Think of Yourself In The Third Person.

I remember reading somewhere that writer Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself: “I’m sorry, Anne Lamott can’t accept that invitation to speak; she’s finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear.”

I find that often, the same trick helps me to be realistic about myself. “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s really hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner.” “Gretchen needs some quiet time each day.” “Gretchen really feels the cold, so she can’t be outside for too long.”

Yes, I admit, this approach makes me sound a bit affected and self-important, but the thing is, it really works.

For instance, for the last few weeks, I felt…depleted. Physically, I felt energetic enough, but mentally, I was like a cell phone that couldn’t take a charge. I couldn’t figure out what to do, but finally I thought of myself in the third person.

As the long holiday weekend approached, I asked myself, “What’s the best medicine for Gretchen when she feels drained?” And, when I framed the question about my nature that way, from outside myself, I immediately knew the answer. “Gretchen gets mentally refreshed by doing a lot of reading.”

That’s what I needed. No writing; hours and hours of reading. A novel I’d never read before, a novel
that was long enough to last, a novel that was absorbing without being so demanding that it would just exhaust me more. Fortunately, I had exactly the right book, right on my bedside table. I spent a good part of the holiday weekend reading Neal Stephenson’s Reamde. And by the time I finished the book, I felt restored.

Self-knowledge! It seems as though it should be so easy to know yourself, but it’s very, very challenging. For me, it’s often easier to gain self-insight by using indirect routes—such as asking myself questions like What do I lie about? or Who are my patron saints?—rather than by trying to look at myself directly.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* Lots of great material on Positively Positive—”your attitude + your choices = your life.”

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  • Kay

    Brilliant! Today, my birthday, I decided to be a little different and think of ME rather than all the “it”s –the paperwork needs taking care of, the filing needs done, the house needs cleaning, etc. I need a clear dining table for lunch, I am the maestro of the filing cabinet, I love lying down in a clean bedroom, etc. So your take is so fun, too–turning the kaleidoscope—and Reamde = perfection for a day’s reading!!

  • Guts

    I did this one day and it worked; I’m happy to see Gretchen write about this technique. My experience was that I was in the present and not too focused on the future and the past. I was able to move on and not let nonsense bother me. The problem is, for me, is that it requires a lot of energy for some reason. I find it hard to get back into that method of thought. I think when I run into issues that sparks real anxiety, I find it hard to get back on that horse. I’ll try and practice more and see how I can fix this issue.

  • Ernst Schnell

    I see how distancing yourself from yourself can help opening a fresh perspective. But PLEASE remember there is a difference between thinking and talking. I recall a professional soccer player who used to TALK like that, and became laughing stock nationwide. Talking about yourself in the last person gets you right up there to the top of ridiculous.