Talking to Yourself May Be Good for You
Be Aware of How You Address Yourself
The June issue of Psychology Today has a long article discussing the subject of self-talk, which most of us do. A psychologist at the University of Michigan decided to find out whether self-talk amounted to much and whether the chosen words even matter. His conclusion is that how people conduct their inner monologues has an enormous effect on their success in life.
Here’s an example of two ways in which a person can ask him or herself a question: “Why did I just do that?” or “Sally Smith (his/her name), why did you just do that?” Apparently, how someone addresses him or herself is critical.
In a series of groundbreaking experiments, it was found that self-talk with the pronoun “I” results in a person being flustered and performing poorly in stressful circumstances. However, using one’s given name results in succeeding in a host of tasks, from speech making to other issues in business and in life. When talking to oneself in very specific ways at specific times, it frees the brain to perform at its best.
The reason stems from whether we address ourselves in first person or third. This flips a switch in the cerebral cortex (the center of thought) and another in the amygdala (the seat of fear). Gaining psychological distance enables self-control, allowing a person to think clearly and perform competently. Calling oneself by name or the word “you,” rather than “I,” is one of the most effective, least-utilized tools available to master the psyche and foster success.
In one experiment, a group was assigned to give a speech as to why group members were qualified for a dream job. They had only five minutes to prepare. One-half had to use only pronouns to describe themselves, while the other half had to use their given name. The pronoun group, using a phrase like, “Five minutes, I can do it,” was apt to see the task as impossible. The other group, saying something like, “You can do it, Sally (given name),” felt highly confident. Those using their name performed better on the speech, when judged by independent evaluators. By using their first names, they distanced themselves from themselves and it helped them perform better.
When doing something that is feared (like flying), a switch in approach from “I can do it” to “Sally, you can do it,” changes the brain. Brain scans showed a difference between those that used “I” verses their own name. The latter resembled those of people in the act of giving advice to friends. The former group did not.
Everyone engages in self-talk. It turns out to be important to a broad array of mental processes. Self-distancing can bring clarity in thinking about social conflicts, whether in business or romance. The science of self-talk is just getting underway. There may be other words, aside from names, that can take people higher, faster and further that are yet to be identified. Self-talk has the power to affect the most primitive parts of the brain, and this study shows that people can be taught to self-talk effectively.
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