The right way to talk to yourself

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

Thinking out loud is good for you. And carefully choosing your words when you self-talk can impact whether you walk away from the conversation feeling positive and in control, or mired in negative thoughts.

This is the topic explored in the article “The Voice of Reason,” in the May issue of Psychology Today. According to the article, which reports on the research of psychologist Ethan Kross, “how people conduct their inner monologues has an enormous effect on their success in life.”

Most importantly – and so simply – switching from using first person (“I need to stop procrastinating and write this blog post.”) to using your name (“Kim, stop procrastinating and write that blog post.”) provides a sort of psychological distance that lifts judgment and anxiety and frees the brain to not only complete a task, but also to do so more successfully.

The article explains what happens in the brain when we shift from using pronouns to first names, as well as details the research that led to the findings. For our purposes, we pulled out a few tips to help you make self-talk work for you.

  1. Think out loud. Especially for challenging tasks and situations, thinking out loud provides a level of concreteness to issues that helps put solutions within reach.
  2. Use an imaginary coach. Much as an imaginary friend fuels a child’s imagination, an imaginary coach with whom you discuss problems can provide the psychic space you need to uncover creative solutions.
  3. Self-talk in the third person. Particularly when preparing for a stressful event, Kross found that talking to yourself using your name rather than “I” or “me” dispels anxiety not only before the event, but afterward, too.
  4. Tackle a problem as if it was your friend’s issue. Consider how easy it is to advise your friends: You approach problems more objectively and with less attachment to an outcome. Such detachment applied to your own problems can likewise minimize anxiety and fear.
  5. Be precise in your self-direction. Before a big event, remind yourself – using your name – of the work you did to prepare, and tell yourself to be calm and exude confidence.
  6. Include positive affirmations in your self-talk. Tell yourself, “Jane, you are capable, smart and strong.” And give yourself a break; even if things don’t go perfectly, talking in third person provides a distance that softens the blow to your self-worth will helps you move on more quickly.

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