How often are you aware that you are talking to yourself, in your head or even out loud? Self-talk is the internal conversation, the voice in your mind, that comments, questions, evaluates and judges your behaviour and experience. Experts consider it to be a subset of thinking and it can be positive – when we congratulate ourselves or use it to motivate, or negative – when we criticise, judge, catastrophise and ruminate.
All self-talk influences our feelings and behaviour, but scientists are discovering that it is not only what we say to ourselves that is significant, but also how we address ourselves. As part of research on self-talk conducted at the University of Michigan, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Ethan Kross, and his team measured electrical activity in the brain as subjects engaged in different kinds of self-talk. They discovered that when subjects used the pronouns “I” and “me” during self-talk the “worriers” had to work much harder to talk themselves into a more positive state. “They engaged in a vicious cycle of rumination, anxiety and more rumination.” However, when subjects deliberately used their first name instead of personal pronouns, there was a dramatic reduction in their anxiety.
“In our study, participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own name whilst preparing for a five minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on task than those who referred to themselves using “I” or “me”. It didn’t matter whether research subjects were anxious or calm at baseline, both types of people benefited from the simple change of personal address.
“When dealing with strong emotion, taking a step back and becoming a detached observer can help”, Kross explains. “It is easy for people to advise their friends, yet when it comes to themselves they have trouble. But people engaging in this process using their own first name, are distancing themselves from self.”
The research findings suggest that for those of us who would like to improve regulation of our emotions and behaviour, the substitution of our first name for “I” when talking to ourselves is an easy and effective way to reduce anxiety, improve self-control and clarify thinking. It is a simple and easy change to make, and perhaps….. best done silently!
Jocelyn and Kristina at Trance-Formed