Is Talking to Yourself Healthy?

A midday self-pep talk can give you a positive mental boost. But talking down to yourself does you no favors.

a young Asian woman looks in the mirror and conveys positive thoughts to herself

Updated on May 12, 2022.

If you’ve ever seen someone muttering to themselves as they walk down the street, you might wonder: What are they talking about? And are they okay?

If you find yourself chattering out loud, you’ve got company. This is a fairly common practice known as external self-talk. Many people talk to themselves every few days or even every few hours, and the practice can help you figure out problems and work through important life choices. 

“Even though it's seen as eccentric or quirky, it's something that's fairly common in just about all of us,” says Peter Thomas, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Dallas.

Self-talk, or the dialogue you have with yourself, can be internal, too. You might be familiar with the voice inside your head that helps talk you through decisions—or, at times, seems to second-guess those choices. And your internal voice has a lot to say. A 2020 study published in Nature Communications estimates you have at least 6,000 of these sorts of thoughts each day.

Talking to yourself is not just an antidote for loneliness. People talk to themselves—in their minds and out loud—for a number of different reasons. Find out the pros and cons of talking to yourself, the best ways to do it, and how self-talk can set you up for success.

The benefits of a one-sided conversation

Positive self-talk can be a powerful tool to help you learn and improve your mental focus. Practicing positive thinking, a form of internal self-talk, may even increase your chances of living to age 85 or older, a 2019 study published in the journal PNAS suggests.

Talking to yourself can also boost self-confidence and improve your ability to complete certain tasks. A 2022 study published in PLOS One looked at the competitive outcome of 258 female gymnasts aged 14 to 20 who talked positively to themselves. Those who engaged in positive self-talk increased their confidence and performed better than those who talked down to themselves.

Talking to yourself can also help you learn and retain ideas, which can improve academic performance. A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports shows evidence of different brain connections being activated with positive self-talk versus self-criticism. The brain areas activated with positive thinking are those involved in cognition. If you’re trying to learn something new, explaining it to yourself out loud could help you memorize the material,  suggests a 2017 study published in the journal Memory.

Research even suggests that positive self-talk can reduce anxiety and depression and boost self-esteem. 

The ugly side of gabbing to yourself

Not all self-talk is productive, however. Negative thoughts and spoken words can be destructive to your mental and physical health. Research shows that people inherently have a negative bias and tend to think badly about themselves and their abilities. Other research suggests there may be a relationship between negative self-talk and developing symptoms related to stress and depression.  

Negative self-talk may also hinder weight loss. Beating yourself up over a dietary misstep or missed gym session may lead to overeating, if you allow emotions get the better of you. Some research shows that self-criticism and self-blaming can also contribute to eating disorders.

The key takeaway: Be mindful of how you speak to yourself and reap the benefits of positive self-talk while reducing the negative talk you direct to yourself.

Making the most of your internal monologue

Are you your own worst critic? If your self-talk is constantly negative, it’s worth trying to turn it around.

“I stress the importance of the way you talk to yourself,” says Thomas.

Here are three ways to get the most out of self-talk:

Say it out loud—even if it feels weird. External self-talk can be beneficial for people who struggle to remember things, such as where you set down your keys.

“If you say things out loud, it brings to mind a visual representation of what you're looking for,” says Thomas. “It can actually jog some of the memories in your brain and help you find that stuff a little bit easier.”

Speak in the third person. This is especially helpful when working through a difficult situation. Talking to yourself out loud puts distance between you and the situation. Speaking to yourself in the third person or calling yourself by name can increase that helpful sense of distance.

“This can trigger your brain to think about a situation differently,” says Thomas.

Be kind to yourself. Negative thoughts can be consuming, so urge yourself to think positively. Repeating positive statements, thinking affirmative thoughts, or cultivating compassion for yourself can help you manage everyday stresses in a more productive way.

Article sources open article sources

Tseng J, & Poppenk J. Brain meta-state transitions demarcate thoughts across task contexts exposing the mental noise of trait neuroticism. Nature Communications. 2020; 11(1), 1-12.
Lotfi G, Tahmasbi F, Forghani MH, & Szwarc A. Effect of positive and negative dimensions of mental imagery and self-talk on learning of soccer kicking skill. Physical education of students, 2020; 24(6), 319-324.
Lee LO, James P, Zevon ES, Kim ES, Trudel-Fitzgerald C, Spiro A, Grodstein F, Kubzansky LD. Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2019; 116(37), 18357-18362.
Santos-Rosa FJ, Montero-Carretero C, Gómez-Landero LA, Torregrossa M, & Cervelló E. Positive and negative spontaneous self-talk and performance in gymnastics: The role of contextual, personal and situational factors. PLOS one. 2022; 17(3), e0265809.
Kim J, Kwon JH, Kim J, Kim EJ, Kim HE, Kyeong S, & Kim JJ. The effects of positive or negative self-talk on the alteration of brain functional connectivity by performing cognitive tasks. Scientific Reports. 2021; 11(1), 1-11.
Forrin ND & MacLeod CM. This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself. Memory. 2018; 26(4), 574-579.
Walter N, Nikoleizig L, & Alfermann D. Effects of self-talk training on competitive anxiety, self-efficacy, volitional skills, and performance: An intervention study with junior sub-elite athletes. Sports. 2019; 7(6), 148.
Kyeong S, Kim J, Kim J, Kim E J, Kim HE, & Kim JJ. Differences in the modulation of functional connectivity by self-talk tasks between people with low and high life satisfaction. Neuroimage. 2020; 217, 116929.
Müller-Pinzler L, Czekalla N, Mayer AV, Stolz DS, Gazzola V, Keysers C, Paulus FM, Krach, S. Negativity-bias in forming beliefs about own abilities. Scientific Reports. 2019; 9(1), 1-15.
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