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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

No, Really: Why It’s Time to Start Talking to Yourself at Work

Pop quiz: What should you do when you’re feeling unmotivated, stuck on a problem, or nervous about something at work?

a) Just keep powering through—who ever said work was easy?
b) Head over to your “Inspirational Quotes” Pinterest board for some motivation
c) Give up
d) Remind yourself, “I can do this!”

If you answered D, you’re close. A recent study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that this sort of self-talk is pretty effective for getting yourself into gear. But there’s something else: The use of the second-person pronoun (“You can do this!”) as opposed to the first-person (“I can do this!”) improved both motivation (intention to work more) and actual performance.

In the study, students were asked to complete anagrams while writing out self-advice. Half were told to use “I” pronouns in this advice, and half were told to use “you” pronouns. Those who used “you” pronouns not only performed better on the task, but had a better attitude about it, reporting that they would be happier to complete more of them.

Why does this seemingly crazy advice work? As reported by Fast Company’s Lisa Evans, “Dolcos speculates that second-person self-talk may be more beneficial because it triggers memories of receiving support and encouragement from parents and teachers in childhood.” In other words, by using “you” instead of “I,” you may be simulating your parents (or even your boss) giving you encouragement. (And, while, sure you could actually turn to your co-worker or manager for this kind of support, we’re pretty sure that’d get old quickly—especially if you find yourself needing motivation often.)

So, next time you’re prepping for a big presentation or negotiation, are struggling through a reach project, or are generally feeling like you can’t do it, remind yourself you can with a little pep talk (you can even write it down if you don’t want to garner strange looks from your office-mates). Just make sure you’re reminding “you” instead of “I.”

Photo of man pointing courtesy of Shutterstock.