. Learn to be kind to yourself in thought and action.

Be wise with your self-talk

When you talk to yourself, you can solve problems and let out difficult emotions. You also need to be careful you don’t use self-talk to deceive yourself, especially to deceive yourself into feeling worthless. Seek out honest and supportive people who can teach you to counter negative self-talk with positive. Talking to yourself can be the most productive and important conversation you may have.