Talk to yourself, but

Trailhead: Tara Well. "Why Should You Talk to Yourself?" Psychology Today (2021-03-30).

I was feeling pretty smart reading this article—an excursion through a few reasons why talking to yourself is good. Yes, it improves cognitive performance, good. Yes, you can deal with negative emotions by talking about it as if you were someone else, useful. Oh, you can feel less anxiety if you do it, so maybe I should crank it up a notch.

"Crank it up a notch"—see, because that's me, talking to myself while washing dishes or walking up the stairs, or shoveling dirt in the backyard. (Although the last example is limited to a fairly small subset of words, all with the same number of letters—what a coincidence.) I assume everyone does it. It's not a conversation, it's just letting the inside voice out. I guess I'm making a big assumption there that everyone has the inside voice, although an episode of This American Life really knocked me over with an interview with someone who doesn't have that constant internal blitz going on: What Lies Beneath, Act 2: Penny for Your Non-Thoughts?

Here's where the article threw me: "Some psychologists even believe that talking aloud can be a sign of superior cognitive functioning when the mind is not wandering. Rather than making you crazy, self-talk can make you intellectually more competent."

All of the other comments about positive things had a link to the article being cited for evidence. But this one doesn't. And this is the one that has to say talking to yourself is good "when the mind is not wandering".

Talking to yourself while doing something difficult like tying a knot or reading a schematic—that's OK. You're just working through the problem. Not doing anything and talking to yourself—you're nuts. That's my takeaway.

I'm not worried about it. I'm not sure if I do it. That's even more nuts. Do I talk to myself when my mind is wandering? How would I know? Just the act of letting the mind go and go and go—that seems exactly like the time I wouldn't be paying attention to myself. That's exactly the seed of useless anxious self-awareness I needed this year.

How aware are we when we're doing something weird or annoying or grating? How aware could we be? What is weird or annoying or grating? How many times am I going to apologize tomorrow, and then ask if I was talking to myself? Do we create stories about talking to ourselves when really we don't just to cover for the case that we might talk to ourselves? "Break glass for alibi".


I know what I'm thinking of and it's hard to find the angle to get it across. More than the outer inner talk, I'm more interested in the inner inner talk. The first David Foster Wallace book I ever read was Oblivion, which is a hard way to start with DFW, I don't recommend that path. It's been a long time—early in the Massachusetts years, I think, so over ten years ago. (Checked: 2009.) But I remember the shocked interest in seeing how he could seemingly slow down the internal processes of thought like a crystal that could be held in the hand, turned this way and that, examined in front of the light of the mind at different angles. (That's what I got from the footnotes, as well, the sort of many-branching of simultaneous thoughts, but I also get how those are easy to hate.)

Somewhere in my mind, this is what I was thinking of when I set out in the first few paragraphs, but I couldn't stick the landing—couldn't even commit to taking the leap that would have necessitated a landing. I don't even know if I would want to be that aware of the fleeting things inside, of the torrent and its eddies, its flows, its headlong dashes into the rocks, its spreading out languidly over the flats. Deliver me, Tyler, from self-thought.

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

—David Foster Wallace. "Good Old Neon". Oblivion (2004).

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