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Inner Speech

There is more to having an internal conversation with yourself than you may think. That’s the understanding you get from Charles Fernyhough- a developmental psychologist and professor at Britain’s Durham University. Fernyhough has written an entire book about the phenomenon of “inner speech” calledThe Voices Within.

Inner speech and the fragmented self

While inner speech constitutes one of the more interesting aspects of human psychology, Fernyhough invites our attention to the related phenomenon of fragmented selves. According to him, we are all fragmented, lacking a unitary self. Everyone is in pieces and there is a consistent effort to create the illusion of a sole identity- the identity called “me.”

Drawing from Fernyhough’s idea, inner speech could help the different fragments form a consensus regarding a situation. It helps the self take a decision, or formulate an opinion, which could in turn address an action.

To put it simply, it helps bring clarity to matters.

Of inner speech, clarity of mind and the Influence Maps

The matter of getting a cohesive picture, or gaining clarity is an important aspect of the Influence Maps as well.

The Influence Maps is a proprietary tool Temenos has developed, and is used in the Temenos Vision Lab(TVL). TVL itself is designed to help you discover your true inner vision, so you could lead your team or organization with clarity of vision. Another purpose of TVL is in helping a team discover their compelling shared vision.

The Influence Maps- which includes the steps of Personal Mythology, Clean Slate(Personal), Personal Vision, Clean Slate(Shared) and Compelling Shared Vision- is a key tool used in this voyage of discovery. In fact, the Personal Mythology step which is entwined with the process of storytelling relates very closely to inner speech. (For first you frame the story inside you, before bringing it out and presenting to others.)

Going by Fernyhough’s view, inner speech may help bring the scattered selves together- at least momentarily. The tool of Influence Maps which uses psychology and business consultancy principles, helps the individual self formulate a vision. Not just that, it also helps the different physical selves that comprise a team to realize a shared vision.

Inner speech is not just with one’s own self

The inner speech may be conducted with another self- like your spouse when s(he) isn’t around

Swimming a little farther into the ocean of ideas Fernyhough opens up to his readers, we see the delightfully unorthodox phenomenon of one carrying out inner speech not just with one’s own self- but with the self of someone else too. Or rather, the idea of another person's self. For instance, you may hold a conversation in your head with your spouse when she isn’t around, or with the fast food vendor for not making your patty fried enough as you munch on the burger you ordered at home.

Also, many times, the inner speech is conducted with selves of those who have passed away. Maybe your parents, beloved grandpa(about how you still keep his vintage car polished and shiny, perhaps) or someone you were close with but who was carried away too early by fate like a cruel bird of prey. Someone you miss, someone you wish you could talk with today.

Whatever the types of self you converse with, it’s always a conversation between different points of view that happens, maintains Fernyhough. This points to the idea of creating cohesiveness or consensus which we talked about earlier. So that the different fragments of the self could come together in mutual agreement, like the reverse process of tectonic plates moving apart. For the continents of the self to converge and form an undivided pangaea.

Two different views about inner speech

An interesting bit of information regarding inner speech is that there are two opposing views on it. The first view called the “format view” posits that inner speech’s essential function is to facilitate conscious thinking. Meanwhile, “activity view” maintains that inner speech isn't functionally linked to cognition. Rather, it’s an attribute which mirrors multiple functions of outer speech.

Regardless of which view you support, Fernyhough’s idea of the fragmented self remains relevant. If inner speech spurs conscious thinking, then that sort of thinking is necessary to articulate ideas or action plans to yourself. If it merely reflects the functions of outer speech, it helps frame thoughts as meaningful units- just like with sentences. Either way, it helps bring clarity about matters.

Not everyone conducts inner speech

No need to feel down if you don’t conduct inner speech- it’s only natural, says a study

Another interesting aspect about inner speech is regarding the percentage of people who actually experience it.

By nature, it’s hard to perform research on inner speech. For one thing, it’s an extremely subjective experience which makes it hard to gauge it through the objective lens of science. Also, the sheer act of observation alters the way you carry out conversations with yourself.

But a significant study on the same was performed by Russell T Hurlburt- a psychology professor and team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Their research turned up some surprising results.

Perhaps, the most surprising of all is that not everyone carries out inner speech. No, really. As per the researchers, some of the subjects who partook in the study never ever experienced inner speech. In fact, only a quarter of the subjects actually experienced it.

This particular research is not considered as conclusive by everyone though. There are opposing ideas. For instance, Bernard Baars- a Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology affiliated with The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, and who is one of the world’s foremost researchers in the science of consciousness thinks that every person conducts inner speech every moment of their lives. He says there is evidence that inner speech happens even when you are asleep.

Such contending views aside, the idea of inner speech remains fascinating. Even more so the concept of it being a tool to merge the fragmented self.

H/T to writer, Susan Cain for referring Fernyhough’s book to us.

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