Behavioral psychologist Chantal van der Leest examines our behavior in the workplace: who or what determines our daily decisions? Today: inner speech
Who ever walks through a city park and encounters a woman who is chatting in front of her: don’t pay attention. Maybe I am and I’m not talking to you, I’m just trying to think.
It may look strange, but talking to yourself is healthy behavior. As children, we all learn to come up with solutions by talking, according to British psychologist and writer Charles Fernyhough. First with a parent who coaches the child to build a tower of blocks, for example. Later, the child will talk aloud to himself about the steps he is going to take. As adults, we often have that conversation internally, often as a dialogue, sometimes as keywords.
Very normal, according to research by Fernyhough. 70 to 85 percent of people sometimes experience this type of inner speech. A quarter of them literally hear the voices of others with whom they consult. Yet we often think that there is something wrong with people who experience this. Because yes, people with schizophrenia, for example, also hear voices, but apparently their brains forget to report that they made up those voices themselves. That is, of course, an unpleasant experience. Like scratching your nose and not recognizing that hand as your own.
Discussing everyday worries with deceased woman
But why do some of us talk to ourselves? It seems that all that internal chatter helps us think, be creative, and solve problems. I recently saw the most moving example in the television series The Kominsky Method in which the character Norman has lively conversations with his recently deceased wife Eileen. He discusses everyday troubles and difficult situations with her and comes up with new solutions in these conversations that he has in mind with her.
That those internal thoughts are important becomes apparent when you disturb people in this. They can no longer solve difficult issues. The most annoying example of this is my friend who invariably says all his moves out loud in board games, causing me to completely lose my train of thought because I can no longer hear myself think. Or people shouting all kinds of numbers while you try to count. Therefore, let internal thinkers chat quietly at the traffic light or in front of the shelf with spreads. They need it.
Want to know more about psychology and work? Read Chantal’s books Why Perfectionists Are Rarely Happy, 13 Tips Against Perfectionism (2021) and Our Fallible Thinking at Work (2018).
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