Welcome to Day 7!
Today marks the first lesson focused entirely on learning to improve our self-talk.
This lesson will teach you how to structure your language to provide emotional regulation and distance between yourself and the challenges you’re facing.
In 2010, the sports world ignited over an interview that Lebron James did with ESPN. He’d recently transferred teams, a move that hit his hometown hard. But it wasn’t the content that had people talking; it was the way Lebron referred to himself.
Throughout the interview, Lebron spoke about himself in the third person. When asked about the decision he made, he responded by saying, “One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”
In a 2014 research paper, psychologist Ethan Kross remarks that this isn’t as odd as it may seem.
Lebron doesn’t refer to himself in the third person until after stating he didn’t want to make an emotional decision—almost as if the words themselves triggered a shift in mindset. To Dr. Kross, this makes perfect sense. Self-distancing practices, like referring to yourself in the third person, enhance self-regulation, which is exactly what you’d want when trying to make a rational decision.
Through a slew of experiments, Kross tasked participants with recounting times that they experienced conflict or stress. From there, they were randomly split into two groups. One reflected on their feelings using “I” statements, the other used “you” or referred to themselves by name.
The results of the seven studies made it clear: Self-distancing, like talking in the third person, enhances self-regulation, helps moderate emotions, and makes anxiety-laden situations seem less difficult to handle.
In a 2016 study, children around the age of five participated in a self-regulation experiment. Since their self-talk was still primarily external, the focus wasn’t on first- or third-person reflection.
In this case, the children pretended that they were their favorite characters: Batman, Dora the Explorer, or Bob the Builder. As they went through a mind-numbing stop-and-go task, the researchers told the children to ask themselves questions like, “What would Batman do?” In the control group, they simply had to pay attention for as long as possible.
Again, third-person reminders improved task performance, but pretending to be a hero or iconic character provided even more support. While the study was done on young children, it seems that there’s something valuable to pretending we’re someone else.
For today’s exercise, we’re going to practice the same task as the participants in Dr. Kross’ study.
Take a few moments right now to think about a specific experience with another person or people that you worry about happening to you from time to time. This could be something as minor as worrying about a friend not calling you back or as serious as giving a speech in front of many people. As you do this, try to identify a specific experience that makes you feel especially anxious whenever you think about it. Take your time as you do this.
As you reflect on your made-up scenario, write down your stream of thoughts in the third person. What do you experience? What does it feel like to reflect on the situation as a fly on the wall rather than a participant?
Tomorrow, we’ll focus on improving the language that our inner voice uses.
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