Externalizing thoughts is power. Any impactful creation that has ever existed has been the result of putting thoughts out into the world.

Yet surprisingly, most people aren’t externalizing thoughts enough. Thinking well is something that happens to people on occasion rather than something they engage in often.

Externalizing thoughts is key to thinking well and the following methods will assist you in doing so.


“Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.” — William Zinsser

The most common method of externalizing thoughts is journalling. Journalling is the quintessential form of putting your thoughts to paper. Through the medium of writing, you allow your thoughts and ideas to ‘sit outside of you’ so that you can view them from another lens.

A journal, diary, notebook, word document etc. act as a storehouse allowing you to capture that which flies through your head (and is at risk of remaining fleeting), tame it, then put it to consideration and use another time.

The human brain is programmed to think of only one proper item at a time. If what you ponder about isn’t externalized such as through writing, you’re taking a gamble that you’ll remember it in that form at a later date. Sure, you might be able to build on an idea in your head alone but how well will you remember each part of the process? How will you keep track of the development of your ideas? How will you share them with the world in detail? Writing is one of the most powerful technologies ever invented for a reason.

Writing can be humbling as it forces you to confront your gaps in knowledge to learn, fill and hone your understanding.

Clear writing means clear thinking. And rewriting means even more improved thinking. Associate Professor of Communication Marvin H. Swift states:

“Rewriting is the key to improved thinking. It demands a real openmindedness and objectivity. It demands a willingness to cull verbiage so that ideas stand out clearly. And it demands a willingness to meet logical contradictions head on and trace them to the premises that have created them. In short, it forces a writer to get up his courage and expose his thinking process to his own intelligence.”

Don’t be afraid to rewrite and edit what you journal. Externalizing thoughts through journalling isn’t an act of first-time perfection. It’s a process of iterative improvement.

By exposing your thinking process to your own or others’ intelligence, you reach a deeper understanding of the subject matter and avoid the illusion of explanatory depth—the psychological effect that makes people think they know certain things well when they don’t. Journalling forces you to think things through making each part of your thinking process that much more watertight.

Externalizing Thoughts Journalling


“Why do you talk to yourself?”

“Because it’s the only way to have an intelligent conversation!” — Anonymous

Ever talk to yourself and worry you look crazy?

Worry no more. Talking to yourself is far more powerful than most people realize.

The reality is that almost all of us have inner dialogues with ourselves during the day and these are completely normal. For most, these inner dialogues are kept silent and occur in passing sentences rather than full blown soliloquies.

But if you engage in overt self-talk meaning actually speaking out loud, you’ll see greater benefits from this explicit act of externalizing thoughts.

Researchers have pondered for decades why people talk to themselves. Their work indicates that self-talk aids in conceptualizing the world better when we’re children (hence why children talk more out loud when playing) and this continues into adulthood albeit to a far lesser degree. Further studies suggest that self-talk helps regulate emotions, reduces anxiety, and enhances problem-solving skills.

When you self-talk out loud, you’re mimicking a conversation with yourself. This makes it far more likely that you’ll develop your thoughts in detail as you would in a conversation with someone else than if you sit on your thoughts in silence.

When talking to yourself, focus on positive or neutral self-talk and avoid negative self-talk, the latter is associated with harmful outcomes such as lower self-esteem and worser moods. A quick heuristic is to reflect on whether you’d speak like you are to a friend or not. Even if you’re direct and blunt in your speech, would you be harsh or encouraging to them? This is why overt self-talk is useful—you’re less likely to be overly critical and discouraging to yourself if you actually hear the words that come out of your mouth.

Of course if you’re worried about adverse reactions from others around when talking to yourself, you can use another method of externalizing thoughts such as journalling or engaging in self-talk when alone in a private space. But we live in an era where talking to yourself is less of a big deal than ever. Due to the rise of smartphone and wireless earphone usage, even talking alone on the street looks innocuous.

Externalizing Thoughts Self Talk

Summary – Externalizing thoughts

Externalizing thoughts is the overt expression of internal beliefs or positions we have. The power of expressing them rather than mere internal reflecting is multi-faceted—we’re more likely to think well and hone our understanding of what we’re thinking about. We can share ideas with the world to pit them against one another, engage in cross-border communication, and make an impact.

Journalling is the most well known form of externalizing thoughts. Capturing your thoughts on paper codifies them so that you can assess and develop them in the future. Good writing will ensure good thinking—the act of writing forces you to explicate your ideas with clarity, iterating your knowledge and understanding of a topic as you go along. Rewriting and editing amplify this benefit to an even greater degree.

Self-talking is another way of externalizing thoughts. When you talk out loud to yourself, you’re mimicking a real conversation that will help you formulate your ideas compared to covert self-talk in your head. Positive and neutral self-talk correspond with better regulation of emotions and problem-solving capacity.

Make it your resolution to externalize your thoughts.

Externalizing Thoughts Expression

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