Don’t Interrupt Me, I’m Having a Conversation (with Myself)

First Person

Don’t Interrupt Me, I’m Having a Conversation (with Myself)

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ihate being interrupted. Like when I’m engrossed in an intense conversation, oblivious to my surroundings, gesturing aggressively, and a coworker cuts me off with a preposterous question like, “Were you just talking to yourself?”

At times like these, I’m strongly tempted to hand the heckler a blank sheet of paper and tell them, “Here’s a list of people that asked for your expert opinion. Now fuck off and let me finish.” But, since most of my coworkers are also my seniors, I invariably resist the urge to do so.

If you haven’t tried it yet, you should plan a chat with yourself ASAP. You could talk about that conversation you had with your Tinder match that didn’t go as planned, or about that coworker you wanted to stand up to, but decided against at the last moment. Or talk about going to bed at a decent hour, which didn’t happen (shocker!) because you couldn’t resist the urge to watch one more episode of that Netflix true-crime documentary.

In an NBC News essay titled “Go Ahead, Talk to Yourself. It’s Normal — and Good for You,” clinical psychologist Dr Jessica Nicolosi says, “In the same way we seek trusted companions to bounce ideas off of, we talk to ourselves for many reasons. This often occurs when we’re experiencing a deepened emotion, such as anger, nervousness, extreme focus, or excitement. Even in otherwise mundane scenarios, it’s typically an emotion that’s triggering us to speak out loud.”

It’s a sentiment I find best captured by a meme I stumbled upon the other day: “If you see me talking to myself, then don’t say anything to me. We’re having a staff meeting.” The colleague who’d interrupted me earlier was clearly oblivious to my staff meeting, and hadn’t quite realised that I was talking to myself about the essay I’d been struggling to write. As a New York Times essay points out, “The two types of self-talk you’re likely most familiar with are instructional self-talk, like talking yourself through a task, and motivational self-talk, like telling yourself, ‘I can do this.’” I was also engrossed in motivational self-talk, repeatedly telling myself, “I can file the essay in time” and “my editors will love every bit of it.”

In the same way we seek trusted companions to bounce ideas off of, we talk to ourselves for many reasons.

I’ve often witnessed many friends and family unknowingly indulge in instructional self-talk on many occasions. Just the other day, I witnessed my mother – who finds parallel parking to be an endless struggle – talk herself through the process. “Move a bit to the right… a bit left… now drive backwards… don’t touch that sedan… almost there… and… oh f*ck it!” Sure, she grazed the sedan but she managed to parallel park.

The same NYT essay puts forth the idea of feedback hypothesis, explaining how instructional self-talk can speed up cognitive abilities and task performance. Essentially, Feedback Hypothesis is when a hopeless person can’t remember where they left their phone, so they go around the house repeatedly shouting “Phone!” out loud until they actually find it. “This helps you distinguish it from other items with different names,” says Mr Lupyan, a researcher and psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who conducted a series of experiments on the same.

But what happens when you’re your worst critic? Essays are dedicated to the “Toxic Effects of Negative Self-talk” that “limiting your ability to believe in yourself”. Just last month, I had a tryst with my inner critic. I was running a 10K marathon for the very first time and my legs had begun to collapse as I approached the last two kilometres. My inner monologue was, “They’re all leaving you behind”, “You’ll be the last one to cross the finish line”, and “Everyone can tell you have a wedgie right now.”

So, I did what any sane person would’ve done. I tugged at my undies and motivational self-talked the crap out of myself. Now, I didn’t place first, but I also wasn’t the last person to cross the finish line.

Yet, what bothers me the most is how quickly people assume that you’ve completely lost your marbles if they notice you talking to yourself. A fellow intern at my workplace landed in an awkward situation just last week when she – preoccupied in her victory dance – began patting herself on the back while saying “You did a great job” out loud. The situation rapidly spun out of control when our HR person – who consistently pops up at the worst time – noticed the intern and thought it best to offer her a therapist’s number.

And in case you were still wondering, the intern didn’t actually suffer from a mental disorder. It’s only borderline personality disorder if you’re talking to someone that isn’t present and isn’t you. I’ve checked, just to make sure.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a staff meeting to attend.