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5 reasons talking to yourself is good for you
Often seen as stigmatic, talking to yourself is a common habit that can make you a better you.
- Talking to yourself is a healthy, widespread tendency among children and adults.
- Research suggests the practice supplies a bevy of benefits, from improved mental performance to greater emotional control.
- Self-talk is most beneficial when it combines thought and action or reinforces an instructional framework.
Our culture views talking to yourself as a habit for eccentrics. Movies depict unhinged characters through herky-jerky self-mutterings. When people see an approaching pedestrian disagreeing with himself, they cross the street. And when a friend catches you in a solo performance of your thoughts, you clam up with an expression of sheepish guilt.
True, some mental disorders do manifest the symptom of self-talk, such as schizophrenia. But the habit is extensive among the mentally sound, too.
"Talking out loud can be an extension of [one's] silent inner talk, caused when a certain motor command is triggered involuntarily," explains Paloma Mari-Beffa, senior lecturer in psychology at Bangor University. "The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget observed that toddlers begin to control their actions as soon as they start developing language. When approaching a hot surface, the toddler will typically say 'hot, hot' out loud and move away. This kind of [behavior] can continue into adulthood."
Talking to yourself, when employed in the proper context, can even provide an arrangement of mental boosts.
Self-talk augments cognitive performance
Studies show that talking to yourself can improve your concentration and task performance.
Research suggests self-talk may help your brain perform better. A study published in Acta Psychologica asked participants to read instructions and then carry out the corresponding task. Some participants had to read their instructions silently, others out loud.
Researchers then measured concentration and task performance. Their results showed that reading aloud helped sustain concentration and enhance performance.
Mari-Beffa, one of the study's authors, notes: "Talking out loud, when the mind is not wandering, could actually be a sign of high cognitive functioning. Rather than being mentally ill, it can make you intellectually more competent. The stereotype of the mad scientist talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of a genius who uses all the means at their disposal to increase their brainpower."
Additional research backs up those results. In one study, participants completed item-finding tasks faster when talking themselves through it, suggesting an improvement in visual processing. Others have observed children using self-talk to master complex tasks, such as tying shoelaces.
Self-encouragement for the win
Tennis players who engaged in encouraging self-talk improved their confidence and game performance.
Encouragement spurs success. It's the power of self-confidence and self-esteem, and it works even when that encouragement comes from oneself.
A study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise had 72 tennis players take part in five rounds of play: one baseline assessment, three training sessions, and a final round. Researchers divided the players into two groups. Though both groups followed the same training program, only the experimental one was asked to practice self-talk.
By the final assessment, the experimental group demonstrated heightened self-confidence and reduced anxiety. The self-talkers also improved their game.
These performance-boosting benefits aren't just for tennis players either. A meta-analysis looked at the validity of the self-talk strategy for augmenting athletic feats. Totaling 32 sport studies and 62 effect sizes, it showed a positive, though moderate, effect size.
This effect only holds true if one's self-encouragement remains, well, encouraging. As Dr. Julia Harper, an occupational therapist, told NBC News:
"If we're talking to ourselves negatively, research suggests that we'll more likely guide ourselves to a negative outcome. However, when self-talk is neutral—as in a statement like 'What do I need to do?'—or positive, such as 'I can get this done,' then the outcome is much more effective."
And at least one study found that participants with low self-esteem felt worse when engaged in self-talk, even when that talk was positive.
Talk yourself down
First, remove yourself from the bad situation; then talk yourself down. It's many people's go-to strategy for dealing with negative emotions, and anecdotal evidence suggests it works to a near-miraculous degree. Just ask any parent or, for that matter, your own.
Scientific research backs up this parental game plan, but with a twist. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, talking to yourself in the third person is the most effective way to calm down.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers set up two experiments. In the first, they hooked up participants to an electroencephalograph and then showed them images that varied from neutral to disturbing.
They asked one group to respond to the images in the first person, the other in the third person. They found the third-person group decreased their emotional brain activity much faster.
The second experiment had participants reflect on painful experiences while connected to a functional MRI machine. Participants who did so in the third person showed less brain activity in regions associated with painful experiences, suggesting better emotional regulation.
"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," Jason Moser, lead author and professor of psychology at Michigan State University, said in a statement. "That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions."
An exercise in self-control
Talking to yourself does more than put the lid back on negative motions; it can keep that lid from coming off in the first place. Research out of the University of Toronto Scarborough, also published in Acta Psychologica, suggests that talking to yourself is a form of emotional self-control.
Researchers asked participants to perform a simple test on a computer. If the display showed a specific symbol, the participants were tasked with pressing a button. If any other symbol appeared, they were to refrain. However, one group was told to repeat a single word continuously throughout, effectively blocking access to their "inner voice."
That group was more impulsive than the group with access their inner voice. Without self-directed messages, they could not exercise the same self-control.
"We give ourselves messages all the time with the intent of controlling ourselves—whether that's telling ourselves to keep running when we're tired, to stop eating even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blowing up on someone in an argument," Alexa Tullett, lead author on the study, said in a release. "We wanted to find out whether talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps."
Reading aloud reinforces memory
One study showed that reading aloud can improve memory retention.
Do you ever read a fascinating fact and think, "I've got to remember that one"? Then when the perfect opportunity arises, you find a fact-shaped hole in your mind where that information should be?
A study published in Memory may have your solution: Read it out loud.
Researchers tested four methods for retaining written information. They asked participants to read silently, read aloud, listen to someone else read, and listen to a recording of themselves reading. They found participants who read the information out loud retained it best.
"This study confirms that learning and memory benefit from active involvement," Colin M. MacLeod, chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo and co-author of the study, said in a release. "When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable."
Mastering the art of (self) conversation
Research has shown that the mind doesn't differentiate between talking to yourself out loud or in your head. You should engage in whatever form of self-talk is most comfortable for you, so long as the act is conscious and in the proper context.
The most beneficial forms of self-talk are either instructional or link thought and action. They help you approach the task at hand, take you through each step, and encourage you along the way. Random, context-inappropriate ramblings are far less beneficial and may be a sign of an unfocused mind or some deeper mental anguish.
For example, there are times when self-talk is not beneficial. Telling yourself to stop thinking and go back to sleep is probably the very thought bouncing you from dreamland. Speaking the command aloud like a mantra is even worse—and will certainly not endear you to your partner come 6 a.m.
But like any skill, to truly receive the boons, you'll need to master the art of conversation with yourself.
- Why speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser | Aeon ... ›
- How to improve your athletic (and other) performance through self-talk ›
- Self-Affirmation Doesn't Mean Talking Yourself up in a Mirror - Big ... ›
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.