It has actually been found that speaking to yourself in the second or third person rather than the first person can change your emotional focus. Why is that important? When you find yourself starting to feel angry, this self-distracting technique can and actually will help you better regulate your emotions. This is a very powerful tool. The thing is to remember to do it. This is how.
Here are three steps to help you.
1. Take a third-party perspective
How would a third party look at the situation? You know where you are coming from. You have an idea where the other party is coming from. Now, pause and think how would a third party look at this.
For example, you are driving on the expressway with a high volume of traffic and someone comes along your left side passing at a high rate of speed and cuts right in front of you. You actually have to tap your breaks to avoid being hit. What is your natural reaction? “Whoa! What the heck? That was close.” You may even yell out some expletive deletives. You may feel really angry. That is one way to approach the situation.
Now let’s look at it again from a different perspective. Use your name and describe the situation. For example, if your name is Mike you could say something like. “Whoa! That was close, Mike. That guy has problems. Who knows where he is going or why, but thank goodness he is past me.” The focus to using a second person may help you calm yourself. Consider asking yourself questions.
2. Shifting to asking yourself questions
Ask yourself questions and shift the reference by asking yourself questions like “Why do I feel this way?” and then to “Why does Mike feel this way?” That simple shift can mean a lot to the way you look at and perceive the issue.
It is not easy to shift into this third-party perspective. Neuroscientists do not know why making this shift can have a profound impact, but the fact is that it can. This is very important.
In the heat of the moment it takes real effort to shift focus. Our natural tendency is to want to fight back and defend ourselves. However, if you are conscious of this and you are able to make the effort, this can help you remain calm and to look at the problem without negative emotions.
The other party may actually be trying to move you in a negative direction hoping to do several things. For example, in a meeting the other party may hope you will make a mistake, become angry and say something that can be used against you, or just to be antagonistic. Perhaps the other party is simply frustrated. Who knows?
What you do know is that if you can keep your cool while the other party is losing theirs and blaming it on you, you are likely to succeed. You will be perceived as a cool character under pressure.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Like anything else this takes practice. Consider this to be a starting point. Write yourself a little note and place it in your pocket. When you find yourself starting to become angry with someone else, reach into your pocket and touch the piece of paper. On the piece of paper have written “Why do I feel this way? Why does (your name) feel this way?”
This simple technique can go a long way towards de-escalating and allowing you to be more constructive going forward. Think of yourself being known for being cool under pressure. Be perceived as the person that does not over react to others negative comments. It certainly can’t hurt and it is very likely to help you, your reputation and your perspective when faced with adversity.
Distancing yourself from the problem will help you to explore alternatives other than your starting position. With a coin there are three sides. They are heads, tails and the side of the coin. In an argument there is my side, your side and the truth. What you need to focus on is the truth. To do that either you or the other party has to take the first step. One of you has to make the first step to move off of your position and move towards the truth. Wouldn’t you like to be that person? Take the high road. Be proactive. Ask your self “Why do I feel this way? Why does (your name) feel this way?” What have you got to lose?
Would you like to learn more? To gain further insights check out this article and other insights offered by the Greater Good web site from the University of California at Berkeley.