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Try a Little Shift in How You Talk to Yourself

4 September 2018

Barbara watched Pinkcast 2.22: This is how to talk to yourself and learned a different way to use self-talk in stressful situations.

Tags: barbara read, barbara watched, communication, dan pink, self-talk, thoughtful candor

Dan Pink summarized a 21-page academic paper, full of statistics and information about the study process, into a 122-second video with very useful information. I watched the video, read the paper, and then watched the video again and realized what a fantastic job Pink did of summarizing the research on a new way we can talk to ourselves.

I already knew that most of us talk to ourselves all day and that often the chatter is negative—I shouldn’t have eaten that or said that or bought that. I tell myself and others that step one for managing the secret conversation in our heads is to change the internal chatter to positive statements—I enjoyed that dessert, I believe she’ll cut me some slack and understand what I meant, I enjoy wearing that jacket and can resist buying the next outfit.

But Ethan Kross and researchers from the University of Michigan found that there is another step you can take to refine your self-talk so you can feel better before a stressful situation and not ruminate about how something didn’t go well after an event. You should change the pronouns you use when you talk to yourself. Instead of using the first person "I," switch to the second person "you," and sometimes to the third person, using your name.

Pink’s example in the video described how he helped himself when he was on a long run. When he felt wobbly, instead of saying his usual “I need to lift my knees a little higher and keep my back a little straighter,” he switched to “You need to lift your knees a little higher and keep your back a little straighter." Pink got better results because he became his own encouraging coach.

I decided to try the experiment. I don’t like to have conversations with my husband about difficult subjects. Writing about them in second person helped me to not put them off as long—you don’t have to do it just right. You just need to get it over with. Talking to myself in second person also helped me not ruminate about the conversation afterwards. Usually I’ll say these things to myself—Was I too harsh? Too Soft? Too terse? Trying the new approach, I said to myself and wrote in my journal—You did a good job of saying what needed to be said. Now go work on a creative project as a reward.

I found trying the suggestion of using the second person more helpful than talking to myself in third person—Why was Barbara angry?  When I answered that question with—Because she’s right and he is wrong—I just got more irritated with him, myself, and the situation as a whole.

But I did remember that recently I called out my name when driving, “Now, Barbara, you can do this. You can manage the ever-changing construction rerouting when you merge onto I-85 from I-77.”

If you give this a try, I’d love to see your comment about whether the process gives you a little emotional distance from something that troubles you and enables you to feel better or take a needed action.


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