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Ted Markle: Does talking to yourself make your mind unsound?

If you're talking and walking your dog, who are you talking to?
If you're talking and walking your dog, who are you talking to?

I talk to myself. Most of us do. Often, following a prolonged silence between the two of us, Sue will blurt out a question so disconnected with our most recent conversation that I look at her in stunned amazement. I have absolutely no idea what she is talking about or how to respond.

Ted Markle

After a brief period of annoyance, she realizes that I could not have heard the lead-up discussion that had been taking place in her head.

“Right,” she says, “You missed the meeting in the small boardroom, didn’t you?”

Indeed, I missed that meeting. I was at a totally different one in my own head – attended by more than just me and myself. In fact, I don’t really know who all was there. My inner meetings are proof that talk is cheap, because, in my case, the supply far outweighs the demand. Sometimes, I try to take attendance, but am constantly interrupted by someone playing a bothersome music sample over and over and over…

It has gotten to the point where, during recent walks with Phoebe the wonder dog, I have actually caught myself talking aloud to… uhmm… myself. If another pedestrian is following closely, they usually avoid eye contact and accelerate as they pass by.

Worried that my self-chatter may be an early sign of madness, I did some research.

It turns out that a healthy inner dialogue is a good thing!

Researchers at the University of Michigan Emotion and Self Control Lab have demonstrated that the way we talk to ourselves can improve our thoughts, feelings and behaviour and even reduce anxiety. Apparently the key is the tone and perspective. Best results come from being supportive, not negative, and using “you” instead of “I.”

Psychologist, Molly Andrews, in a recent interview with The Daily Mail insists that talking to ourselves is completely normal. “'I don't think it's mad to talk to yourself, we do it all the time… Far from it being a source of madness, it actually gives us the ability to think about other worlds. It's critical in what it means to be human.”

Reassured, I got to thinking that maybe it’s the opposite that’s true.

What is it with people that don’t have a robust inner dialogue – or at least have never stopped to identify the voices within? What’s up with them?

Our ability and willingness to talk ourselves through past interactions – observe them from an eye-in-the-sky point of view may be a cornerstone of empathy. Talking to myself, especially from a self-distanced stance, transcends my egocentric viewpoint and allows for introspection. I can better critique my own actions.

No discourse in your head means no regrets and no apologies. It pushes us further away from empathy. Without an inner dialogue, how can we truly relate to those around us, respect their boundaries and acknowledge their needs, feelings and aspirations?

We all know someone who fails to question their reflexive judgements and never stops to ask themselves what how others may have experienced certain situations. (Heck, you may even know people who voted for someone like this.) And sooner or later, the actions of these people surely leave you talking to yourself.

Ted Markle, a media industry veteran of more than 30 years, is a keen observer of the humorous side of the human situation. He appears in this space every Monday. You can reach him at – Twitter : @tedmarkle

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