🗣 Happy Habit #10: Speak to Yourself Like a Friend
• 4 min read
• 4 min read
During times of crisis, one of the most effective coping mechanisms is to create what is called 'self-distance'. One of the many ways to create self-distance is to speak to yourself like you would a friend: using third-person pronouns and kind, supportive language.
Self-distancing has been proven to reduce the duration and intensity of negative emotions after challenging experiences .
People who practice spontaneous self-distancing are more likely to solve the problems they're facing and less likely to reciprocate with hurtful behaviors during conflicts .
When children are taught how to create self-distance when recalling an anger-related experience, they focus less on the negative aspects of the memory, are less likely to blame the other person and spend more time reconstruing the event in a constructive way .
One of the key causes of unhappiness is that the human mind tends to ruminate on negative thoughts and emotions after being provoked or hurt by someone else. Many self-help methods encourage people to look deeply at their emotions, but sometimes this approach isn't effective—in particular, when the emotions are especially intense and when the person is feeling overwhelmed.
It's at this time that we need help the most, but unfortunately it's at these times when our inner voice often becomes our greatest adversary. If we start looking at the emotion it can backfire and turn to deeper criticism, self-doubt, fear, guilt and even shame.
Ethan Kross describes this transition as "chatter" and has written an entire book on it which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to deal with negative thoughts and emotions more effectively.
Our inner voice is the subvocal dialogue we have with ourselves and is the narrator of our rumination.
But there is one crucial thing to learn from the research and meditative traditions:
You are not your inner voice. You are not your thoughts...
You are the observer of your thoughts and emotions.
Therefore one of the most effective ways to navigate through intense negative emotions is to create distance between ourselves (as the observer) and our thoughts.
Ethan Kross has studied a variety of 'self-distancing' techniques which create space between the observer and their thoughts. These techniques have been proven to reduce both the intensity and the duration of negative emotions.
After the intensity of the negative emotions has subsided, it's then a much more appropriate time for introspection and examination. It's also much easier to recognize our deepest values and act according to the person we want to be.
One of the most effective techniques is to start speaking to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. Use your own name.
See what happens.
It's simple, yet incredibly powerful.
This allows us to access the wisdom of an 'outside perspective' while being less critical and more comforting with ourselves. All we have to do is recognize that our self-talk has started ruminating on negative thoughts and emotions and to prompt ourselves: How would I speak to myself if I were talking to a friend?
It's important to recognize that this behavior is purely internal. It happens within your mind with no visible external sign (other than your breath and heart rate).
The prompt also comes from within as well.
As we know from the Fogg Behavior Model, a behavior only happens when three things come together: Motivation, ability and a prompt.
In this case the prompt is becoming aware that your mind has turned to chatter. Your motivation is your desire to be well. Your ability is your willpower:
Are you willing to shift your inner voice to be kind to yourself?
Are you willing to give yourself some space from these thoughts and emotions?
Practicing meditation and breath work is the best way to cultivate self-awareness so that you can become aware of your thoughts more quickly and become disentangled from them. Realizing that you are the observer (and not your thoughts) is the first and most important step.
If you want to be well: Practice meditation. It's as simple as that and there's overwhelming research to support it.
If you have a positive experience experimenting with one of these habits, I'd be so grateful to hear from you.
If you're new to the newsletter, please feel free to check out the previous issues. As always:
Be kind to yourself and only do what you want to do!
No guilt and no shame when playing the happiness game.
Have a great week!
Subscribe to the newsletter and unlock access to member-only content.