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May I talk to you?

Published: Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:16 a.m. CDT

Are you spending time trying to engage your feckless co-workers and clueless bosses in conversation? If you want to get ahead in what we laughingly refer to as “your career,” the person you really want to talk to is y-o-u.

That’s right! According to a recent Elizabeth Bernstein article in The Wall Street Journal, one of the best ways you can accomplish your goals is for you to talk to you about you. It’s called “self-talk,” and psychologists believe it can “make a big difference in both our mood and our behavior.”

It can also keep everyone at work far away from you, unless you happen to work in one of those places that values crazy, creepy people who constantly talk to themselves. And since they hired you, this just may be the case.

Now, not all people who talk to themselves are crazy or creepy. Well, they’re not crazy, anyway. According to columnist Bernstein, “most people engage in self-talk.” The reporter reports that some people “talk to themselves in the basement, in their cubicle at work and at the urinal in the men’s room. One woman turns the car radio down so she can hear herself better.”

Either that, or she’s listening to Miley Cyrus.

“Self-talk is what happens when you make yourself the target of your own comments, advice or reminders,” Bernstein writes. She also suggests that experts consider self-talk “a subset of thinking.” Given these definitions, you can understand why self-talk should appeal to you. Since no one else listens to your advice, how wonderful to find someone who always thinks you are totally brilliant and insightful, even if that someone is you. And since, even without the self-talk, most people already consider what goes on inside your brain a “subset of thinking,” a subset of a subset should be right up your alley.

And what do you talk about when you talk about you?

Ask Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, associate professor at the University of Thessaly in Trikala, Greece, and you will learn that most self-talk is divided into two categories: motivational and instructional.

You use motivational self-talk to “psych yourself up.” This category includes remarks like: “You can do this, maybe!” “You’ll get away with this, probably!” and your personal favorite, “Go ahead and do it! No one is looking.”

Instructional self-talk is “helpful when learning or practicing a new sport or task,” says Professor H.

For example, “before giving a speech, someone might tell herself, ‘Speak slower’ and ‘Make eye contact.’” Or, in your case, “start running for the door; they’ll never catch you if you leave right now.”

Interestingly, the way you address yourself can make a difference in the effectiveness of your self-talk. Scientific experiments have shown that if you call yourself “I” in your self-talks, as in “I can eat every donut in the coffee room,” you will not succeed in your donut-eating activity as well as if you use “you,” as in “you can eat every donut in the coffee room.”

Another associate professor, Ethan Kross, at the University of Michigan, explains that “when people think of themselves as another person, it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback.” (Kross is the director of the Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory. You might want to tell yourself to contact him immediately. He’d probably like to study an example of what can happen to a person who has absolutely no self-control.)

I’m not an associate professor of anything, but when it comes to what to call yourself when you talk to yourself, I think there is a better piece of language than either “I” or “you.” Why not use the same language that so effectively motivates and instructs you at work. That’s right: “Hey, dunderhead, the boss is giving you the fish eye. Why don’t you get some work done, idiot, before they fire your lazy butt?”

Finally, it is important to be aware of whether you are using positive or negative self-talk. Sure, you can be positive and tell yourself, “You can do it!” But perhaps that’s not the best way to approach your first parachute jump, when you’ve left the parachute at home. Conversely, the negative approach — “You screwed up. You have to take responsibility” — may not have a positive outcome if it makes you pass up the opportunity to shift responsibility to the doofus in the next cubicle.

“I tried to warn him, Boss,” you might say to your supervisor, “but he was too busy talking to himself.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, Calif. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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