Talking to Yourself

I spend a good part of the day talking to myself--silently, of course. I ask myself questions, try to answer them, and mull over one thing or another. Doesn’t everybody do this?

Some of my best ideas emerge during these conversations. At the end of each day, I head out for a walk along a canal near my place and let my thoughts wander--my day, what I might do next, whatever pops into my mind. I usually find this an especially productive time.

On his blog Just Seven Things, Si Conroy writes about the way talking to yourself can be a very intelligent thing to do:

By talking to yourself … your conscious brain gives a clear set of instructions to your other-than-conscious brain. You ask yourself the question and often answer it very quickly yourself because the totality of your resources (conscious and unconscious) are now engaged to a common endeavor (and in most cases, you knew the answer to the problem: it just needed unlocking by you being clear with yourself).”

In his latest novel, Summertime, J. M. Coetzee carries on a lengthy interview with himself, disguised in the form of interviews conducted with various people in his life who are asked about the experiences they had with a J.M. Coetzee and the kind of person Mr. Coetzee revealed himself to be at that time.

On his blog The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer does something similar in an interview he conducted with himself about his book How We Decide. And the question Do You Talk to Yourself? was also posed on Jezebel last year. The post was written by Anna North who confesses she talks to herself all day, almost every day.

Because an injury to her wrists prevents her from typing very well, she must use voice-recognition software in order to “write.” She quotes a psychologist, Randy Engle, who claims most people talk to themselves and, moreover, in some situations it’s a good thing to do:

"When we are reading something that is quite complex, it helps to verbalize it aloud, because hearing it, and hearing the language, gives us another cue for remembering those exact words. Listening to our internal auditory memory has been found to be quite helpful to understand a particularly complex sentence."

In a promotion video for his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, the author, Daniel Menaker, shows how much fun talking to yourself can be. Other than the books I write about, I don’t usually go out of my way to promote a book or place an ad on my blog about it. This case will be the exception. I think you’ll understand why once to view the video.

Of course, you have to be careful when you talk to yourself, especially when you do so in the presence of other people. People found mumbling something to themselves as they wander down a crowed street are usually thought to be a little bit crazy and are likely to be thrown into the loony bin.

From time to time I see a woman at Starbucks who talks and talks by herself. Not just to herself but outwardly to others, although no one else is there. When I first overhead her, it never dawned on me it was a monologue. It sounded just like a normal conversation. Eventually I must have realized I never heard someone reply. So I glanced over, only to discover there wasn’t anyone there. Still, she never seemed to stop—fully articulate sentences, pauses, continuing in a rather animated fashion. Every time I see her, it is the same. I can never quite make out what she is saying, although I am sure it makes perfect sense to her.