Talking to yourself in public is seen as an embarrassing habit – the preserve of the slightly batty, such as the woman in the town centre pushing a supermarket trolley full of bin bags and shouting about the end of the world.
Such is our awkwardness about speaking out loud that it’s often cited that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.
Yet the reality is that most of us have an internal “voice”, one that guides, encourages, chides and reprimands.
This voice remains in our heads nearly all the time, but on occasion – sometimes without even realizing it – we open our mouths to marshal it. Now there’s some science to explain why.
In her book, My Stroke of Insight, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor argues that speaking out loud is a way of your conscious brain giving a clear set of instructions to your other-than-conscious brain, thereby making your mind more focused.
“It’s a powerful instrument,” she writes.
So powerful that we automatically use it as children. As social psychologist Gary Woods says, “self-directed speech” in children forms an essential part of development, particularly in infancy.
“Children instinctively talk to themselves – it’s how they learn,” Gary Woods says.
Rapidly, though, we’re taught that talking out loud is socially unacceptable and we shut up.
But according to Gary Woods – who confesses that he talks to himself – this is a mistake.
“I find vocalizing your thoughts can be very productive,” he says.
“It not only can help focus the mind and crystallize our thoughts, but it can provide emotional and psychological relief.”
So it appears that talking to yourself is a sign not of madness, but of healthy “mind management”.
And if nothing else, talking to yourself does have one distinct advantage – at least you know someone’s listening.