How can I stop talking to myself?
June 5, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop talking to myself?

I work in a cubicle as a web developer, and find myself constantly mumbling to myself as I work. I feel like I'm producing a stream of "A-ha", "Oh, that's why...", "F&*^ing compiler", "Oh for crissakes"-- when work goes well or poorly; cursing and clean. I *think* I'm speaking under my breath (I'm probably louder than I think) but I'm sure my immediate neighbors can hear me.

I'd like to quit doing this. Partially because it bothers me that I can't seem to control it, but mostly because I worry that my shy coworkers are becoming wary of me-- I do rip a few salty phrases a day, it seems.

Has anyone successfully stopped themselves from doing this? Am I overthinking the impact of being "that guy" at work?
posted by travertina to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Unless people are complaining about it, what's the hassle? I narrate my damn life. I talk to myself in the grocery store, when I'm doing Excel spreadsheets and whenever I need to hear what my brain is saying. I'm an auditory learner and this is one of the ways in which I process.

Poll your cube mates and see if they even notice. If it's a problem, then work to curb it, but if they look at you weirdly, and have to take their ear-buds our to answer your question, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think your issue is worrying about what others think and being "that guy". Talking to yourself is a sign of genius or madness - enjoy!
posted by devnull at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you might be overthinking this because most people either don't care or are too busy with their own work to say something.

I think if you want to change something then stop cursing at work and try to talk more quietly when talking to yourself.
posted by livinglearning at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with others that you might be overthinking it. My roommate does this, and once I figured out that he wasn't talking TO ME when he said things like, "What are you doing?" or "Well, that's stupid!", I now find it charming and funny.

That said, it may be less charming in an office setting! Do you feel like you can ask your neighbors if it bothers them?

And all of THAT said, if it still bothers you that you're doing this, I actually think that hypnotherapy could help, or some very directed CBT. If you want to do something at home to change your habits, mindfulness meditation might be useful, or aversion training, where you snap yourself with a rubber band or something similar whenever you notice you're doing the thing you want to stop doing.
posted by rosa at 7:54 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first step is to notice when you’re talking to yourself. I bet that, right now, when you notice it you start chastising yourself, thinking “dang! I’m talking to myself again! I’m such a jerk!” Instead – recognize the triumph of noticing.  “Hey, I just noticed I’m talking to myself again. Yay! I can stop right now! I’m totally tackling this issue!”  Even if you have to do that again in five minutes – you’re actually noticing and stopping.  You can also notice times when you’re not talking to yourself and give yourself credit for that. You may have less of a problem than you think you do.  And you certainly will, over time, if you reframe it this way.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Chew gum.
posted by mareli at 8:02 AM on June 5, 2012

Yeah, ask your coworkers. I contracted at a Major Retailer out east a while ago, and in the next cube over there was a guy who kept up a constant patter of throat-clearing, comments, and snippets of Sinatra-style songs in a lovely baritone voice. The songs were nice, if he had sung the whole thing, but he'd do a couple phrases then drift off into more throat-clearing and mumbly grunts.
posted by chazlarson at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2012

I used to do this, and while it's not really all that intrusive, it can become an ingrained habit and thus much harder to stop. Behavior modification techniques--wear a rubber band on one wrist. When you catch yourself talking, snap it hard. latherrinserepeat. Or,, if you can, set up a gmail chat or other chat thing, or even a pad of paper by your keyboard and write your thoughts, rather than speaking them. Same diff, but silent.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:04 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to understand more of what goes on in those moments. Typically, there will be some kind of feeling that you don't like and that you expel and control with an angry outburst. The alternative is to feel something less pleasant. Not being you, I can only guess what it might be. It could be burdened, guilty, stupid, taken advantage of, clumsy, . . . Some feeling that makes you uncomfortable in which, by your outburst, you rewrite the narrative into one where you're strong and angry.

To change this, you need to learn to tolerate the original feeling and not draw conclusions from it. You need to be more of a scientist. E.g. when the compiler isn't "smart" enough to behave as it "should," you may feel alone with an insufficient tool, or you may feel your employers don't appreciate you. Even if true, you can handle it as is.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:04 AM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I meant to add that as a contractor there for a week, I just put up with Mumbly McBaritone, but were I an employee I would have felt I had standing to ask him what was up [or at least ask others in the office what the story was].
posted by chazlarson at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2012

Yeah, ask your office mates if you're not sure of your volume. If it's mumbling, it probably doesn't bother them, but there's a guy in my office who, when there aren't many people in at weekends, shouts and swears loudly and suddenly. I'm not bothered by the language, but the sudden loud outbursts are pretty disturbing.

If you decide you want to stop, I was also going to suggest the rubber band technique. Or get a piece of paper, and every time you notice you're doing it, stop it, and put a mark on the paper. Divide it up so you can see how many marks per hour or per day. I think the theory is that the count will go up at first as you become increasingly aware of it, then gradually drop as you start to catch yourself before it happens.
posted by penguin pie at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2012

Do fewer things at once so you'll be less jumpy and surprised and working in a less "noisy" environment.

Imagine yourself to be strong and silent, or zen or whatever. You'll act more like that. I have this picture above my computer.

If you have any audience, get rid of them. For example, you may enjoy grumbling about Redis on Twitter like a friend of mine. That is related.

Try moving a bit more slowly unless you're doing rote work. That helps small things roll off.

Have more intentional conversations so you get your fill of speaking.
posted by michaelh at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2012

That said, it may be less charming in an office setting!

It absolutely is. I don't think you should ask your co-workers, what are they going to say? "Oh God Yes, please, continue to natter to yourself all damn day long, I just love it, can't get enough." A little bit is normal, I think, but try to keep it from being something you do all day long.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

A vote here on the side of "check with your co-workers."

I sometimes mumble to myself, but sometimes I'm not sure whether my voice carries; I'd phrase it to them that way. I think I just said something like "I'm not sure whether my voice carries as loud as I think it does, so if I get a little too loud or annoying, do let me know."

And yeah, sometimes people just do this. My boss sits right across from me, and has two stock things he either sings or says over the course of a day, over and over:

1. A little chant he does to psych himself up, complete with hand claps: "Work it, baby, work it (clap) work it (clap)"

2. A jingle of his own devising, which I can only assume is his own imagined theme song to an Angela Lansbury television show ("Muuurrder she wrooooote.....Murder sheeeeeee wroooooote....")

And yet, even he braced me for that. I chose to find it charming (actually, since he's my boss I couldn't quite do otherwise). But if you just ask people to let you know if you're too loud or distracting, then I wouldn't worry about it after that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I do this constantly, and have my whole life. I remember my 1st-grade teacher searching the rest room, because she thought "we" had violated the rule on one-student-at-a-time (in-classroom toilet room, because of our age). That was my first clue that it's "weird" to others.

I try to keep it quiet. I hope I do. But it's so unconscious, I can't be sure. Add to that anxiety issues, and... it's just best that I assume I am quiet.

So I do. :) Hope you can, too. Asking a friendly, nearby coworker could reassure you - assuming the answer is "NBD". :)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2012

I disagree that your coworkers will lie about this out of politeness if you ask them. That really depends on how you ask! Rather than, "Does it bother you when I talk to myself?", how about you just ask, "Can you hear me when I'm talking in my cubicle?"

That's the real issue. I'd much rather be sitting next to someone talking quietly to himself than someone yelling imto his phone, for instance.

If they can hear you, then you can try the rubber-band-snap technique mentioned above, employ a fan or other white noise to cover up your voice, or have some fun and make cue cards to hold up that say, "So THAT'S why!" "What the hell?" "Aha!" "Fuck" "Back to the drawing board" and "STILL compiling?!" instead.

Data point: Like Ruthless Bunny, I also narrate my life (great expression!), and I think it is beneficial to talk things through and get that frustration out.
posted by misha at 8:51 AM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this all the time, and it's really difficult to stop (or even notice I'm doing it sometimes). I console myself that at least I'm not the person in the office who sings to the goldfish and makes wildly exaggerated kissy noises at it, or the person who thinks it is totally okay to carry on a shouty top-volume speakerphone conversation with their door wide open for over an hour.

2. A jingle of his own devising, which I can only assume is his own imagined theme song to an Angela Lansbury television show ("Muuurrder she wrooooote.....Murder sheeeeeee wroooooote....")

actually i think it's this

posted by elizardbits at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, your timing is good- I'm on the train and the man who just sat down across from me just stretched, yawned, made a AAAAOORRUGHH sound, and then said quietly "stretch". So now I'm examining how I feel about being face-to-face with that, and the fact that I mutter to myself and my machine pretty regularly. If I was your coworker and you did this in my presence, I'd think that you wanted my attention (which is how I'm irritatingly feeling about the guy sitting across from me), but if I could hear you in your cube, I wouldn't care. I know I don't do it if I feel someone might be paying attention, but it seems wrong to cultivate paranoia to stop a habit. chewing gum might help, but I chew gum and I still inadvertently curse my computer or make noises at animals out the window. Perhaps you should try the technique people use to stop swearing, where if you mutter you have to put a quarter in a jar every time. Then use the cash to buy your coworkers drinks, or something.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2012

Bring a teddy bear in to work to keep at your desk.
posted by thatdawnperson at 4:15 PM on June 5, 2012

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