May 9, 2017 – Why talking to yourself is the first sign of success
Eugene Gamble spent most of his career as a dentist in London, quietly and diligently working on people’s teeth. Then, three years ago, he decided to give up his life’s work to become an entrepreneur. There was just one problem: he was no good at business. As his ideas failed, his confidence plunged. He could have gone back into dentistry but he was determined to succeed in the business world. So, he hired a business coach who gave him an odd piece of advice. “He told me speak out loud,” says Gamble, who helps wealthy people invest in residential real estate. That’s right. He was instructed to talk to himself. “It was weird, because it was something new to me,” he says. “I didn’t believe that it could work, but once I tried it – it made perfect sense.”
Talking to ourselves may seem strange because we tend to associate speaking out loud to nobody in particular as a sign of mental illness. However, there’s a growing body of research to indicate that self-talk can help memory recall, confidence, focus and more.
“It’s not an irrational thing to do,” says Gary Lupyan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, who has studied how hearing ourselves speak can impact our memories. “You don’t know everything you’re going to say – you can even surprise yourself.”
His work, which is one of the most cited studies in this field, had people look at objects on a computer screen. Some had to say the name of the item out loud, while others were instructed to remain silent and keep the word in their head. The result? The ones who said the word out loud were able to locate the objects on the screen more quickly.
In 2014, the University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross released a paper saying that self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instil a confidence that can help us get through tough challenges. However, we have to say the right words for this to work.
Kross, along with several colleagues, conducted a series of experiments that had people describe emotional experiences using their own names or words like “you,” “he” and “she.” He found that talking in the third or second person, helped people control their feelings and thoughts better than those who spoke in the first person.
In another study, Kross, who outlined his research in the Harvard Business Review, asked people to refer silently to themselves in the second or third person while preparing for a speech and found they were calmer, more confident and performed better on tasks than those who used only first-person words. The results were so profound, wrote Kross, that he now gets his young daughter to speak to herself in the third person when she is distressed.
Talking to ourselves has many other benefits. “Our findings are just a small part of a much larger, ongoing stream of research on self-talk, which is proving to have far-reaching implications. “Not only does non-first-person self-talk help people perform better under stress and help them get control of their emotions, it also helps them reason more wisely.”