Talking out loud to oneself isn’t, generally speaking, a socially acceptable way of processing thoughts. But unless you’re viciously berating yourself, “self-talk,” as researchers call it, actually has a whole host of benefits. Whether you’re talking through a demanding task like running a marathon, or calming yourself down in an anxiety-inducing situation, self-talk might be the best unrecognized tool in your mental toolbox to amp you up, chill you out, or simply fill the time.
Internal versus external self-talk
While solitary, audible conversations may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of self-talk, a majority of the self-talking we do is in our heads. Most researchers agree that self-talk is made up of complete — rather than fractured or half-formed — thoughts that either pass silently through our minds or which we then speak out loud to ourselves.
As it’s defined, self-talk would be the conversation I have with myself about what I should eat for lunch: “Looks like we have this tuna salad, and it’s really delicious, but I could really use the fiber of an actual salad. Ugh, but I don’t want a leafy green salad! Whatever, maybe I’ll just make myself a slice of toast instead.” Other fragmented thoughts that pass through my mind, such as passively noting that we have farmer’s market pickles in the back of the fridge, would not typically qualify as self-talk.
While most of our self-talk, by volume, occurs in our own heads, talking to yourself out loud is pretty common, too. Judy Van Raalte, a professor of psychology at Springfield College whose research focuses on self-talk in sports, says that we don’t know exactly how often people talk to themselves internally and externally, but she did a study recently that gave her a good preliminary idea for what’s going on in people’s heads — or at least in the heads of golfers.
Van Raalte’s researchers provided the golfers with beepers that went off at random intervals between 25 and 50 minutes long, both while the golfers were competing at tournaments as well as when…