Ever heard anyone talk about themselves in the third person…? Think, Dobby the house elf in Harry Potter or, if you’re old enough to remember, Mr T.
It’s called “Illeism.” It may sound oddly childish or pompous, but it can also be an effective coaching tool. Trying to make a difficult decision? Speaking about ourselves in the third person can help neutralize the emotions that block our problem solving. This kind of distanced self-reflection can also be a valuable part of your journaling or written brainstorming process.
Recently I was feeling a lot of overwhelm and indecision about the upcoming year. As long as I was thinking “I” and “me,” my thoughts continued in circles. Then I remembered this simple tool which research has shown to work.
- “What would Michele need to know?”
- “What is Michele worried about?
- “What’s the best way for Michele to stay focused?”
The compassionate creative ideas began to flow.
Just as we often seem to know what OTHERS should or could do, shifting from the first to third person can help us unlock similar insights for ourselves.
Why we think it works:
1. Perspective Shift: Using illeism can help us step back from a situation and view it more objectively. Referring to oneself in the third person, creates psychological distance, and allows for a less emotionally charged approach to the problem.
2. Reduced Emotional Reactivity: When people refer to themselves in the third person, they are less likely to react emotionally to stressful situations. This detachment can lead to clearer thinking and better decision-making, especially in high-pressure scenarios.
3. Enhanced Self-Reflection: Illeism can facilitate a more reflective and contemplative approach to problem-solving. It encourages individuals to consider their actions and decisions as if they were an observer, leading to more thoughtful and deliberate choices.
4. Improved Conflict Resolution: In conflicts, using third-person self-reference can reduce defensiveness and increase empathy. It allows individuals to see the situation from another’s perspective, fostering understanding and collaborative problem-solving.
5. Creativity Boost: By stepping out of one’s usual self-perception, illeism can stimulate creative thinking. It encourages looking at problems from a fresh perspective, which can lead to innovative solutions.
6. Stress Management: Illeism can help in manage stress and anxiety, which are common barriers to effective problem-solving. Depersonalizing the situation, can make challenges seem more manageable and less overwhelming.