About 15 years ago, I tried to change my name from John (common) to Kieffer (unique). It didn’t completely take, but Kieffer lives on as my carryout name, and it’s also how I refer to myself when I engage in self-talk.
What do I mean by self-talk? Self-talk is our inner voice — the dialog that goes on in our heads with ourselves. Self-talk can be positive and supportive or negative and defeating. And how we talk to ourselves has a big effect on our happiness and success.
Much of the research on self-talk relates to athletes and performance. Studies have found that different types of positive self-talk have beneficial effects on athletic performance as well as cognition and reduction of anxiety. But even if you aren’t an athlete, training yourself to engage in positive self-talk has benefits.
The Benefits of Distanced Self-Talk
And there’s a specific type of self-talk that is especially powerful: distanced self-talk. This type of self-talk uses your name or a third-person pronoun. For example, I’m giving a speech later today related to my book. If I were to use regular positive self-talk, I might say to myself, “I’ve got this, I’m a good speaker — I’m going to be relaxed and engaging.” Good stuff.
If I were to use distanced self-talk, I would say, “Kieffer, you’ve got this — you are a good speaker, and you are going to be relaxed and engaging.” Note the use of my name and the third-person pronoun “you.” This type of self-talk will be more effective in helping me give my speech. Specifically, a study from 2014 found that “that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using ‘I’ or ‘me.'” Plus, “the effects extended beyond the task, too: People who had used non-first-person pronouns or their names felt more positively about their performance on the speech once it was over.”
The power of distanced self-talk extends beyond giving speeches. For example, a 2020 study by researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota found that dieters made healthier food choices and lost more weight when they practiced distanced self-talk when ordering food. Other research found that distanced self-talk promotes emotional control and aids in making better decisions and performing better under stress.
Distanced self-talk helps in decision-making because it shifts your mindset to be more advice-oriented — like when you give a friend advice. And that distanced perspective helps decisions be less emotion-based and more rational.
How to Engage in Distanced Self-Talk
When getting ready to perform a task or make a decision, intentionally shift your inner voice to the third person or use your name. For example,
- When your alarm goes off in the morning but you don’t feel like getting out of bed and working out, try this, “Come on Kieffer, get out of bed — you can do this — and you’ll be proud of yourself for working out this morning.” (But use your own name, obviously.)
- When deciding what to order at a restaurant: “Kieffer, you should get the salad instead of the pasta — you know you want to eat healthy.
- When making a tough decision, shift to the third person and act like you are giving advice to a friend: “Kieffer, I really think you should spend the extra money to fly business class on that international flight — it’s worth it so you don’t start your vacation exhausted.”
- When you are nervous about an important client meeting: “Kieffer, you’ve got this. You’ve been in a ton of meetings like this and they’ve always gone well. You’ve prepared and are ready for this. Go crush it!”
You get the gist.