2020 | Opinion

Opinion: There’s power in the spoken word, even if no one else hears

Talking to ourselves can improve focus, motivation

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We all talk out loud to ourselves at some time or another.

“Where did I put my key?”

Or, to our dog: “Good boy.” Or in our car: “That driver is crazy!”

Or in the shower, singing a tune.

As a therapist sitting at my computer doing Zoom calls with clients, I began to think about how self talk out loud could keep us company, motivate us, coach us, help us focus better, maintain our memory and lessen our anxiety.

Here’s how:

• Keep us company: If we have a life partner, he or she is a witness to our life. It’s nice when we can share our hurt or joy with that person. Sunsets are brighter and grief seems more real when we are holding hands with our partner.

However, if we live alone, we are the only witnesses to our lives. And that can get lonely, particularly during this awful pandemic when we are not being hugged or touched. It seems to me that the next best thing is to talk out loud at times in a kind and compassionate way.

For example, Sally lives in D.C. in an apartment and is usually upbeat and friendly. But lately with the surge, she screams inside for real companionship — not on Zoom or phone.

So, she tried talking out loud, saying things like, “Now, I’m going to get back to my book, find that wonderful afghan and pour myself some tea.”

• Motivate us: Lea doesn’t feel like getting up in the morning. Before the pandemic, she popped out of bed and drove to exercise class. Now, she does not want to exercise on Zoom; it’s just not the same.

So, she began to talk out loud every morning and say, “After my shower, I’m going to have a light breakfast, put on my mask and heavy coat, and walk a mile at 10:00. Then I’m going to go to my white board and write down what I want to do the rest of the day.”

This helps because she has made an out-loud commitment to herself.

• Coach us: Ruth doesn’t look forward to biking, particularly uphill. So, on the bike, she says out loud, “Come on, Ruth. You only have two more hills and then you have a cup of cocoa waiting for you at home with a small piece of breakfast cake. You can do it.”

• Help us focus better: Many of our clients get distracted at times and might end the day with a feeling of not having accomplished much.

If you are talking out loud, then you are shutting out the noise of your internal distracting thoughts. Clients report that this is a very useful tool.

Steve wants to work on his bills for two hours, but never seems to get there, distracted by many less important tasks.

But when he says out loud, “I’m going right to my home office, pour myself some coffee, and work from 9 to 11 on my bills; nothing will get in my way,” he commits to his plan out loud. When he feels he’s getting distracted, he just talks out loud again.

• Maintain our memory: Probably all of us have forgotten words, names of acquaintances, what we were looking for, or even the three upcoming segments on “60 Minutes.”

Out loud, you can say, I am going downstairs to get that screwdriver or I am going to the fridge to look for that horseradish.

Again, it is hard to distract yourself with other thoughts if you are listening to your directive out loud. Some of us just remember better when we hear what’s on our minds than when we just silently think about it.

• Lessen our anxiety: Many of us have experienced heightened anxiety during the pandemic and perhaps chronic lower-level anxiety the rest of the time. If we talk to ourselves like a good mother or father or other nurturing person, we can be soothed.

For instance, you have been on hold for 45 minutes trying to dispute a credit card charge. You are irritated and angry.

So that your mood doesn’t stay with you all day, you might try saying out loud, “That was a terrible waste of time. Now, I am going to do my treadmill and watch ‘The Crown’ on TV. Then, I’m going to prepare a nice dinner for myself.”

Now, some of you might say: Great, but only crazy people talk to themselves.

The truth is, we all talk to ourselves. Doing so out loud is a big step in self care.

Barbara Kane is the founder and owner of Aging Network Services LLC in Bethesda and a practicing psychotherapist.

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