The Third-Person Self-Distancing Technique

One purpose of formal meditation is to learn to see things as they are instead of as you think they should, would or could be. Meditation in this context means seeing the truth of things, and an effective way to express truth is to write, speak, think or observe in the third person – he or she instead of I. Observing yourself in the third person makes your perspective more objective and reality-based. It gives you some distance. It helps you to better control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helps you stay focused on facts and evidence instead of personal opinion.

This is why formal writing – academic, research and argumentative, use the third person. Removing the “I” or the personality from the expression gives it more credibility. Science and reality deal in fact not opinion. Life really doesn’t care about what you think; it cares about what you know.

Life really doesn’t work by subjective thinking alone; it works by objective knowing. The whole purpose of thinking is to get to knowing. It’s the stepping stone to knowing. And the practice of objectivity or detachment is the most effective way to get from thinking you know to knowing you know.

Let’s put the first sentence of this article in the third instead of second person – me talking to myself, and see the difference: “One purpose of formal meditation is to learn to see things as they are instead of as Billthinks they should, would or could be.”

Notice how this simple change in perspective gives some distance from the subject, and that this distance is what gives Bill more clarity about it. Continuing in the third person, Bill now sees things from the point of view of a fly-on-the-wall, or from a bird’s eye view instead of a worm’s eye view. Bill’s biased personality has effectively been removed from all that he experiences or witnesses.

In either case you’re talking to yourself, but now you’re talking to yourself matter-of-factly in steady of personally. Your higher, Subconscious Self is speaking to your lower personal self instead of personal self to personal self – which is a good definition of neurosis. Removing the personal removes the emotional – which is the main cause of erroneous perception and diminished self-control.

Many times a day, stop and notice whatever you’re thinking, feeling or doing in the third person. Let’s say your name is Kathy. Say to yourself, for instance:

“Kathy regrets taking on the extra work load. She should have thought it through more carefully before accepting.”

“Kathy’s going to miss that plane if she doesn’t get packing real soon.”

“As long as Kathy doesn’t see any sand or water traps, her ball can’t land in one.”

“Kathy needs to stops smoking.”

“Kathy’s not feeling very confident she’ll pass that exam. She knows she’ll have to change to a more positive attitude.”

“Kathy, please stop worrying so much about what others think. Have a little more confidence in yourself.”

“Kathy, you needn’t be fearful of speaking to an audience of three hundred. Just stay focused and imagine that none of them have any clothes on.”

“Kathy is thinking of inviting Sue over for dinner tonight. Sue knows how to listen to Kathy’s complaints without judging or chiding her. Kathy values that about Sue.”

“Kathy is a tad jealous – and angry, that Martha got that promotion instead of her.”

“Kathy needs to put down that box of chocolate chip cookies real soon!”

“Kathy is having second thoughts about Tom’s marriage proposal. His having had a sex-change operation was a big red flag.”

Practicing this self-distancing technique will quickly increase your clarity, self-control and performance levels because now you’re more centered instead of self-centered.