burnout HQ and the joys of self-talk

Soooo many of my friends are getting vaccinated, and I truly love to see it. I can’t wait to be right there with you guys, licking everything in sight and standing within 5 or even 4 feet of each other.

Until then, though, the panoramic continues apace, and I—and probably many others—am spending at least several more months in relative isolation.

However, relative isolation is not so different for me, someone who typically has one or two social engagements a week, max. And that’s actually an increase from where I was for most of my life until college, which is right around zero social interactions per week, give or take.

And so, better late than never, I thought I would share the trick that I have used my entire life to deal with isolation: I talk to myself.

Pretty much all day long, I have a running monologue with myself about issues of the day, things I’m thinking about, possible tweets, possible unsent tweet drafts, things that happened to me in the past that are affecting the way I’m feeling about things now, etc. Essentially, the stuff people call their friends about, I discuss with myself all day. I’ve learned to do it without moving my mouth, but honestly it’s so much better if you can just go ahead and mutter to yourself. (The mask helps to conceal the fact that your mouth is moving.)

Sometimes the talking informs my writing, sometimes it just entertains me, and sometimes it helps me make decisions. I used to be really bashful about this, but it honestly is so helpful I figured I would share it with the pandemic-ravaged lonely world.

And social-science research backs me up on this. So-called “external self-talk” can help you stay motivated, especially if you refer to yourself as “you” or “Your Name,” rather than “I.” It also helps enhance endurance and reduces the perceived effort involved in whatever it is you’re doing. So called “instructional self-talk,” or walking yourself through a task, can also help you do those tasks more accurately.

Over at The Conversation, one psychologist explains this is why you so often see athletes talking to themselves:

This can probably help explain why so many sports professionals, such as tennis players, frequently talk to themselves during competitions, often at crucial points in a game, saying things like “Come on!” to help them stay focused. Our ability to generate explicit self instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it simply works better when said aloud.

So go ahead and chatter away with Numero Uno—she’ll be the best friend you’ve got till May 1 or so. And read more about why I talk to myself in my book!

Buy WEIRD


I have a bunch of new stories out I’m really proud of:

The first is about burnout, why it happens, and who can fix it (hint: it’s the person who caused it). Here’s the Big Scary Fact:

For his book, which was published in 2018, Pfeffer interviewed an executive coach who said that almost all of her clients work a 10-to-12-hour day, then work more between 8 p.m. and midnight, and also work at least one weekend day. 

The second is on America’s surprisingly strong vaccine rollout, which as of this writing was going faster than that of any EU country:

As of this writing, the U.S. has vaccinated 15.9 people out of every 100, while Germany has vaccinated just five, France has reached four, and Croatia less than three. The U.S. government, finally, appears to have done something right.

Finally, I wrote a longer piece about people who have fluoroquinolone toxicity—they took common antibiotics like Cipro and say it permanently damaged them. The piece also explores why it is we know so little about the side effects of drugs, and why attempts to change that have been thwarted.

Woloshin and Schwartz presented the fact-box idea to the FDA in 2009, but the agency decided not to create the boxes, determining “that the inclusion of such quantitative information in a standardized format cannot be readily applied to many drugs.” In an email to me, Woloshin was still aghast at this decision, saying, “We thought that made no sense. There are few drugs where a box would not provide useful information, even if it just highlighted a lack of available data! And why not do them for drugs where the info is readily applicable?”

Finally, here’s a fun one about a family that always lives on daylight saving time.

Hope you’ll check ‘em out, and remember to subscribe to The Atlantic to keep me in SweetTarts and La Croix