We all talk to ourselves inside our heads. Interestingly, studies show that how we address ourselves during our inner monologues makes an amazing difference in our performance, well-being, and overall wisdom.
Psychologist Ethan Kross performed pioneering research that shows a dramatic difference in life success based on how people conduct self-talk. It boils down to this:
Talk to yourself with the pronoun I, for instance, and you’re likely to fluster and perform poorly in stressful circumstances. Address yourself by your name and your chances of acing a host of tasks, from speech making to self-advocacy, suddenly soar.
So, when LeBron James said, “I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James, and to do what makes LeBron James happy,” he’s (maybe) not being a narcissist. He’s actually stepping outside of himself and objectively explaining a decision that worked best for him.
Become the voice of reason
The research Kross performed shows that this inner third-person commentary has some truly exceptional benefits. Here are the three most prominent:
1. Better Performance: Research subjects were given five minutes to prepare a speech explaining why they should be hired for their dream job. Half of the subjects were instructed to describe themselves using “I” in a prep document; the other half were told to address themselves by name. Those calling themselves by name performed better according to independent judges. These participants also experienced less depression and felt less shame.
2. Higher Well-Being: Neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Jason Moser measured electrical activity in the brain as subjects engaged in different varieties of self-talk. Subjects that used their first names instead of personal pronouns in the face of stressful situations reported a dramatic reduction in anxiety levels, which corresponded with a vast decrease in energy consumed by the frontal lobes.
3. Greater Wisdom: Referring to yourself in the third person creates psychological distance, much as we are generally better at advising others than we are at following our own advice. The research shows that people who achieve psychological distance think things through in a more wise and measured way. “The psychologically distanced perspective allowed people to transcend their egocentric viewpoints and take the big picture into account,” Kross concluded.
Embrace the distance
Speaking to yourself in the third person resembles the entrepreneur’s maxim to “Work on your business, not in it.” In this case, you’re better able to evaluate yourself because you’re not so wrapped up in yourself.
By toggling the way we address the self — first person or third — we flip a switch in the cerebral cortex, the center of thought, and another in the amygdala, the seat of fear, moving closer to or further from our sense of self and all its emotional intensity.
So go ahead and talk to yourself in the third person. And if you slip up and start speaking to yourself out loud, just make sure you have your AirPods in for appearances sake.