Talking to ourselves may seem strange because we tend to associate speaking out loud to nobody in particular as a sign of mental illness. For those of you who talk to yourself there’s a growing body of research to indicate that self-talk can help memory recall, confidence, focus and more.
“It’s not an irrational thing to do,” says Gary Lupyan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who has studied how hearing ourselves speak can impact our memories. “You don’t know everything you’re going to say – you can even surprise yourself.”
His work, which is one of the most cited studies in this field, had people look at objects on a computer screen. Some had to say the name of the item out loud, while others were instructed to remain silent and keep the word in their head. The result? The ones who said the word out loud were able to locate the objects on the screen more quickly.
A similar experiment had people say the names of common grocery store items out loud. They then had to find those items by looking at photographs. The ones who said the words found the foods faster.
“Saying a name out loud is a powerful retrieval cue,” says Lupyan. “Think of it as a pointer to a chunk of information in your mind. Hearing the name exaggerates what might normally happen if you just bring something to mind. Language boosts that process.”
Feel better with self-talk
“Anne Wilson Schaef, a former psychologist and now author and speaker, often encouraged her clients to speak to themselves. Not only did it improve her clients’ memories, but it also changed the way many of them felt. For instance, if a patient was angry, she’d tell them to say out loud what they were upset about. The anger would then disappear.”
We have to say the right words for this to work
In 2014, the University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross released a paper saying that self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instil a confidence that can help us get through tough challenges. However, we have to say the right words for this to work.
“Kross, . . . conducted a series of experiments that had people describe emotional experiences using their own names or words like “you,” “he” and “she.” He found that talking in the third or second person, helped people control their feelings and thoughts better than those who spoke in the first person.”
“In another study, Kross, who outlined his research in the Harvard Business Review, asked people to refer silently to themselves in the second or third person while preparing for a speech and found they were calmer, more confident and performed better on tasks than those who used only first-person words. The results were so profound, wrote Kross, that he now gets his young daughter to speak to herself in the third person when she is distressed.”
Improving muscle memory
There is also a lot of research that shows that self-talk among kids is an important part of their development. A 2008 study found that five-year-olds who talk to themselves out loud do better at motor tasks than when they’re quiet.