At the time of writing this, we’re 10 days into the 2024, how are your new habits and routines working out for you? Are you visiting the gym more often, eating more healthily, are you out socialising more, working 10% harder and have you quit your bad habits?

What’s the matter, did I just swear?

Okay, I’m well aware that new years resolutions often cease to exist after about 20 days into the new year. But what’s going wrong and how do we fix it? When motivation dries up, most of us rely on our inner voice for direction. Phrases such as:

“I can do this.”

Or “Come on… You’ve got this!”

Did you notice the difference between the two?

One is first-person, you are inside your own headspace and you tell yourself “I can do this”. The second statement is third-person, where you step outside of your own headspace and you begin to distance coach yourself from an outsiders perspective – much like if you were cheering at your favourite sports star or celebrity.

Take these two image for example. One image has a person looking out towards an audience. He is not us, so we can give him words of encouragement and support without feeling the stress of the situation.

The other image is from the perspective that we are standing in front of the audience ourselves. They are looking at us, so the stress is felt inside of us. The stress makes it a little more difficult to muster up the courage to proceed.

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

There’s a swathe of studies suggesting that people can conquer stress if they address themselves in third person perspective: “Rich has never aced this exam, and that’s why his hands are shivering. But all Rich needs to do is face his fears, take the test and go for it.”

Believe it or not, this is the kind of preparation self-talk I say to myself before any major networking event, media interview or presentation. I speak to myself in the third person and cheer-lead myself into feeling excited and motivated to get the task done. And most often I emerge afterwards having thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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 less taxing and required less 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 ‘I’ and ‘me’ 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 it’s necessary to create a bit of space between you 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 words of encouragement to sound like they’re coming from a loving parent or a close friend. Imagine if a close friend of yours felt stressed about something, what would you say to encourage 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 and its impact will begin to reduce.

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 >  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 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? Feel free to comment.

If you’d like a FREE ‘Stress-busting’ or ‘confidence-booster’ MP3, just click here to visit the FREE downloads page.