A while back, a friend of mine told me he was going to try to stop talking to himself. I was horrified—why would anyone want to do such a thing?!
I have been chatting with myself since I was a kid. As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone in my room talking to my dolls and acting out scenes. I also had pretend friends with whom I carried on lengthy conversations inside my head.
Decades later, I still speak to myself out loud when no one is around. I do this pretty much every time I am driving by myself in the car and often in the kitchen.
If you’re anything like me, you talk to yourself in order to rehearse a presentation for work or to practice your answers for an upcoming job interview.
In addition to these scenarios, I tell myself stories from my life. Some of these stories are unpleasant, like the events leading up to my friend’s early death. Reliving such memories is like being voluntarily stuck in a nightmare, but at least I know the outcome.
Not all the stories are negative. After I quit drinking, I used to pretend that I was being interviewed on a podcast, and I would go over the steps that led up to my decision and the challenges I faced. I did this over and over, kind of like playing a favorite song.
Clearly I was in need of new material. Brain space is precious, and I was wasting my creativity by repeating the same old stories.
I decided that I would make an effort to explore new ground whenever I talked to myself. At first, I resisted and pouted. But it got easier and more natural in no time, thanks to these three templates:
Kid therapist: I pick something that has been bothering me, and I try to get to the root of the issue. Basically, I act like a little kid and keep asking “but why?” after each answer. The theory is that you should be able to ask yourself at least four or five whys before you get to the good stuff—the real reason why you can’t stop stewing over something. I did one recently that went on for nine whys!
Burner shift: I pick an idea that has been sitting on the back burner of my mind and talk through what would be required to move forward. What could be shifted from the front burners to make room for this project? I try to envision the potential obstacles along the way and how I might work around them. And I envision the potential rewards that I would experience, not just at completion but during the process as well.
Writing detective: Let’s say I’ve come up with a topic for a blog post, but I haven’t stared writing it yet because I’m not sure where it’s going. I play the role of a dogged detective who is questioning me to solve the mystery of what this piece is about. This process almost always helps me locate the main points of the piece, and I usually come up with some good turns of phrase as well.
Recently I was driving, and I caught myself starting to narrate one of my old stories. I was delighted to realize that it had been a while since I had hit replay on one of my top hits.
I will probably keep talking to myself until the day I die. Here’s hoping I manage to keep it fresh!