Is This Normal? “I Talk to Myself Out Loud”
Not only is it normal, it’s “a sign of high cognitive functioning.”
I talk to myself — a lot, to the annoyance of classmates past and colleagues present. Most people have a running internal monologue of thoughts, reactions, and feelings, and I have that, too, but it frequently slips into an external monologue. It’s difficult to describe the context of this self-talk, but it’s normally just a word or a line or two, sometimes repeated. I’ll even issue directions to myself (“Just pick one” or “Get out of bed”) or I’ll ask myself questions (“If I were your phone, where would I be?” or “Why did you do that?”) or I’ll narrate my actions or to-do list (“Putting this in the cupboard, now, then we’ll fold the clothes” and “OK, so you need to do this first, then you can get to that”). You know — fascinating stuff. The problem is, it’s a little weird and confusing — it always makes the people around me interrupt my mumble with a “Sorry, are you talking to me?” I’m not. I’m talking to myself out loud. Is it normal?
Not only is talking to yourself out loud perfectly normal, it’s actually beneficial in a variety of ways — as well as potentially being “a sign of high cognitive functioning,” according to Paloma Mari-Beffa, PhD, a neuropsychologist and cognitive psychologist who has researched the phenomenon of self-talk. I’m not crazy then, I’m just smart.
That could be because talking to yourself out loud improves learning. For young children, audible self-talk is an important developmental milestone that studies show helps them remember and learn; a 2008 study of 5-year-olds found they performed better on motor skills tests when they talked themselves through the tasks out loud. A different study of adults concluded those who verbalize explanations of new material to themselves learn nearly three times more than those who don’t.
This learning extends to the ability of self-control, both emotional and cognitive. Jean Piaget, an early child development theorist and psychologist, observed children’s ability to control their actions coincides with the development of their language skills. Mari-Beffa’s own research has confirmed that saying instructions out loud to oneself can improve control over a task.
Talking to yourself out loud also aids us in emotional control. Most people tend to verbalize their self-directed thoughts as they would to another individual — in the second or third person — which can help us gain emotional objectivity, especially around stressful situations.
“Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain,” according Jason Moser, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, in the U.S., who led a study on the topic reported by The Swaddle in 2017. “That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”
Verbalizing our self-talk also helps us slow down our thought processes and take more deliberate actions, Jessica Nicolosi, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in New York, told NBCNews.
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Combined, this talking to yourself out loud translates to improved performance; a 2017 study found even internal motivational self-talk in the second or third person reduced individuals’ anxiety over a task and boosted their peers’ perception of their performance. Another study found instructional self-talking out loud helped basketball players pass and shoot more accurately. And yet another study has found that repeating aloud the name of something you’re looking for actually does help you find it faster; it helps you visualize the item in your mind and thus recognize it more quickly in the real world. (Note: It doesn’t work for things you’re not already fairly familiar with.)
Interestingly, while everyone self-talks internally, those of us who talk to ourselves out loud have a bit of an edge. Mari-Beffa’s research found much of the benefit of audible self-talk in improving both concentration and performance “appears to come from simply hearing oneself, as auditory commands seem to be better controllers of behavior than written ones. Our results demonstrated that, even if we talk to ourselves to gain control during challenging tasks, performance substantially improves when we do it out loud,” she writes for The Conversation.
Which means talking to yourself out loud is not only normal but also very, very useful, if you can learn to channel it. The study of basketball players, which also found motivational self-talk out loud led to faster passing, concluded that different types of verbal self-talk has different benefits, reports Kristin Wong for the New York Times: Talking to yourself out loud in a motivational way is best for improving speed, strength, and power, while talking to yourself out loud in an instructional way is better for boosting focus, strategy, and technique.
And of course, repetition out loud is best for helping you find things — a tool I use regularly when I can’t find my phone most mornings. You’re not just conjuring things out of thin air when talk to yourself out loud this way, you’re just being normal — and maybe even a little smart.
Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle's managing editor.