What’s your favorite joke about talking to yourself? Here’s mine:
Me: Is it weird to talk to yourself?
Me: No

Have you found yourself talking to yourself more during lockdown? You’re not alone. This January 2021 Washington Post article describes Aisha Tyler’s experience of scolding herself after she “caught herself vacuuming the inside of her freezer.”

People talk to themselves to stay motivated, maintain their sanity, or help themselves laugh amongst other reasons. There’s plenty of science behind the effectiveness of self-affirmation said out loud too. Some psychologists believe the development of our inner voice is a product of social pressure that stunts the benefits of talking out loud to ourselves (check out this excellent article on talking out loud to yourself from Pscyche).

Talking to ourselves has become a sign of insanity at worst, silliness at best. As a result we’re not benefitting from really important cognitive tools.

In fact, this social stigma is potentially impacting our safety! I recently learned about how Japanese train drivers and other personnel use an occupational safety system called “Point and Call” that has a proven ability to reduce mistakes by 85%! While the system has been adopted in a few instances, notably the New York subway and in China, most of the rest of the world resists its adoption, probably because it’s “silly”

“Point and Call,” or shisa kanko in Japanese, is the habit of pointing at important indicators and saying out loud what each means. For instance, as a train is travelling along, the train driver will point at each sign and call out its meaning.

Check out Atlas Obscura’s recent video on the subject and listen to the 3 most common objections to the system:

  1. It’s hard work
  2. It’s embarrassing
  3. My boss doesn’t do it

None of those reasons are reasonable if the system makes people so much safer! And the same is true for the benefits of talking out loud to yourself (and others) in other contexts.

One of the best ways to change your own behavior is to literally point and call it out. In his 2018 book, “Atomic Habits”, James Clear offers this:

The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them. If you feel you need extra help, then you can try Pointing-and-Calling in your own life. Say out loud the action that you are thinking of taking and what the outcome will be. If you want to cut out on your junk food habit, but notice yourself grabbing another cookie, say out loud, ‘I’m about to eat this cookie but I don’t need it. Eating will cause me to gain weight and hurt my health.’

Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real. It adds weight to the action rather than letting yourself mindlessly slip into an old routine… You’re getting yourself to acknowledge the need for action–and that can make all the difference.”

Beyond the direct application of “point and call” or “talking to yourself”, I think there are some important principles at work here that can apply more generally:

1. Speaking out loud makes things more real

  • important information is best relayed in person

  • saying it out loud gets others involved

  • saying it out loud feels like a commitment

  • our internal thoughts become more tangible

2. Involving our bodies can make tasks more efficient and effective especially when lots of thinking is required.

  • long sitting meetings are going to make you dumb

  • put regular movement in your office routine

  • use your hands to help express yourself

  • foster cooperation by moving together

What do you think? How else can you see speaking out loud becoming a more useful part of our working lives?