Researchers found that talking to yourself can lower stress and improve performance – if you do it right.

Subjects were put in an intentionally stressful situation: Present a five-minute speech about why you deserve your dream job. Even worse: They had to deliver it in front of a panel of experts. And a video camera. If that wasn’t enough, they only had five minutes to prepare and couldn’t use notes.

Participants were divided into two groups. One group was instructed to use first-person language while mentally preparing, such as, “I’m nervous but I’ll perform well.” A second group was told to use second- and third-person language, such as, “You’re nervous but you’ll perform well.”

During the presentations, learners in the second group performed significantly better and were less nervous.

The researchers concluded that second- and third-person language allowed participants to step outside of themselves and put psychological distance between them and the stressful task.

Trainer takeaway: When discussing a a stressful or emotional scenario, don’t make learners the protagonist. Frame the scenario around someone else. For example, don’t ask, “What would you do in this situation?” Ask, “What should Mark have done in this situation?”

Source: Kross, E., et al. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304-324.

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