When we talk out loud, we typically use the pronouns “I”, “me” and “mine” when referring to ourselves. Most people also use the same pronouns with thinking to themselves. To be sure, people would think you were crazy if you started referring to yourself by your name or the pronouns “he” or “she.” However, maybe there is an advantage to using these pronouns when thinking to yourself?
One study told participants that they were going to meet someone new and that their goal was to make as good of a first impression as possible. Before the meeting, participants were either told to think with first person pronouns or non first person pronouns like their name, “you,” “he” or “she.” The researchers found that the non first person group had a sharper decline in anxiety from before to after the interaction. These participants were also judged as being less stressful during the interaction and performed significantly better. See below:
The researchers also had a different group of participants give a speech in front of an audience. Once again, participants were either told to think using first or non first person pronouns before the speech. The researchers found that participants who used non first person pronouns (their name, “you,” “he” or “she”) experienced less negative affect and shame and performed better on the actual speech. They also ruminated about the speech less afterwards. See below:
Why Does This Happen?
What explains the substantial positive benefits accrued from simply changing a few pronouns? A number of studies have found that visually taking a third person perspective when thinking about a negative event significantly reduces anxiety. In fact, one review found that visual self distancing is one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety. Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers from the original study found that verbal self distancing (using your name, “you,” “he,” and “she”) when thinking leads to visual self distancing. See below:
So, start using non first person pronouns, especially when thinking about emotionally charged events. You’ll experience less anxiety and perform at a higher level. Who knows, this might even be what Buddhists mean by getting rid of the self?
Ayduk, Özlem, and Ethan Kross. “Analyzing Negative Experiences Without Ruminating: The Role of Self‐Distancing in Enabling Adaptive Self‐Reflection.”Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4.10 (2010): 841-854.
Kross, Ethan, et al. “Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: how you do it matters.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 106.2 (2014): 304.