I talk to myself. All. The. Time.
I'm not sure when it started but I noticed it more as I matured professionally. A friend once caught me talking to myself while walking down the street, certain I was on the phone. Nope, just talking to myself I said to her utter amazement.
Over the years, I've assured myself I'm not crazy. (Really, I'm not.) Talking to myself helps me work out problems and rehearse answers I need to give to colleagues. But sometimes, that other Leah I'm talking to, isn't very supportive. In fact, she's downright mean. And often, I need to tell her she's wrong. (Still, not crazy.)
Referring to myself in the third person remains intentional. A study published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explains that referring to oneself in the third person or with a non first person pronoun (i.e. not I) during introspection is a form of self-distancing. This allows people to better cope with stressful situation. In other words, healthy internal dialogue may mean that you are separating yourself from your other voice.
Negative self-talk isn't something new, but it is toxic and apparently it's a problem that many women suffer from. The absurdity of these thoughts becomes apparent when spoken out loud. I once recounted to a close male friend the discussion running through my brain and his shock woke me up to this ego-busting habit. "That's what's going through your head? It's exhausting," he observed in amazement.
Now this negative self dialogue has a new term, known as "girly thoughts," thanks to Dr. Patricia O'Gorman, an Albany, New-York based psychologist and author of the new book, The Girly Thoughts: 10 Day Detox Plan.
"Girly thoughts tell women that they still have to be the 'good girl'. This is a major trap at work and specifically for entrepreneurs," explained Dr. O'Gorman. A common girly thought, she explained, is the one that tells women not to try because of the fear of failure, which can be particularly damaging for entrepreneurs.
"The fear of failure is so much more loaded (for women.) Women need to learn to roll with the professional ups and downs that are common at work and not to take failure personally," she said.
So while men may engage in self-talk as well, they don't necessarily have the same negative impact.
"Men have an inner dialogue but it very different," explained Dr. O'Gorman.
"It does close them down emotionally but at work it helps them go forward and be aggressive, which is respected in the workplace," she added. Meanwhile, for women at work who have internalized the notion that failure spells the end, this dialogue can have long-term career implications.
In her book Dr. O'Gorman identifies 10 steps to recovery, not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Here are three quick things you can do right now to break the habit.
1. Identify Girly Thoughts: Catch yourself in the habit and just say no. It works for me.
2. Wean Yourself from the Practice or Replace with Accurate Thoughts: The latter often works for me. I listen to the voice and then argue back with a more realistic assessment of my accomplishments.
3. Redefine Who You Are: I learned early on not to be restricted by what social convention considers a "good girl" but for those still struggling, some tips from Dr. O'Gorman include, taking up space at work, physically and intellectually. Spread out at the conference table and never be afraid to voice your opinion or disagree with your colleagues.
So keep talking (to yourself) but do it intelligently and remember to be your best friend rather than your worst enemy.