A New Perspective on Self-Talk…
Pronouns Matter when Motivating Yourself
Some people seem to have an amazing ability to stay rational no matter what. They efficiently make good, clear decisions while the rest of us waste energy doing things like panicking about upcoming tasks, ruminating pointlessly, or refusing to move on from our failures.
Could we ever become like them? The gulf between the two types of people seems vast and unbridgeable.
But it’s not. It can be crossed, via a simple linguistic shift.
Change how you address yourself!
It’s a matter of how you talk when you silently talk to yourself, as you probably do often, especially when you’re confronted with a difficult task. Do you say something like “It’s up to me”? Or “I can do it”? Or do you say “It’s up to you” or address yourself by your own name?
Hmmm…now that sounds different, doesn’t it?
Nobel Prize–winner Malala Yousafzai demonstrated the use of the latter approach when she was asked by Jon Stewart how she felt upon finding out that she was on a Taliban hit list. She was fearful, but then she imagined how she’d respond if she was attacked: “I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do, Malala?’ … Then I would reply [to] myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’”
Does this shift from “I” to “Malala” represent a simple quirk of speech? Or does it reflect something deeper — a process that helped her manage the intense threat that confronted her?
In a series of experiments it was discovered found that when people reacted to intense emotional experiences using their names and non-first-person pronouns such as “you” or “he” or “she” (or their name) it consistently helped them control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
For example, in one study we found that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using “I” or “me.”
The effects extended beyond the task, too: People who had used non-first-person pronouns or their names felt more positively about their performance on the speech once it was over. They also experienced less shame about it and ruminated about it less. Those are big pluses — ruminating endlessly over past experiences can hurt not only your psychological well-being but also your physical health.
It didn’t matter whether the research subjects were anxious or calm at baseline; both types of people benefited from the subtle shift in language.
All that mattered was whether the participants did or didn’t use first-person pronouns.
It was impressive to see how a simple change in language could produce these effects. Having observed the power of this subtle shift, how can we make use of it? When facing a difficult task, write or talk to yourself using your own name. Or prompt your daughter/son to use their own name in thinking about why they feel stressed or scared. It might feel strange, or different, but do it anyway!
These findings are just a small part of a much larger, ongoing stream of research on self-talk, which is proving to have far-reaching implications for altering the way people think, feel, and behave. Not only does non-first-person self-talk help people perform better under stress and help them get control of their emotions, it also helps them reason more wisely.
What’s exciting about this new way of self-talk is that it lends itself to real-time situations. When you’re in the middle of performing a task or interacting with others, the substitution of “you” for “I” (plus your own name) can be done quickly and easily, and the results may surprise you.
Try it and EMAIL ME to let me know what you think.
I found this very interesting…hope you do too!