Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Ways of talking to yourself

Edited by Jill Wright,

Just in case you're worried about the fact that from time to time you find yourself engaged in conversation ... with yourself ... it's not a sign that you should seek professional help.

As a recent article in the New York Times points out, talking to yourself - what the professionals call "external self talk" - isn't eccentric. It's something we use to help ourselves be more objective.

It's therefore important that we understand what we are doing when we engage in this activity, and how we can improve its effectiveness.

The article differentiates between instructional self-talk - talking yourself through a problem - and motivational self-talk - "You can do this", for instance and points to research that shows how effective it can be. In one study, psychologists found that players passed the basketball faster when they motivated themselves out loud through the task.

And according to Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, when people talk about themselves in the second or third person, rather than first person, they felt less anxiety and their performances were rated more highly by their peers. 

That helps because it's self-distancing, and focusing on the self from the perspective of an objective observer - even if that third person is actually yourself - is highly effective.


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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.