Do you talk to yourself? We mean out loud, not just under your breath or in your head — pretty much everyone does that.
This habit often begins in childhood, and it can become second nature pretty easily. Even if you don’t see anything wrong with talking to yourself (and you shouldn’t!), you might wonder what others think, especially if you often catch yourself musing aloud at work or in the grocery store.
If you’re worried this habit is a little strange, you can rest easy. Talking to yourself is normal, even if you do it often. If you’d like to be more mindful around talking to yourself so you can avoid doing it in specific situations, we have some tips that can help.
Beyond being a perfectly normal habit, private or self-directed speech (scientific terms for talking to yourself) can actually benefit you in a number of ways.
It can help you find things
You just completed an impressive shopping list. Congratulating yourself on remembering everything you need for the next week or so, you get ready to head out to the store. But where did you leave the list? You wander through the house searching, muttering, “shopping list, shopping list.”
Of course, your list can’t respond. But according to 2012 research, saying the name of whatever you’re looking for out loud can help you locate it more easily than simply thinking about the item.
The authors suggest this works because hearing the name of the item reminds your brain what you’re looking for. This helps you visualize it and notice it more easily.
It can help you stay focused
Think back to the last time you did something difficult.
Maybe you built your bed by yourself, even though the instructions clearly said it was a two-person job. Or perhaps you had to take on the extremely technical task of repairing your computer.
You may have vented some frustration with a few exclamations (even expletives). You probably also talked yourself through the toughest parts, maybe even reminded yourself of your progress when you felt like giving up. In the end, you succeeded, and talking to yourself may have helped.
Explaining processes to yourself aloud can help you see solutions and work through problems, since it helps you focus on each step.
Asking yourself questions, even simple or rhetorical ones —”If I put this piece here, what happens?” can also help you concentrate on the task at hand.
It can help motivate you
When you feel stuck or otherwise challenged, a little positive self-talk can do wonders for your motivation.
These words of encouragement usually have more weight when you say them aloud rather than simply think them. Hearing something often helps reinforce it, after all.
There’s one big thing to keep in mind, though. Research from 2014 suggests this type of self-motivation works best when you talk to yourself in the second or third person.
In other words, you don’t say, “I can absolutely do this.” Instead, you refer to yourself by name or say something like, “You’re doing great. You’ve got so much done already. Just a little bit more.”
When you refer to yourself with second- or third-person pronouns, it can seem like you’re speaking to another person. This can provide some emotional distance in situations where you feel stressed and help relieve distress associated with the task.
It can help you process difficult feelings
If you’re grappling with difficult emotions, talking through them can help you explore them more carefully.
Some emotions and experiences are so deeply personal that you might not feel up to sharing them with anyone, even a trusted love one, until you’ve done a little work with them first.
Taking some time to sit with these emotions can help you unpack them and separate potential worries from more realistic concerns. While you can do this in your head or on paper, saying things aloud can help ground them in reality.
It can also make them less upsetting. Simply giving voice to unwanted thoughts brings them out into the light of day, where they often seem more manageable. Voicing emotions also helps you validate and come to terms with them. This can, in turn, diminish their impact.
By now, you probably feel a little better about talking to yourself. And self-talk certainly can be a powerful tool for boosting mental health and cognitive function.
Like all tools, though, you’ll want to use it correctly. These tips can help you maximize the benefits of self-directed speech.
Positive words only
Though self-criticism may seem like a good option for holding yourself accountable and staying on track, it usually doesn’t work as intended.
Blaming yourself for unwanted outcomes or speaking to yourself harshly can affect your motivation and self-confidence, which won’t do you any favors.
There’s good news, though: Reframing negative self-talk can help. Even if you haven’t yet succeeded at your goal, acknowledge the work you’ve already done and praise your efforts.
Instead of saying: “You’re not trying hard enough. You’ll never get this done.”
Try: “You’ve put a lot of effort into this. It’s taking a long time, true, but you can definitely get it done. Just keep going a little longer.”
When you want to learn more about something, what do you do?
You ask questions, right?
Asking yourself a question you can’t answer won’t magically help you find the correct response, of course. It can help you take a second look at whatever you’re trying to do or want to understand. This can help you figure out your next step.
In some cases, you might actually know the answer, even if you don’t realize it. When you ask yourself “What might help here?” or “What does this mean?” try answering your own question (this can have particular benefit if you’re trying to grasp new material).
If you can give yourself a satisfactory explanation, you probably do understand what’s going on.
Talking to yourself, especially when stressed or trying to figure something out, can help you examine your feelings and knowledge of the situation. But this won’t do much good if you don’t actually listen to what you have to say.
You know yourself better than anyone else does, so try to tune in to this awareness when you feel stuck, upset, or uncertain. This can help you recognize any patterns contributing to distress.
Don’t be afraid to talk through difficult or unwanted feelings. They might seem scary, but remember, you’re always safe with yourself.
Avoid first person
Affirmations can be a great way to motivate yourself and boost positivity, but don’t forget to stick with second person.
Mantras like “I am strong,” “I am loved,” and “I can face my fears today” can all help you feel more confident.
When you phrase them as if you’re speaking to someone else, you might have an easier time believing them. This can really make a difference if you struggle with self-compassion and want to improve self-esteem.
So try instead: “You are strong,” “You are loved,” or “You can face your fears today.”
Again, there’s nothing at all wrong with talking to yourself. If you do it regularly at work or other places where it could disrupt others, you might wonder how you can break this habit or at least scale it back a bit.
Keep a journal
Talking to yourself can help you work through problems, but so can journaling.
Writing down thoughts, emotions, or anything you want to explore can help you brainstorm potential solutions and keep track of what you’ve already tried.
What’s more, writing things down allows you to look over them again later.
Keep your journal with you and pull it out when you have thoughts you need to explore.
Ask other people questions instead
Maybe you tend to talk yourself through challenges when you get stuck at school or work. The people around you can also help.
Instead of trying to puzzle something out yourself, consider chatting to a co-worker or classmate instead. Two heads are better than one, or so the saying goes. You might even make a new friend.
Distract your mouth
If you really need to keep quiet (say you’re in the library or a quiet workspace), you might try chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. Having to talk around something in your mouth can remind you not to say anything out loud, so you might have more success keeping your self-talk in your thoughts.
Another good option is to carry a drink with you and take a sip whenever you open your mouth to say something to yourself.
Remember that it’s very common
If you slip up, try not to feel embarrassed. Even if you don’t notice it, most people do talk to themselves, at least occasionally.
Brushing off your self-talk with a casual, “Oh, just trying to stay on task,” or “Searching for my notes!” can help normalize it.
Some people wonder if frequently talking to themselves suggests they have an underlying mental health condition, but this usually isn’t the case.
While people with conditions that affect psychosis such as schizophrenia may appear to talk to themselves, this generally happens as a result of auditory hallucinations. In other words, they often aren’t talking to themselves, but replying to a voice only they can hear.
If you hear voices or experience other hallucinations, it’s best to seek professional support right away. A trained therapist can offer compassionate guidance and help you explore potential causes of these symptoms.
A therapist can also offer support if you:
Have a habit of running through your evening plans aloud while walking your dog? Feel free to keep at it! There’s nothing strange or unusual about talking to yourself.
If self-talk inconveniences you or causes other problems, a therapist can help you explore strategies to get more comfortable with it or even break the habit, if you choose.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.