4 Science-Backed Reasons to Say Your Self-Talk Out Loud
By the time you read this, you’ve probably already had a chunk of your daily 50,000 thoughts.
They're constantly bubbling underneath the surface.
Whether it’s a mental to-do list of the things you need to accomplish before heading out the door, or that pestering doubt that’s interrupting your morning flow—it’s not uncommon to get caught up with internal conversations throughout the day.
But there’s something magical that happens when you take your self-talk and turn it into conversations with yourself out loud.
I promise, it’s not as weird as it sounds.
Research has shown that talking to yourself out loud can motivate you to move forward with your goals, help you focus on a task at hand, and combat self-criticism.
Gary Lupyan from University of Wisconsin-Madison calls this phenomenon “feedback hypothesis.”
The researcher, along with his team, conducted an experiment that asked subjects to go through a stack of photographs and look for a photo of a particular, assigned object. If they said the name of whatever object out loud while looking, they tended to find the image faster, according to the New York Times.
This same practice can be applied to everyday things, too, like trying to find that pesky remote that always manages to disappear—or a pair of glasses.
Athletes, whether they realize it or not, use the same strategy to improve their performance. A study from Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences showed that basketball players who uttered motivational affirmations to themselves (like “I can…” statements) while they played performed better than those who stayed silent.
So, what does this all have to do with you?
Like those basketball players, talking through whatever you may be going through can help you get intentional and motivated.
There’s a particular kind of focus that comes from talking to yourself out loud. Psychologists have dubbed it “selective attention” and it pretty much means exactly that: choosing to focus on one thing at a time.
British psychologist Colin Cherry explored the impact of selective attention by asking some participants to state facts out loud. They were able to better retain that information, especially compared to participants that didn’t speak out loud.
By choosing to focus your attention on a specific theme or idea, you elevate that intention. It makes it all the more easier to harness your focus for you.
Thinking about talking to yourself is one thing, but doing it? It can feel awkward.
You don’t necessarily need to be like those basketball players, muttering “make this shot!” to yourself throughout the day, but it’s helpful to know when you can harness the power of an IRL pep talk.
Here are some steps you can take to get started:
1. Find a Space That's Yours
Whether it’s in a bedroom, on a park bench you love, or in a bathroom stall, find a space where you feel secure to break the ice with...yourself.
Like most new things, it can feel a little awkward to pump yourself up. But with practice and the comfortability of a safe space, soon you’ll be as good as Insecure’s Issa, rapping away your worries to yourself in a mirror.
2. Decide What Exactly to Say
When you’re working through certain themes, like confidence or loneliness in your life, framing your self-talks with kindness can go a long way.
The best way to start verbalizing self-love? Ask yourself questions.
Pause for a moment to take stock of how you’re feeling and how you want to move forward with your day. If you’re working through a particularly rough patch, what would you say to comfort and guide a friend going through the same thing? Now, take that, and say it out loud.
3. Take Note of How You Say It
Try addressing yourself in second or third person. Saying something as simple as “you are worth it” or inserting your name in that mantra can do wonders. University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross told NPR that even just a tiny change like that can increase the power of self-talk.
"What we find is that a subtle linguistic shift—shifting from 'I' to your own name—can have really powerful self-regulatory effects,” Kross said.
Basically, using your name to talk to yourself can help you see things from a distance—and that perspective can help reframe negative self-talk and provide some much needed objectivity and self-compassion.
Also: Make sure you're using "freeing" self-talk instead of "limiting" self-talk. Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist, shared a helpful graphic on her Instagram to show the difference. "Instead of labeling yourself, reframe the way you think about who you are," she wrote in the caption.
4. Make a Habit of It
Doing it once is a great first step, but like most things, consistency can lead to some bountiful benefits. Start slow but build up a practice of saying what you need to hear, and you may manifest your dreams sooner than you realize.
Next time you have a moment, whether it’s during your commute or in the middle of finally folding your laundry, walk through these steps and talk your way into a daily practice of, well, talking to yourself.
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