Why You Should See Yourself In Third Person

There’s one little trick that I’ve learned that can immediately increase our levels of mindfulness while also reducing thoughts and emotions. That is: Seeing yourself and talking to yourself in third person.

I am honestly quite astonished by how quickly and effectively this little change in perspective can alter my mindset. So, let’s investigate.  

 

What It Means To See Yourself In First Or Third Person Perspective

Just like a character in a video game, we can see ourselves in first person or in third person. First person means we see through our own eyes and (this bit will become important later) we cannot see ourselves in this view because we are on the inside looking out. Third person means we are viewing ourselves from a way back and (again importantly) we can “see ourselves”, almost as though we were looking down at ourselves from above. Of course, this third person view is not a true visual view of ourselves, rather it is a conceptualized view of ourselves based on sensory information.

As well as viewing ourselves in first or third person, we can also talk to ourselves from these perspectives, either referring to ourselves as “I am…” or by name “Paul is…”. Talking to ourselves in third person is called “Illeism”.

When we are in first person, we are identifying with the “self” and associating with our thoughts and feelings. When in third person, we are dissociating from ourselves and not identifying with our thoughts and feelings. These changes can have a significant impact.

Benefits of Thinking In Third Person

Viewing and talking to ourselves in third person distances us from our thoughts and feelings, and stops us from identifying with the “self”, thereby giving us a less personal and more objective viewpoint. 

Go ahead and view yourself in third person. Specifically, look at yourself from behind and above. And see what you notice.

 

Better Spatial Awareness 

The first thing that I notice when I view myself in third person is is that I become more aware of my physical form and more aware of my orientation in the space around me. It’s as though this one simple change immediately improves my spatial awareness. Incidentally, this is also why many video games are made in third person, because it makes it easier for the player to be aware of their character’s orientation in the game world; it’s exactly the same in real life.

Third Person Increases Wisdom

Thinking in third person (Illeism)  is said to make us wiser. Indeed, when Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo was studying the cognitive foundations of wisdom, he learned that people make wiser decisions when considering other people’s situations rather than their own. He then determined, and proved, that when we reframe our thoughts by putting them in the third person (and thereby viewing ourselves not as an “I” but as an “other”) we become wiser.

Less influenced by thoughts and feelings

When I’m living in first person, I’m very much identifying with my thoughts and feelings, and being influenced by them. As soon as I switch to Illeism and view myself in third person, I’m less influenced by my thoughts and feelings. For this reason, third person perspective also makes it easier to navigate through times of stress and anxiety.

 

Sometimes first person is ideal

In third person perspective we are seperated from our thoughts and feelings. This dissociation, however, can be either a good or a bad thing depending on the circumstance. If we are trying to make a decision based on logic, it is probably better to think in third person so we are less influenced by emotion. Then again, in some situations our feelings serve as important guides, especially when we need to follow our intuition. We also want to experience good times in first person perspective because that way we enjoy those good feelings more.

You’ll also want to use first person when you’re practicing positive thinking, for instance by saying “I am going to succeed” rather than “Paul is going to succeed”. Speaking to ourselves in first person has more of an emotional impact, thereby empowering our self talk.

Many people believe it is also better to use first person when visualizing ourselves. However, I personally recommend doing visualizations in both first and third person. First person perspective provides the emotional potency for the visualization and can therefore be more motivating, but third person perspective allows for more logical, left-brain processing of the event being visualized. So, long story short, do both.

Summary

We can see ourselves and talk to ourselves in either first or third person, and there are benefits of each. First person is a more lived-in experience where we will be more influenced by thoughts and feelings and also more in-tune with our intuition. Third person perspective detaches us from thoughts and feelings, leading to more objective thinking and also relief from intense emotions and problematic thoughts.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

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