Talking To Yourself Is A Proven Method For Boosting Your Mental Health. Here's How

July 15, 2022

The more we understand why we do what we do, the less likely we are to cling to old habits and defenses. When given a name, their power wanes.
Engaging in back and forth dialogues with yourself can help in this process.
Basically: Get in the habit of talking to yourself.

I don’t mean in an actual out loud, “draw stares from strangers on the street” kind of way. I mean more in an “in your head, CBT” kind of way—one that shines light on your feelings and their roots, and can maybe challenge you to choose a different behavior than the one you were about to autopilot back onto.

In The New York Times article “The Benefits of Talking to Yourself,” Kristin Wong cited a study exploring the impact of self-talk on one’s attitudes and feelings, conducted by the University of Michigan professor of psychology Ethan Kross.

“They found that when their subjects talked about themselves in the second or third person—for example, ‘You can do this’ or ‘Jane can do this’ instead of ‘I can do this’—not only did they feel less anxiety while performing, but their peers also rated their performances better. Mr. Kross said this was because of self-distancing: focusing on the self from the distanced perspective of a third person, even though that person is you,” Wong wrote. 

Practicing self-distancing can lead to increased vitality, greater life satisfaction, improved immune function, reduced pain, better cardiovascular health, better physical well-being, reduced risk for death, and less stress and distress. 

Years ago when I was a Lyft driver, I’d just dropped a passenger off in Pacifica. While pulled over, I glimpsed through the window that a band was playing inside the downtown’s lone bar. Suddenly I felt a strong urge to go inside, have half a beer, and watch the band—even though I’d told myself tonight would be a completely alcohol-free one, and that my sole focus would be giving enough rides to meet the profit goal I’d set for myself. 

I engaged in dialogue with myself.

Whoa. What just happened? Why do you want that all of a sudden? the voice inside me asked, in a curious, amused, non-judgmental way. 

After considering his question, I responded: I’m feeling low-energy, so I haven’t been getting as much out of the rides tonight as I usually do. I haven’t been as present. The passenger interactions aren’t as interesting. I feel like immersing my mind in something external would be a good recharge. A way to get me out of this slump. 

Why do you need a bar environment to do that? Why can’t you recharge inside your car? 

Because if I’m just here with myself inside a car I know way too well, I won’t be able to leave my head. And the environmental monotony is insufficient for lifting me out of the rut my mind’s just landed itself in.

And what rut is that, specifically? What feelings accompany you inside it?

Boredom. Apathy. Tiredness. Feeling ineffectual and sort of useless to be honest, and even a little cut off from my soul.

What do you think prompted this shift in feelings, when earlier in the day you were feeling purposeful and energetic and happy?

I felt that way earlier because I was writing and hiking, I think. I was doing things that fill me with purpose and help me feel alive. 
Does this mean driving passengers doesn’t make you feel alive? 

Sometimes it does. When we’re having a quality conversation. Or when I’m overhearing interesting dialogue that might inspire future writing. Or when engaging scenery has captured my attention. 
Why else might you be feeling low-energy? the voice prods further.

I ate a heavy dinner earlier that I wasn’t a big fan of. It pretty much only had carbs, no vegetables. I felt sluggish almost immediately after eating it. And haven’t been able to lift myself out of that sluggishness since. [Editor’s note a few years later: undiagnosed Celiac disease!]
Why did you order it? the voice asks—still curious, not judging.
My friend was craving portobello mushroom burgers. I felt like I’d made a lot of the decisions in our friendship lately, and wanted it to be his turn this time. He was in the mood for hamburgers or Chinese or Italian, so we went to Social Kitchen. Most of the options on the menu were carb-y.

I ordered the vegan gumbo, but the bell peppers and onions that came with it turned out to be more of a skimpy after-thought than an actual part of the meal. 

I see. So that was the turning point.
By the time the voice and I finished having this conversation, some of my energy had returned, and I resumed driving.

Your voice can be sarcastic or erudite or ridiculous or whatever you need it to be to lighten the mood while still reaping the benefits of the exercise (mine is a somber, overly-exaggerated and dramatized Dr. Phil voice).

Self-talk is healthy—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

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Photo: Fleur Kaan via Unsplash

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An LGBTQ bilingual writer, Eleni was born and raised in the California Bay Area. Her work has been published in Tiny Buddha, The Mighty, Elephant Journal, and Introvert Dear among others. She currently writes the column "Queer Girl Q&A" for Out Front Magazine. You can follow her on IG @eleni_steph_writer and read stories from her time as a rideshare driver at lyfttales.com.

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