A new year often brings a time of new habits and routines for those trying to change aspects of their lives. Going to the gym more often, eating more healthily and quitting bad habits being some of the most common attempted changes.

When times get tough, most of us rely on our inner voice for direction. Phrases such as:

“I can do this.”

Or “You got this, Richard!”

Do you notice the difference between the two statements?

One is ‘first-person’ wherein you tell yourself “I can do this”. The second statement is third-person, where you step outside of your ‘self’, begin to distance yourself from the stress and start to coach yourself as an outsider.

Techniques I teach my private clients, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and self-hypnosis frequently use methods that involve self-dialogue, and recent research shows that third-person self-talk may be even more effective to help us navigate rough patches.

A new study suggests that people can conquer stress if they address themselves in third person: “Ali has never aced this exam, and that’s why his hands are shivering. But all Ali needs to do is face his fears and take the test.”

Easy and effective

When people use third person self-talk, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies show that emotion-related brain activity is significantly reduced, suggesting they are regulating their emotion much more effectively.

Third person self-talk was neither taxing nor required much brain power—at least not more than a standard pep talk.

The problem with first person cheer-leading or ass-kicking is the use of words such as ‘I’ and ‘me.’ The two words are completely tied to your ‘self’, whereas saying your name creates a little bit of psychological distance because you view the situation from the perspective of a bystander.

That little bit of psychological distance from myself helps make it look as though I’m thinking about somebody else.” That’s why third person reflections can quickly provide perspective, and also encourage solutions.

Do it right

Sometimes you need to create space between yourself and your emotions. So, it makes sense to use third person self-talk to regulate stress and resolve issues.

However, if ‘third-person’ talk is a little too advanced right now, here are a few hints to make your first-person self-talk a little more effective.

  1. Try to sound natural and realistic. Allow your self-talk to sound like it’s coming from a loving parent or a close friend. If a close friend of yours felt stressed about work, what would you say to them? Now, try saying that to yourself. And remember to be kind and understanding to yourself.
  2. Think about that worry, fear, anger—whatever the problem may be—as something outside of yourself.

When you feel you are starting to lose your cool, become anxious/angry/overwhelmed etc. you can say to yourself: ‘This is my (insert emotion here eg.  frustration) talking. It loves to get me stressed, but I don’t need to listen to it. I’ll take a walk around the house and calm down.’

  1. Breathe deeply. Take a few low, slow, deep breaths before you begin self-talk. It will help calm your nerves.

I hope these few suggestions help you to have a more stress-free, productive day. Do you have any other suggestions to share?

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