How to talk to yourself successfully

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

I talk to my self quite often, in fact almost continually I am telling myself something or other. Nowadays, because of my connection to psychology I also notice that I am doing it. Sometimes those conversations are one part of me chiding the other: ‘what did you do that for you idiot!’ a sort of unhelpful voice, but then that same voice also says: ‘watch out this could be dangerous/slow down…’ and with this chiding voice I often seek to calm it down with my calm voice: ‘ok that wasn’t the best decision I ever made let’s see what, if anything, can be done about it and then let’s move on...’

The voices, I have come to learn, relate to different parts of my brain- the part that is ancient and was developed before any of us reading this were ever born, it is an innate and instinctively operated part of our brain, the part that Prof Steve Peters, in his work, refers to as our ‘Chimp’. The chimp stops us stepping out into traffic without looking and also makes us cautious whilst walking into a dark cave (which may have sabre toothed tigers hiding within). Trouble also comes along with the chimp, trouble for example, when we perceive that the car overtaking us is a threat, something to be raced against and down goes the foot! The chimp is with us to stay, it is strong (too strong to fight) it is impulsive and needs managing. As prof Peters tells us you would not have a dog and not expect to take some responsibility for it…

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman also tells us a lot about the brain and the confusion caused by using inappropriate parts of it for making certain decisions- he refers to this as system 1 and system 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is without control, impulsive and automatic whereas system 2 is logical, rationale and thoughtful. Naturally we do not want every thought to involve logic and rationale as it would be exhausting- we do automatic thinking to save labour and keep us sane. Clearly, though, there are times when we should use logic and our ability to be rationale, careful thinkers.

System 1 also makes most of the decisions you take every day: ‘turn left, indicate, duck, stop, start’ it works fast and does not need logic, it just does it. Unfortunately, again as with the chimp analogy, we make decisions which would be better made by our system 2 with system 1. An often-used example from Kahneman’s work is recruiting somebody at work. If the person who walks through the door for interview, talks, dresses or in some other definable way, looks like you (age, gender and so on) system one says: ‘this person is good, I like them…’ and you can imagine the response from system 1 if the person does not look, act or speak at all like you! recruitment decisions are best carried out by our system 2 thinking for sure but evidence very clearly suggests that they very often amd almost certainly are not. Kahneman’s work is excellent because it changes the way, or should change the way, we think about thinking and especially our decision making.

What should I do?

There is a problem with practically applying this- as my system 1 influences my system 2 strongly and turns what should be logical careful considerations into ongoing biases and we are very biased. The most consistent bias that we have? Is the bias that we think we are not biased. The best, perhaps, I can do is to monitor decisions (sometimes after the fact) and use system 2 to try and understand what was going on and perhaps alter the pattern- e.g., not constantly automatically hiring small bald white guys…


Daniel, K. (2017). Thinking, fast and slow.

Peters, S. (2013). The chimp paradox: The mind management program to help you achieve success, confidence, and happiness. TarcherPerigee.

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