Continuing our discussion from last post, in this post we will explore how talking helps people think better.
In the first place, talking is a slower act than thinking. When we are forced to articulate our thoughts to another person, we cannot take any shortcuts, shortcuts that we are accustomed to taking when thinking things through in our heads. For example, most of us experience what I will call “abbreviated thought patterns”—these are thought patterns that have become abbreviated because we’ve had them hundreds of times before. We skip from the beginning to the end, leaving out all the in-between steps. When talking with someone, we have to include the in-between steps, because otherwise they would not understand.
Including the in-between steps allows us to re-examine them. Do they still make sense in light of current circumstances? Also, it gives another person (your therapist) the opportunity to comment on them. How did you come to that conclusion? What is behind this assumption? These questions prompt us to think deeper about the in-between steps that have led to our large, central conclusions about life, what cognitive-behavioral therapists call “core beliefs.”
Finally, saying things aloud gives us the opportunity to occupy two roles at once. We are both speaker and listener of our thoughts. What comes out of our mouth circles back to our ears, where we can listen (somewhat) as a critical observer. Oftentimes, saying something aloud crystallizes the thought for us; other times, it sounds stupid, and we re-examine it. Other times, something tumbles out of our mouths that we were not expecting or intending, and our ears recognize it as something significant.
Although the act of talking may just seem like an extension of thinking, it is actually qualitatively different, bringing with it many additional benefits.