Referring to yourself in the third person may seem like something a cartoon villain or selfish boss might do, but using your own name in talking about what to eat or not eat, combined with a concrete health goal (like doing 20 minutes of walking per day), might help you make better choices, according to research newly published in the journal of Clinical Psychological Science by Celina R. Furman, Ethan Kross and Ashley N. Gearhardt.
If your name is Bob and you tell yourself “Hey Bob, eat that apple. You’ll see it’ll taste sweet but healthier than a cookie,” you might sound silly to yourself, but you will make much better choices, according to the research.
More than 70% of American adults are overweight or obese (National Center for Health Statistics, 2017) and this is another healthy method to keep healthy. It’s called distanced self-talk and just means saying your name in the third person rather than thinking personally, “I shouldn’t eat that cookie.” The reflection and making it not so personal takes you out of the decision. After all, don’t we give friends better advice than we give ourselves?
Researchers said, “self-talk may constitute a self-control strategy that encourages healthier eating and highlight the need for future research to examine its translational potential.”
What’s the difference between first and third person and why does it make a difference in losing weight or not eating a brownie?
Personal self-talk versus distanced self-talk
Talking to yourself and hyping yourself up is a strategy used by sports teams and CEOs. But taking yourself, “me” or “I” out of decisions helps you process more logically. You also spend less time taxing your mind with another decision of what you personally must do.
Distanced self-talk reduces emotional processing in the brain. Instead of saying “I deserve this treat or I’ll do better tomorrow,” using your name takes the emotion out of the process.
Positive self-talk measured against distanced self-talk is shown in the study, which tracked over 200 young people, defined as dieters and non-dieters. The participants were shown food, one healthy food, and one delicious-looking bad food, and told to make a choice which they would prefer.
“To motivate participants to provide accurate responses, they were told they would receive one of the items they chose at the end of the study and thus to choose the items they would actually like to have,” said the researchers.
When using positive self-talk and shown a video of healthy or unhealthy foods, some made a healthy choice. But when using distanced self-talk, a greater number of participants chose healthier food.
Distancing oneself worked.
How to apply it
Here’s how to apply distanced self-talk in your own life as an experiment. Say your name each time you are presented with unhealthy food. Then follow it up with a positive alternative. Say which would be better and why. Always pair it with a goal, so it’s not an aimless decision.
So make a concrete goal to work out daily or to lose that extra 10 lbs by September alongside your decision to have “Jamie” or “John” or “Miranda” eat a veggie burger over bacon.