The art of talking to yourself | Sunday Observer

The art of talking to yourself

Rex (not his real name) was learning English as a second language. He attended an English class regularly and learnt the grammatical rules carefully. However, when it came to conversation, he found that others were ahead of him. The teacher always reminded his students that they should practice English conversation with their parents and friends. Rex’s parents, as many others in the village, did not know a word of English. He found that even his friends were not interested in conversing with him in English. Rex explained his problem to his teacher. He thought for a moment and said, “If you have no one to converse in English, talk to yourself!”

“I just don’t know how to do it,” Rex lamented.

“Look here. If you see an accident, ask yourself the following questions: “How did it happen? Are there any casualties? Has anyone informed the police about the accident? How are they going to take the injured to hospital? Then try to answer the question in the best possible way. You might tell yourself: “The accident has occurred when the three-wheel driver tried to overtake a private bus. There are no casualties. Somebody has informed the police. They have called an ambulance.” This is one way to practise English conversation when you have no one to talk to.


A few decades ago, I was living in an upstair room in a house owned by an elderly lady who lived alone downstairs. Whenever I returned to my room after work, I saw her seated in an easy chair. One day I asked her casually, “What are you doing?” “I am having a chat with myself,” she replied. I urged her to tell me more about her chats.

“They’re usually ‘what-ifs,’” she said. “What if I sell this house and move into a home for the aged where I would have company and security. They will provide me with meals and other creature comforts. What if I live here for the rest of my life renting out the upstair room to anyone who wishes to move in? Sometimes I get answers to these questions.”

I think she got enough answers to her own questions. She decided to renovate the house and rent out another room to a boarder. Everything worked out well during my stay there. Unlike my landlady, most of us cannot find the time and place to be quietly alone. The problem is, privacy does not happen, it has to be deliberately arranged, planned for and defended. However, a place and time for introspection is not something impossible.

Inner dialogue

A constant inner dialogue goes on in each of us even when we cross a crowded street. Some of us may not be aware of it. But we should not let it meander into small talk or diatribes against our enemies. If we steer the inner dialogue, we can do wonders. Some people have the rare ability to crystallize their whole self-concept into a life plan by constantly defining and redefining their goals. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man becomes what he thinks about all day long.”

Talking to oneself is immediately useful in almost any creative process. Anyone can learn how to develop an idea in his mind, adding to it and refining it until it is properly shaped. It may be a new way of writing a book, finding a new job, achieving an additional qualification or putting up your dream home.

When you talk to yourself about personal problems, you are actually not alone. You are talking to your subconscious. The subconscious will come up with solutions you never imagined. It can be compared to a sophisticated computer which consists of various linkages to solve problems. Each new experience or sight you encounter will register with the subconscious.

Consumer resistance

As an insurance agent I had the difficult task of breaking the consumer resistance whenever I tried to sell a life policy. I had been trained not to accept ‘no’ for an answer from a prospective client. That meant I had to drown his voice and instil confidence in him.

Inner dialogues can be one way of rehearsing for a specific challenge. On the other hand, they can be used to meet unexpected opportunities. Those who thus rehearse their inner dialogues recognize their cue from whatever source it finally comes. The trick here is not in the talking, but in the listening. “A man should learn,” Emerson said, “to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within.”

Great men who have achieved their aims have always understood the use of self-conversation. Some of them had developed it into a fine art. Simon Ramo, who played an outstanding role in the electronic revolution, held 25 patents by age 30. He wrote nine books and became a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. If you still doubt the efficacy of self-talk, heed the advice of the French sage, Blaise Pascal who said, “Man holds an inward dialogue with himself that it behoves him to regulate very well. Regulating the inward dialogue can pay rich dividends.”

For an inner dialogue you need the services of the subconscious which consists of the field of consciousness in which every impulse of thought that reaches the conscious mind through any of the five senses is classified and recorded, and from which thoughts may be recalled or withdrawn as letters may be taken from a filing cabinet. You can have a dialogue with the subconscious any time you desire.

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