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The Benefits of Talking to Yourself (nytimes.com)
349 points by georgecmu on June 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments

This made me think of rubber duck problem solving [1][2], though it didn't mention it specifically. Talking through a problem out loud forces you to structure your thoughts in a logical way, and sometimes doing that you'll realize an obvious connection or step you missed.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging

[2] http://hwrnmnbsol.livejournal.com/148664.html

For me, it isn't even vocalizing - I discovered that forcing things into words helps me troubleshoot after noticing that I solved my own problems after giving up and composing an email to someone to ask for help. The act of describing the problem in written form allowed me to see what I was missing.

Since noticing that, I started doing it fairly, and not just with programming. At some point, I realized I was keeping a (somewhat oddly structured) journal.

When writing SO questions I tend to only press the submit button 5–10% of the time before realising my error (typically something mundane). The act of putting the problem into words, along with writing up a good background of the problem (as you should for a good question) often forces an objective viewpoint/reevaluation of the problem.

Very much this. The flow for me goes:

1) I don't understand that. Let me ask StackOverflow.

2) I'm having trouble phrasing my question properly. What do you call $X? Googling ensues

3) Oh nevermind, I get it now <closes tab>

Damn. I thought I was the only one who does this :'D

On a serious note, this effect can be applied to our everyday problem as well. Such as when you are feeling lethargic, you'd want to write down all of your thoughts in a list to see the bigger picture and figure out how simple it can be to finish a task at hand.

s/lethargic/anxious/, and I do this all the time! Doing a quick mind dump usually clears out my anxiety, or at least reduces it to a manageable level, allowing me to continue doing things.

You should check out the book "Getting Things Done", which is based on taking what you described and using it to stay organized and adaptable. If you've got anxiety it would probably help at least a little bit.

Consider posting and answering yourself. I found myself searching for the same problem months later and once I found my own answer.

Hehe, has happened to me as well.

Also when I kept updating my blog posts about stupid problems that gooogle didn't answer seemed to attract some audience.

More than once I've had a problem, found the solution on stackoverflow, clicked up-vote and then got "you cannot vote on your own answer."

This makes me wonder what the bounce rate for Stack Overflow questions is and what percent of visitors actually make it through the submission process.

This would actually be an answerable question, because of SO's draft mechanism.

Opens new tab

Sound of typing


I've been thinking along the same lines for a very long time. Thanks for the inspiration to finally ask!

They've responded to questions like that before.


Ooooh, nice one. Thanks for the link!

That's awesome!

If they have a big enough database of half-typed-then-abandoned questions, do you think it would be possible to train an RNN (or something) to read a post in progress and predict at what point the answer should be obvious to you?

Not the same, but while writing the title it suggest other posts.

I seem to recall something similar which does pattern matching comparing the code that you're typing with a database of code in accepted stackoverflow answers and gives "smart autocomplete". Not sure how I stand on the overall impact of such a thing but technically it was cool. :)

On the other hand in the past year especially my experience has been I am asking something for which the documentation is very bad, I don't know enough about the particular problem area I am trying to solve to make a concise description with code examples that nearly work but don't, and as a consequence I just drop it and say it's not worth asking here because nobody will help you understand the problem area unless you understand it really well. Too bad SO has replaced user groups in so many cases.

Writing things down - or sketching or using mind-maps (not software but actually drawing your own manually) - seems to have an amazing effect on the brain.

We haven't been writing long (in evolutionary terms) so I wonder why that is?

I think it's because our brains are good at manipulating tangible things - it's what they've been doing since before we had a neocortex, after all. Making thoughts tangible, sensory experiences can help engage the full machinery of the brain, instead of just limiting it to higher brain functions.

I think that the stuff in our mind is mostly abstract. We absorb things from the world all the time, conscious and unconscious, and make conscious and unconscious connections between them.

Thinking aloud, whether in the mind, on paper or even vocally, helps us to identify some of these points, and thus quantify a meaning from it. There's only so many points that we can mentally hold though - we're not good multi-taskers after all! So the better we can think aloud, the better we can consciously grab thoughts and identify the real gaps - which we can fill in by searching/ creating more points in our mind, or go external.

Hmm, just thinking aloud though ;)

maybe writing things down frees up some resource allocation? e.g. save on the memory/disk to save some precious cache resources

lol just saying

This might be splitting hairs, but I think hearing/reading my own question is more important than the act of writing down the problem.

I theorize that words you hear/read pass through some part of the brain specialized in finding answers, that is not engaged during regular problem solving.

I do this with writing. Even if the problem has 3 points, I write down a list on the whiteboard. Even if the part of the system I'm concerned about has two components, I draw two boxes with a connecting line. Then I stare at the board. It's surprising how effective this can be.

Edit: I suspect Sherlock Holmes was the first fictional character to employ rubber-ducking (albeit with Watson as the duck). Greg House would be a more recent example (who uses his entire team).

House is Sherlock Holmes.

Yep, House -> Holmes; Wilson -> Watson.

Cocaine -> Vicodin

Holmes was also quite into opiates himself - I seem to remember a Persian slipper that housed his heroin stash, and some incidents of opium smoking.

wouldn't that be Holmes -> House?

Sherlock Holmes has been around since around 1891; predating Gregory House by about 113 years.

Right so House is later than the Holmes.

the arrow of time in Western cultures moves from left to right.

Anyone's workplace promote rubber duck debugging?

It seems to have a lot of positive press, and it works for me--though I'm cautious of talking to myself at work before knowing if it would come across negatively.

I learned to do my self talk in writing. I just switch to Emacs and start typing (either in my project "notebook", general "mind dump" file, or a throwaway buffer).

These days I actually feel I'm worse at talking to myself in my head than I am in talking to myself via a keyboard.

I don't buy the whole "if you hear it you'll see it" thing for coding - unless you're used to saying things you're working on I guess, but I'm not. I can see the extra focus it could bring because you're spending more effort in vocalizing your thoughts and it's going trough different systems as well (physically hearing yourself speak).

I've tried both and you can talk yourself trough the problem inside of your head step by step just as effectively when it comes to coding tasks IMO.

Immediate problem solving/planning like "OK I need to do this then this" is a different story - saying stuff out loud helps here.

Not everyone is the same :)

I haven't been in such a workplace but I wish that I would have.

Would you use "rubber ducky debugging as a service" - like a chat service that stimulated you to find your own solutions?

Just out of curiosity I went and googled for this. To my surprise, there is actually a service for this: http://duckie.me/

You can thank me later.

M-x doctor

"Is it because of the loop condition that you came to me?"

What percentage of your problems do you end up solving either with rubber ducky debugging or just in the process of explaining them to someone else? I feel like 80% of the things I can't figure out on my own are solved once I start to explain them.

I have experienced this by starting to write a Stack Overflow question.

Japanese train drivers have a system that's called Pointing and Calling



Visual and audio feedback is great for your brain.

For me, I often need to make a 200mL bottle for my child, and each scoop of powder makes only 20mL - meaning that I need to put 10 scoops in. Especially when I have a crying baby it's easy to lose track when you count in your head. But no worries if I vocalize my count.

New York City subway has adopted this; next time you're waiting for your train, stand in the middle of the platform and you'll see a zebra-striped panel mounted on the wall. When the train arrives, the conductor in the middle of the train will open the window and point at it.

While unfortunately not common in trains across the world, this idea is used in other safety-critical applications.

The one that comes to mind is using defribulators. If you had a good CPR / EFR instructor, they will emphasize not just calling "clear" (like on TV), but physically sweeping your hands over the body head to toe while saying "all clear".

I did my training with 3 guys who collectively had about 60 years of EMT experience in New York City. Like most students, I assume, I sort of half-assed the sweep and was about to push the button. One of the guys grabbed my arm, looked at me, and said "Learn to do it correctly now, cause if you ever have to do it for real when shit is crazy and your heart is beating like mad, it can make the difference between helping one injured person vs creating a second one."

Clearly the lesson stuck with me. :)

I am taking pilot's lessons right now, and this is pretty essential to the process. Talking through a maneuver or procedure, combined with checklists, is very core to what I have so far seen as aviation culture.

As a software veteran I had two observations:

1. A good sysadmin or devops professional will be doing this as they do any operations on a production system.

2. The pilot's checklists, gauges and procedures are like the proto-microcontroller. Before auto-pilot and computerized systems, early pilots had to manage a complex system as it came to life. To see this in action, just watch a youtube video of a pilot starting up an old WW2 plane like a mustang, and imaging writing the arduino flow control for it..

I live in NYC and didn't realize this isn't common elsewhere. Thanks!

Or if you put it on a kitchen scale...

especially since companies are notorious for making the scoops bigger than expected so you go through product quicker.

Source? I have not heard of this. Our nurse emphasized that while a child is on formula, that's really all they consume for both nutrition and hydration, so it needs to be balanced per manufacturer guidelines. They don't have a way to signal "I thirsty" or "My tiny stomach is full of watery stuff but my blood sugar is still low". Their digestive and urinary systems are pretty amazing, but habitually using too much or too little (wrong scoop, wrong ratio, packing it dense) can be unhealthy.

I don't really have a source, but it's common with protein powders.

They'll list 28 grams as a serving size with a scoop that has a line in it about 3/4 of the way up that represents 28 grams. Technically not misleading, but it's absolutely reasonable that people would assume 1 scoop = 1 serving size. The end result is that people go through more product.

If you watch professional bodybuilders who have to be very exacting about their intake, you'll see them tell you to always measure on the scale because you can't trust the scoop.

Oh. Our infant formula powder is a full scoop. I can see how the two industries might be rather different!

That and a few cheap plastic containers with lids. Measure out a handful of those. Keep at least one always ready for those times when the baby's very, um, demanding (loud).

I use verbalization as a memory aid. I speak out loud the number of the gym locker I use and am better able to find it later. It reinforces my visual memory of the location. (I should verbalize parking locations too)

Interesting, I've noticed this is also common in Toyota's US manufacturing facilities.

A perspective from the political world: When I arrived as a junior staffer on Capitol Hill, I noticed the lower you were on the totem pole, the more you walked with your head held up. The more seniority you gained, the more you walked with your head down, to avoid talking to other people. Chiefs of Staff would walk quickly, looking at the floor. Interns and Staff Assistants walked proudly with their heads held high.

I also found this trick worked very well if I wanted to go places I wasn't supposed to be. Just pull out my blackberry, pretend to be engrossed in something important, powerwalk, and I could go just about anywhere unchallenged.

Walking with a purpose will get you all kinds of places without well enforced security procedures in place.

My theory is that Capitol Police are loath to stop someone out of fear it might be some 25 year old Chief of Staff; most of the people who make the laws of this country tend to be between the ages of 22 and 30.

Just make sure to dress the part.

Sounds like a sad world.

I grew up an only child and so in absence of anyone else, I learned to talk to myself instead. I naturally have a busy mind and over the years I've found that getting a thought out of my head is the quickest way to get it out of the way.

I've had anxiety issues over the years. One day I was feeling a bit anxious and suddenly the idea came over me to just try to shut off my inner voice - completely. I focused on trying to silence it and suddenly, once it was quiet, my nerves completely melted away. It was amazing. For the next few days I tried to continue my "quiet mind" exercises. It got to the point where I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. The silence became deafening. Scared I might've broken something in my mind I gave up quiet mind but it was incredibly effective against my anxiety.

Now I try and be more balanced in how much I talk to myself and how much I let the voice in my head narrate the world.

When I started meditating more often, I kept getting distracted by miscellaneous thoughts. At first I fought it to get back to the "quiet mind" but that was frustrating. And I would angrily judge myself for the distraction. I got tired of beating myself up and then I recognized that these distractions were the short and long term problems such as conflicts at work within the last few days, or deep seated trauma, like experiencing ongoing racism and violence as a kid during school.

I stopped resisting the distractions and just allowed myself to think about them while at the same time trying to focus on my breath. As the distraction faded my focus on my breath returned.

I've gotten better at this and I feel like I've rewired my mind into being able to maintain a "quiet mind" and self-awareness, at the same as talking to myself either in my mind or out loud. And so when I get anxiety I can stay grounded and now I just think about what is giving me anxiety instead of letting it go or forgetting it. It's helped me to get rid of generalized anxiety that I've been stuck with for a long time.

That is sort of the Zen of meditating, achieving quiet while the brain is still making noise. I have seen it put like this -- the brain and its inner dialogue is a raging river, swim against it and you will drown. Stop resisting, float along the river, relax, and join the river.

That is how intrusive thoughts are, especially when learning to meditate. It is very hard for most people to silence them directly. It seems to work a lot better to acknowledge you had a thought, and return to meditating.

> I stopped resisting the distractions

I echo this and many others here. Fighting back to "cure" yourself is almost always counterproductive and very, very painful. Think long-term instead, and think management; let it happen but guide it with the aim of having ultimate control over it.

Curious, after reaching the point where you had significantly higher level of self-awareness, have you noticed any alterations in the way you talk to yourself internally, i.e. the tone of your inner voice?

That's an interesting question! I've fallen off the meditation/mindfulness wagon and my anxiety-issues have gotten slightly worse (as a result, I think), but while I was meditating regularly and even as a residual effect now, I do notice that my inner voice has changed.

It feels less serious, often even 'funny' or 'silly', I'm quicker to notice when it goes nowhere or drags me down somehow, and ever so slightly better at either guiding it in a different direction or putting a stop to it (and do something useful instead).

Really quite amazing to see how even a little bit of mindfulness caused a noticeable change after at least a decade of fully indulging in that inner voice and taking it too seriously. Good reminder to pick it up again.

How did you shut off your inner voice? I went on a multi-day, complete-silence (no talking, reading, etc.) retreat to meditate and found I wasn't much closer to shutting off the internal voice or flood of random thoughts.

Not the person you asked, but I do have practice at this skill.

And it is a skill. I also have a highly-active internal thoughtstream, and it can cause me significant stress if I don't control it. In my case, it isn't a verbal dialogue, but rather the thoughts that swim around one level below. Busy nonetheless.

The only thing that works for me is to not fight it. If I attempt to resist the flow, it only amplifies the pressure, akin to pressing your thumb over the garden hose. Much of the stress of these thoughts comes not from the thoughts themselves, but the urge that feels like you must hold and analyze them all before moving on.

Rather, concentrate on letting it pass by, acknowledging it as it flows downstream, without reaching out to hold on. Visualizing yourself sitting calmly near a rapidly flowing creek. Imagine the strength of the flow slowing over time. Let go of the worry of the uncompleted thought- tell yourself that if it is truly worth considering, it will flow back around again in time. Smile to yourself as the thoughts wash through you, appreciating their fleeting nature. After a short amount of time, minutes at most, you will find the strength of the torrent ebbing. It will not cease, but the trickle that remains is much easier to cope with. Ten minutes of this, and you will find yourself mentally refreshed, and ready to get on with things.

This, of course, is not a cure-all, and if you expect it to work every time, you will be disappointed. But it does become easier with practice, and in my case, at least, it genuinely helps.

There are two schools of thought in meditation that kinda apply to this. Some people focus on their breath or a mantra or hum and try to keep thoughts from getting in. If a though appears, just label it and let it pass.

Others do what you're describing, let the thoughts come but see them as just passing clouds in the sky. Eventually you distance yourself from that stream of consciousness and can focus just on your breath.

The two are not mutually exclusive either.

Indeed. There are many ways to the same goal. Much of practice is simply discovering what works best for you.

Fantastic meditation synopsis! Another similar one that I like is visualizing the thoughts scrolling by like the text at the beginning of Star Wars movies :-)

Agreed. Sometimes fighting it, is like trying to stop a bull stampede. I find useful the strategy of simply engaging the mind in something else. Preferably something innovative or meaningful to you.

This may be a frustrating answer, but it's the truest I've found: you just do it. It's an ability you have that no one ever talks about and you can think about it endlessly and do various practices, but really it's an active thing. You might not think you know how to do it, but the muscle is there. You may not have used it very much, but I think you can find it if you look for it. I learned how when I was a teenager and was looking for answers while closely examining my own mind.

My understanding is that you can dissociate from its content which "quiets" its affect on your being. The best advice I've read is to simply become a scientist of your thoughts. Observe your thoughts objectively like a scientist would.

It's primarily a question of attachment. Those who are "best" at meditating have the capacity to observe without getting caught up in the thought stream.

I think it boils down to karma, some people come into this life completely ready to take the inward journey; others, not so ready, need to break a mountain of karmic rocks before the mind begins to truly settle.

Having sat a number of retreats when I was younger (as in over a hundred days across various traditions) it's pretty clear that I was in the breaking rocks phase. Of course, I'm still in the breaking rocks phase (or even regressed to pre-breaking rocks) as I gave up formal meditation practice several years ago.

Effective solution (but unpopular sentiment): Lots of alcohol.

But my kind of self-talk can't be easily bucketed in either "instructional" or "motivational". I usually have elaborate scenarios playing in mind that have nothing to do with the current context. I imagine myself being a motivational speaker, or giving a big interview, or cold approaching a woman, and blurt words that I would say—sort of like an idealistic scenario where people are responding just as I want.

Honestly, it's quite distracting and I would be surprised if there's any visible upside. Sadly, there's no (easy) way to shut the brain down.

I had begun to develop this habit when I was a digital nomad in foreign countries with no offline friends for a few years -- mostly a lack of offline interaction resulted in my having those with myself. I can see how this happens easily to us introvert types who don't favor a lot of in-person contact.

I found engaging my brain more actively and feeding it more stimulus helps control this. Something that can actively engage any possible downtime cycles from your brain, such as playing video games. When working, I would either sit in a cafe where people spoke the local language (that I couldn't understand) without headphones, or listen to a foreign language radio/TV show.

Whenever I zoned out of work, I could absorb this strange input that I had to think really hard what to do with. When I wanted to focus on work I could tune out the stuff I couldn't understand anyway and work.

Or of course, you can try hang out with humans in person more, but I understand that's not always preferred :)

I used to have this and it was as inconvenient as you said here. I tried to work on extending this 'skill' (really important to first acknowledge that it's not necessarily a weakness) by just feedbacking "reality-check" to scenario-modelling. For example in my "Deliver a class" mental scenario, I used to assume that I'd be as smooth as Feynman. In real life presenting, that's obviously not the case! I used to cringe and get frustrated so much, until I told myself to back off and let the process continue (indeed, it's not easy to shut your brain down!) So I tried introspection. I realise several factors about myself and what things from the environment affect me ... so I loop all this back to my mind so the next time I do another mental presentation scenario, I take these into account. It gradually gets more 'accurate' (by this I mean real outcomes don't seem as widely off-the-mark ... it also helps to acknowledge a large margin of error!) and now I use it for "important conversations" as a way to find key points/ questions and, surprisingly, to get myself more relaxed.

Hope this helps somehow!

Even when I'm not actually speaking out loud, I find that my thoughts often act very similarly: I'm usually having a conversation with myself. And I'll try to crack myself up, or reference movie quotes, or break into a song or dramatic monologue.

(Anyone who's upvoting this, does that mean I'm not alone or I'm insane?)

You are not alone.

It's much easier to be your uncool self, when you're only talking to yourself.

In fact, when I was younger, I use to sometimes talk to myself like I was monologuing to an unseen audience, like characters always seem to do on kids shows[1].


"uncool self"

I take offense to that! But actually I'm glad to hear that :)

This is also super useful for learning a second language.

I once met a dude in China without much of a noticable accent. I asked him if he had lived abroad, to which he replied that he had never been outside the country. He just regular talked to himself in English in his head. I'm sure other factors contributed to his strong English, but I found this really interesting and started trying it with Chinese (which I was studying at the time). I discovered that talking to yourself as you go about your daily life really helps you identify really practical words that you don't know yet. Or even, very impractical words like "elbow" which can be embarrassing gaps in your vocab when you reach a certain level.

One of my Japanese teachers really stressed reading out loud as good practice - you practice reading the piece, you practice saying the words, and you get some listening practice too.

One nice big feedback loop!

I've studied Japanese for a long time (and work in Japanese only now) and if you want to work on pronunciation I learned to "shadow" in my Japanese class. You watch any tv show and you repeat exactly what they say right after to get the intonation down. It's weird at first but it's super effective due to the difficulty of Japanese's hidden intonations.

One other thing we learned was to talk real loud with either a high or low pitch as it helps you learn very quickly the proper pitches. I heard news casters in either Japanese or American news casters do this.

Working in Japanese only means you’re located in Japan? What’s your line of work? Just curiosity.

I'm a unity developer (50% games, 50% 3d desktop programs)

Personally, I believe the mark of proficiency in a language is the point when you start thinking directly in it - when you stop explicitly translating to it from your native language.

That weird moment when you're not a native English speaker, lying in bed at night, pondering an open question while trying to fall asleep, then suddenly thinking to yourself: "Wait, why'm I thinking in English?"

For me, it seems to happen most often when I remember a certain word or phrase in English only, which causes my thought stream to switch languages.

Yes. At first it was weird, but then I got used to it.

The thing is, nowadays I read and write much more in English than in my native tongue, so there's an ever-increasing amount of things I default to thinking about in English. I also tend to switch languages on the fly in my thoughts, depending on which one "feels" better at any given moment.


The turning point where I started thinking in English increasingly was when I stopped watching TV shows and movies dubbed and went looking for the original version instead.


Curiously, I noticed that I still prefer to have subtitles on original versions. Not in my native tongue, but in English. Besides not missing some unintelligible dialogues, I found it reduces the feeling of cognitive load for me when watching a movie.

I talk to myself all the time, especially when hiking or out for a walk. This can get embarrassing when you run into another person around a turn. If you are with your friend and talking, well you're just talking to your friend. When it's just you .. that must be a crazy person (unless you've got a flashing bluetooth headset or a phone in your hand I guess).

I usually get real silent and then slowly pick back up as I walk away; trying to whisper to myself and keep my voice low in case someone else is on the trail.

I don't think I've ever encountered someone else doing this .. except sometimes for that crazy homeless person on the street .. and they don't exactly stop when people walk by them.

I've started to think I'm probably one of the few people who do this, but it's so helpful to hear my thoughts to put things into order and organize them that it's not something I really want to stop doing.

I talk to myself out loud all the time. It absolutely enables me to solve problems better. When I have a particularly tough problem at work, I'll work from home specifically so I can talk it out.

I also talk things out while driving alone. I used to get embarrassed that other drivers could see me. But now a days hands free phone systems are commonplace in cars so I just talk away :)

I've talked to myself and also sung to myself on trails before. Once I was hiking down from a conditioner at night cold, wet, miserable, and tired, so I started singing to myself as I went just to keep my spirits up.

Reminds me of a classic Achewood: http://achewood.com/index.php?date=06072006

> (unless you've got a flashing bluetooth headset or a phone in your hand I guess)

Nice hint. Gotta buy a highly visible bluetooth headset.

I think more people than you think partake in these activities, but unlike you are even shyer about it.

Another benefit of talking to oneself is to find out who's listening in on your computer/phone microphone, or bugs in the apartment. By saying different things to oneself in different locations, one can hone in which locations are being surveilled. I discovered when I lived in Melbourne Australia and again in China that there's plenty of people around with nothing better to do with their time.

Are you talking about a friend leaving their phone in your room for a few minutes as a prank, or actual serious surveillance by an organisation?

With the latter, believing that can be a symptom of paranoid Schizophrenia. And as a person who's dealt with mental illness myself, it's way better acknowledging and dealing with it as soon as you can.

And what did you discover in Australia and China? Who was listening in, how, and why?

Hmm you should probably stop talking to yourself...

How did you find out you were being surveilled?

The "useless idiots" involved in surveillance usually have a psychological need to let on they're part of the action, or sometimes the puppeteers want you to know you're being watched.

By the way, I didn't overlook adding any details in my first comment. By "Australia and China", I meant both "democracies" and "dictatorships" are as guilty as each other.

I can relate in the multi-step process part. I tend to speak out loud to stop my thoughts from bouncing from point to point. The result is usually a more cohesive set of steps to achieve success on something.

It makes me wonder if this is part of why journaling has mental health benefits. Maybe the act of journaling introduces this same objectivity and thus improves thinking about a subject? E.g., the benefits described in Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression [0]?

[0 (Fulltext PDF)]: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Philip_Ullrich/publicat...

If I say something out loud I usually realize much quicker if it makes sense or not. The act of vocalizing a thought triggers a second check whether or not I'm making a fool of myself, and quite often it turns out that I am!

So true. I need to remember to do that more often.

I like to talk out loud/to my self in a way in which I'm having a conversation with future me who's solved the problem I'm currently going over. I talk to key points around the problem and the solution and have a conservation about how it worked and what it did... essentially I try and establish a theory about what the future might look like around that problem set should I implement solution X.

Yup. Be careful though--when you're around other people who are also trying to focus and do their own work talking to yourself can be a very irritating distraction to others.

This is a downside of open office plans. If I'm working on something particularly tricky it is often better for me to work from home so that I can wander around talking myself through the problem like some kind of insane person.

You actually want to do things?! You should move fast and break things not to actually solve them. I leave a trail of mayhem behind me... /irony.

I uh..... I've always been talking to myself when I'm not talking to other people.....

I didn't know it was unusual....

I don't think it's unusual at all... just not discussed much.

Regarding the "banana" example near the end of the article, it reminded me of an essay[1] I read on Fravia+'s website Searchlores[0], about searching for physical real-world objects. It doesn't mention to speak the name of the item out loud, but rather to use (if possible) holding a similar or identical object as a physical reminder:

"""Sometime it also helps to have an identical (or as similar as possible) object in your hand: thank to this "physical reminder", the brightness and color of the target will be more evident while searching for its brethren."""

I have tried this on occasion, and while (obviously) I can't say for sure that did the trick, it seems like it would have a similar (or perhaps even stronger) benefit than saying the name of the object out loud. I expect doing both would be even better.

If the site was still alive, I'd send in an addendum to that essay about it :-)

[0] http://search.lores.eu/ -- An incredibly useful resource, mainly about finding stuff online. Be mindful however it was written for the web as it was ~15 years ago (many tricks no longer work). Also try not to be put off by the Stallman-esque idealist rhetoric ;) RMS and Fravia+ used to be good friends, in fact (Fravia+ has since passed away). And like RMS, he too turned out to be prophetic/right often :)

[1] http://www.search.lores.eu/objects_searching.htm

I find it entirely plausible that when you hear words spoken, even if from your own mouth, it then becomes processed by the same hardware machinery that processes other external voices. In my case, I tend to disbelieve anything I hear so..

my s.o. has been doing this since early childhood, it's second nature for her. It's amazing to me that she can do it so easily and I notice that she can plan and analyze things much better, it's like she's having a scrumm meeting with herself. If I try to do it, it's less spontaneous. I wish I could learn it.

Pretend there's someone listening who is both unconditionally neutral about and unconditionally interested in everything you say.

The idea is not to conceptualize an imaginary person, but to lower the hesitancy of "but there's noone there". Trying it in an empty house may be helpful.

I found myself pacing after a mildly stressful event a few years ago, and the practice stuck as a way to help myself wind down. I'm not actually sure when I started talking to myself too, I think it was around that point. I do both on a virtually daily basis, it's how I figure many things out.

I have roughly 400+ voice recordings that I have taken during my commute. As a few have stated, simply speaking out loud typically validates an idea or not simply due to the medium.

There are a lot of things I miss about working from home, but the biggest is being able to get up and walk around while have conversations with myself aloud.

I ask my Mac to read stuff I wrote back to me out loud to help me catch errors.

Oftentimes the reading "voice in my head" is so biased already that I overlook mistakes or inelegant constructions.

For example, I tend to auto fill prepositions that aren't actually there while reading, specially in a partially rewritten sentence.

When hearing someone else speak, however, the error is evident.

One benefit that I didn't see mentioned is the ability to get somewhere unhindered. If I need to get from point A to point B at work, and I don't have time to be impeded by someone in the hallway, I carry a clipboard and talk to myself. Other people are hesitant to interrupt me.

My father used to say; first sign of madness was talking to yourself, second sign of madness was replying to your conversation and the third sign....hairy palms.

I talk to myself all the time, it's about more structuring my thoughts. I also swear to myself all the time. Self swearing is quite frequent.

If you still read this three days later and care for some unsolicited (but friendly) advice, regarding the swearing part: Consider being nicer to yourself. I remember this one time myself, suddenly taking a second look at what my inner voice just said (repeating it), and I was shocked, I would never even dream of talking to another person with those nasty, hurtful words. I remembered a reddit comment I read once: "I learned to tell that voice to f_ck right off" (bonus: you still get to swear ;) ).

I heard this, then I heard an updated version:

A sign of mental illness is when you talk to yourself, but think the person answering you (in your head) is someone else.

Yeah, I don't get it. I heard about "talking to yourself" being a sign of crazy all the time when I was a kid. I was actually terrified to realize how much internal monologue I'm doing in my head; I did initially thought there's something wrong with me.

Now I don't care. Self-talk (today mostly done through typing stuff into a text editor) helps me focus.

> "Language provides us with this tool to gain distance from our own experiences when we’re reflecting on our lives. And that’s really why it’s useful"

True for computer languages also. One of the ideas behind Lisp is that the language used to express ideas is a also tool for reasoning about those ideas.

I remember Sam Harris pointing out in his book on consciousness and meditation just how absurd it is that we regularly have conversations with ourselves. "Hmm, I wonder where I left the keys, they must be on the kitchen table, nope, man I'm going to be late to work again..". Who is the interlocutor? Does the thing we're talking to already not have all of the information the speaker has? If we saw someone have this conversation out loud we would think that person is nuts, but we are all having that internal conversation all the time, and think of it as perfectly normal.

For the sake of experiment I tried to avoid having an internal monologue / dialogue but it's surprisingly difficult. I'd be curious to hear if people have succeeded here and what that does to you. Are you still able to function and grow as a person and a thinker without that inner chatterbox? Can you think without vocalizing it in your head?

And yeah, interesting fact, I'm an introvert and an only child too, like some of the other posters. I've been the only person I could regularly talk to my entire life. I'm sure that has a huge impact on this.

This is not Sam's unique philosophy. What he was explaining here is the underpinnings of all Zen Buddhism. Coming to terms with the fact that duality of the mind is an illusion.

There are many times when I don't have an internal monologue. I can't imagine what it would be like to have one all the time.

I can't imagine not having one. I don't mind having it most of the time. The biggest problem is that during some tasks, I can't always catch what folks say. For example, I read and write with my internal dialogue dictating the entire time. When someone speaks and interrupts me, I often have to ask them to repeat themselves.

In other words, it is really strong - To the point that when I first tried meditating, I found it extremely frustrating. The instructions I had didn't tell me what to do with the inner monologue. Somehow I was supposed to concentrate on breath without using it and I honestly couldn't figure out how to go about such a thing. I've never really understood why folks want to be without it.

It's terrible.

I discovered talking to myself when I was in my first year of college. I was in an one bedroom apartment so solidarity was very common and I often found myself having a very clouded head. I had read about talking to yourself and talking your way through things and I started to do it and it has worked wonders for me and my productivity. Yeah some people may think I am crazy when I am talking myself through a problem in public but I luckily could care less what people think of me. Please talk to your self people. It can seriously change your life. It changed mine :)

I'm so weird. I talk to myself all day! But it really helps to structure your thoughts. However it can be quite annonying for yourself: sometimes I can't listen to myself no more and start working. and your environment: my wife complains about me being nerdy, I stop then and start focusing on a good discussion with her, which helps.

I even find myself talking to myself (in my head) when I'm with my kids playing... which is not good at all, but I have the feeling I need the time to think to solve problems.

Yeah, this makes sense. I talk to myself a decent amount. But not about anything remotely constructive.

I'm a talkative person by nature and spend a lot of time alone, so I'm guessing it's more loneliness than anything; although I'm certainly not depressed. It's like an itch and suddenly, without realizing it, I'm having full blown conversations with myself. I've always wondered how many of us there were out there.

I wonder if there are benefits of non instructional self talk. e.g talking to yourself in the car about nothing in particular.

Depends, is it nice?

I think a benefit is trying to understand your thoughts/feelings are more higher level.

However, ruminations (rambling about past events) are usually considered harmful. Rumination is a bad habit and you should stop yourself while doing it.

When I'm working, I write out most of my mindflow into notebooks. It helps me focus and works really really well for recovering after distractions.

Ever since taking a remote job I find myself talking out loud more than ever. I'm glad to see there are benefits to this...

Serializing thoughts is inefficient. It's better to use structural sharing between different parts of the brain :)

Wait what? Isn't that normal? Even if you don't speak, don't you do it in your mind?

aka rubber ducking works for things other than programming

Great article!

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