From the self-affirmations of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live to countless videos on YouTube, saying nice things to your reflection in the mirror is a self-help trope that's been around for decades, and seems most often aimed at women. The practice, we're told, can help us like ourselves and our bodies more, and even make us more successful — allow us to chase our dreams!
Impressed, but skeptical, I took this self-talk idea to one of the country's leading researchers on body image to see if it's actually part of clinical practice.
David Sarwer is a psychologist and clinical director at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. He says that, in fact, a mirror is one of the first tools he uses with some new patients. He stands them in front of a mirror and coaches them to use gentler, more neutral language as they evaluate their bodies.
"Instead of saying, 'My abdomen is disgusting and grotesque,' " Sarwer explains, he'll prompt a patient to say, " 'My abdomen is round, my abdomen is big; it's bigger than I'd like it to be.' "
The goal, he says, is to remove "negative and pejorative terms" from the patient's self-talk. The underlying notion is that it's not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn't also change the way her body looks in her mind's eye.
Research published this year suggests that talking to yourself and using the word "I" could stress you out instead of bringing on waves of self-love and acceptance.
Psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan led the work, studying the pronouns people use when they talk to themselves silently, inside their minds.
"What we find," Kross says, "is that a subtle linguistic shift — shifting from 'I' to your own name — can have really powerful self-regulatory effects."
In other words, it changes the way you feel and behave. Kross had this idea when he was driving in the car and did something "not smart," he says — like running a red light.
"And I immediately said to myself, 'Ethan, you idiot!' " he recalls.
But because he's a psychologist, "Ethan, you idiot!" turned into, "Huh, that's interesting. Why did I talk to myself in the third person, using my own name?" He soon noticed other people doing the same thing.
When LeBron James, for example, talked about his decision to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat back in 2010, Koss noticed that James created distance from himself in his use of language.
Read the full article "Why Saying Is Believing - The Science Of Self-Talk" at NPR.