How to Talk Yourself Down in One Second

The Sure-Fire One-Second Technique for Self-regulation and Self-management in Any Situation

When something good happens to us – or when we do something well – we feel great. “I did a great job”, we say to ourselves. We feel confident and competent and fully in our own power. The emotions and thoughts we produce form lasting connections in the brain that can be summoned again and again whenever we recall the experience.

When something bad happens or when we’re worried about things that might happen, we also produce wavelengths of thoughts that influence our feelings: “I handled that badly.” Or, “I’m upset that he/she did that.” (Even though it may have been weeks/months/years ago).

Thoughts like that sap our energy and create repetitive-thinking circles. They make us feel that we – that our lives – are off balance. And though we repeatedly try to tell ourselves that everything will be okay, most of us never really feel at ease.

But what if you had a sure-fire, one-second technique for regulating distressing thoughts and feelings?

What if you counteract them by decreasing the wave lengths in your brain that produce those emotions? What if you could do that by simply using ‘your first name’ instead of the word ‘I’ when you talk to yourself?

It sounds too good to be true, right?

But functional MRI’s don’t lie.

In 2017, two well-reputed U.S. research labs published the results of a collaborative two-part study , the aim of which was to determine whether there was a difference in brain-wave activity using first-person versus third-person Self-Talk Strategies.

Specifically, the researchers wanted to find out what happened in the participants’ brains when they used their own names rather the word ‘I’ to talk silently to themselves when confronted with distressing images or when recalling upsetting autobiographical events.

The premise behind their thinking was that language rapidly shapes people’s emotional experiences. If the participants could use the ‘third-person perspective’ when talking to themselves about an image or event, they might be able to provide themselves with the ability to distance themselves from emotion and think clearly… in much the same way people do when viewing a friend or colleague’s difficulties.

To use the researchers’ words: they wanted to see “… how a linguistic shift that promotes psychological distance from the self modulates emotional responses”.

When the participants used their own names instead of ‘I’ when addressing themselves, their brain-wave scans showed an immediate (within one second), and dramatic decrease in emotion.

Just as striking as the finding itself was the fact that the method proved to be an almost effortless form of self-control in that it did not recruit cognitive control processes. The participants didn’t have to try and form a habit of not thinking and feeling a certain way. They didn’t have to constantly monitor themselves. Third-person self-talk cut all that labour out.

If the third-person self-talk strategy is one you’d like to use for yourself – and we highly recommend you give it a try – then when something untoward happens to you, or if you’re currently caught by anxiety or anger, simply say to yourself:

(Insert your name) is worried/annoyed about this. Then ask: What can s/he do about it?

That’s it. Instantly, the linguistic shift will decrease the intensity of your feeling, leaving you to think clearly about what it is you want do about the situation.

It’s natural for most of us to feel anxious just before a public speaking engagement, or to experience anger when someone takes credit for your idea or work on a project, or to be embarrassed when we handle a situation poorly or get the details wrong when telling a story. What’s not good is letting those emotions and the thoughts they produce, grow unchecked to the extent that they become detrimental to our everyday ways of thinking and therefore of being.

But you, lucky person, no longer have to let that happen.

The first link details the study. The second link will provide a clear summation of the Kross & Moser’s work.

I.Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI
The neuroscience-based collaborative research on third person self-talk was conducted by the highly-acclaimed researcher, Ethan Kross in his Emotion and Self-Control Lab at University of Michigan (using event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and Jason Moser, Director of the Michigan State University Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, (using functional MRI’s).
The study was published in 2017 by the NCBI (National Centre for Biotechnology Information).

II. Talking To Yourself In The Third Person Can Help You Control Stressful Emotions

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