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What Is an Internal Monologue? (And Does Everyone Have One?)

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Internal monologue - Dr. Axe

If you ever experience the sensation of “talking to yourself in your head,” then you might question: Is it normal to have an internal monologue?

While the topic of internal dialogue is an ongoing one among psychologists, most consider having inner, verbal thoughts to be very common and “normal.” Since the 1930s, scientists have been studying internal conversations. They are believed to be related to the same part of the brain that deals with external conversations, called the Broca’s area.

If you’re someone who does often have an inner monologue running through your mind, whether or not your self-talk is positive or negative can have a big impact on your mood and mental health. Below we’ll look at the roles that your internal monologue has, plus ways to use self talk to your advantage.

What Is Internal Monologue?

An internal monologue (also called an inner monologue or internal dialogue) is considered an inner voice that narrates your thoughts throughout the day. It’s believed this occurs in many people because there are connections in their brains between areas focused on thinking and areas focused on language.

According to the latest research, inner speech is related to the default mode network (DMN) of the brain. This is a network of different areas that are engaged when we are not doing anything task-oriented that requires our attention.

The DMN kicks in when we’re just bored, thinking or daydreaming. Once we are focused on a task, it quiets so we can concentrate.

Does Everyone Have It?

Do some people not have an internal monologue? Yes, apparently not everyone has one.

It’s considered normal to either have or not — or to only occasionally have an internal dialogue.

For some, their thoughts are nonverbal and not structured like sentences. Others report the opposite to be true: They can “hear” their own thoughts going through their heads, sometimes nearly all day long.

Some also fall somewhere in between, only experiencing words being repeated in their minds now and then.

It’s also believed that children lack a strong inner monologue compared to adults. Self-talk seems to increase as someone ages, although it can take the form of negative or positive self-talk depending on the person and situation.

Purpose/Benefits

One’s inner monologue is related to functions including problem solving, self-reflection and critical thinking.

One study found that inner thoughts can contribute to functions such as self-motivation, behavior/performance, judging and criticizing.

According to what one inner monologue specialist explained to Well + Good, “The default mode network is what produces that whole running narrative in your head—all the things you think about, connecting your past to your present and thinking about the future, all of your opinions and self-comparisons. It’s the seat of creativity and imagination, but it’s also the seat of neurosis, depression and anxiety.”

Some of the purposes and benefits of having an inner monologue, especially if it consists of mostly positive self-talk, include:

  • Increased life satisfaction
  • Higher self-esteem, confidence, mood and outlook
  • Lower risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorders (which are tied to having a strong “inner critic”)
  • Lower stress levels
  • Greater resiliency against setbacks
  • Less reactions to negative feelings, like frustration, anger or impatience
  • Improved problem-solving abilities and productivity
  • Enhanced immune function and heart health (tied to lower stress levels)
  • Help coping with pain
  • Improved sleep quality

Examples

How do you know if you have an inner monologue?

  • You might feel like you have a constant narration present in your head. You may notice yourself repeating sentences to yourself, reminding yourself of things, coming up with solutions, rehearing conversations or giving yourself feedback.
  • You likely couldn’t stop your thoughts from verbally running through your mind even if you tried. This is why it’s helpful to focus on replacing negative thoughts with positive or realistic ones, rather than trying to turn off inner thoughts altogether.
  • Some people with inner monologues also report having strong mental visuals that accompany their verbal thoughts.

How to Have Positive Inner Monologue

1. Observe Your Thoughts (Be Mindful)

Mindfulness is all about noticing your thoughts and feelings without necessarily believing them or trying to change them.

When you pay attention to your inner voice, without assuming every thought you have is a fact, you’re able to separate your thoughts from how you’re feeling. This can help prevent self-attacking thoughts from sabotaging your mood and lowering your self-esteem.

Other ways that mindfulness can improve your mental health include by giving you greater perspective, making you challenge your inner critic, and interrupting biases and ingrained beliefs that began in childhood.

To practice being more mindful, turn your attention away from your thoughts, and focus on your physical body and sensations.

  • Practice doing this type of mindful meditation for about five to 20 minutes per day if possible.
  • Take steady breaths, and notice how your thoughts stir up emotions that cause sensations in your throat, chest and abdomen.
  • Try to relax and let your thoughts come and go without trying to change them — just observe those emotions going on inside you.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is all about telling yourself that there is nothing wrong with feeling down or sad and showing yourself support during difficult times. It’s giving yourself understanding and space to feel whatever is going on inside of you without judgment.

When you’re OK with having negative thoughts and not always feeling happy, you’re better able to bounce back and respond to unwanted thoughts calmly. Self-compassion also helps you be more aware of your own thoughts that are not helpful and not accurate, which improves your coping abilities.

3. Utilize Affirmations

Affirmations are considered positive statements that can help you challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts (such as “I am unloveable” or “I’m a failure”). This approach is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy in that affirmations help replace harmful/destructive thoughts with healthier ones.

As the website Mind Tools puts it, “Affirmations are like exercises for our mind and outlook. These positive mental repetitions can reprogram our thinking patterns so that, over time, we begin to think – and act – differently.”

Here are some ideas for using affirmations and visualization, which is related, to improve your mental talk:

  • Write out a list of your best qualities, and review it often — for example, before a stressful presentation, date, etc.
  • Journal about specific goals you’d like to achieve. Then come up with affirmative statements that you can repeat to yourself daily to help improve your motivation. Keep in mind your core values, and write down several areas or behaviors that you’d like to work on that are reflective of your deeper values.
  • When you engage in an automatic negative thought, repeat something positive to yourself immediately after.
  • Write and speak affirmations in the present tense as if they are already happening. This makes them more believable.
  • Try these examples of affirmations that apply to many different situations: I am learning and always in progress; I am creative and will figure out a solution for this challenge; I can do this because I believe in my abilities; my team/partner/family respects and values my opinion; I am authentic, which is most important to me; I’m grateful for the job/relationships I have; I am generous and enjoy giving to others.

Conclusion

  • What does it mean to have an internal monologue? An internal monologue (also called an inner monologue or internal dialogue) is an inner voice that narrates your thoughts throughout the day.
  • Some people have this type of inner dialogue, and some people don’t. Both are thought to be normal.
  • Benefits of having a mostly positive inner monologue include increased life satisfaction, higher self-esteem, lower stress levels, improved immune function and heart health, and greater resiliency against setbacks.
  • Some ways to improve how you talk to yourself include by using mindfulness meditation, self-compassion, journaling your thoughts and affirmations.
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