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Talking to Yourself in the Third Person is the Opposite of Insanity

If you are any kind of  “Seinfeld” fan, you’ll remember the classic episode when Elaine eyes a man at the gym and she does everything she can to get his attention.  Just as she’s about to make her move, another man walks over to her and tells her, “Jimmy is pretty sweet on you.  Jimmy’s […]

If you are any kind of  “Seinfeld” fan, you’ll remember the classic episode when Elaine eyes a man at the gym and she does everything she can to get his attention.  Just as she’s about to make her move, another man walks over to her and tells her, “Jimmy is pretty sweet on you.  Jimmy’s been watching you, you are just Jimmy’s type.”

Of course, Elaine believes the man is talking about the gentleman she was just flirting with on the treadmill.  To her disappointment, Jimmy is NOT the guy she’s been eyeing, Jimmy is actually the person she’s talking to and he is referring to himself in the third person.

We all watched that episode and thought, “This guy makes me so uncomfortable, what an idiot.”

—But Jimmy, while violating serious social norms, might be onto something.

We all have an internal voice, the one we use when we think things through.  It can be as simple as saying, “I wonder what I should make for dinner tonight,” or a bigger discussion such as, “Should I take the new job even though it may mean more hours at work and less time with my family?”  

These inner conversations can be stressful, producing physical reactions such as

  • elevated heart rate
  • raised blood pressure
  • increased anxiety

which then makes decision-making more jumbled and difficult.

Everyone looks for ways to reduce stress in their lives.  So what if something as simple as referring to yourself in the third person could help?  

Research shows that in stressful or high-pressure situations, thinking in the third person actually alleviates a good amount of stress.  By using your name in place of “I” you disassociate from the impact of a situation.  This detachment is similar to giving advice to a friend.  By eliminating the “I”, you are regulating your thoughts and your emotions, which allows you to garner insight from a distance.  

This helps you to come up with a thoughtful response instead of an emotional reaction.

Ridding yourself of “I” isn’t only useful when making a decision. Psychologist Ethan Kross’ groundbreaking study shows that people who regularly talk to themselves, using their first name, are likely to;

  • have less anxiety
  • give better speeches and presentations
  • complete tasks with higher performance results
  • communicate more effectively

than those who use the pronoun “I.”

Emotions are integral to decision-making and the way you are feeling can drive the decision you make at the moment. When you use your first name in place of I, you can distance your personal emotions, making decisions based on analysis, facts, and predicted outcomes.

So while Jimmy made us all uncomfortable, maybe Jimmy was onto something.  Next time you feel overwhelmed or have a big decision to make, try using your first name when thinking it through.  

Jackie thinks this is a good idea.

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