Robert DeNiro's "You talking' to me?" scene in Taxi Driver may be the first thing that pops up when you think of someone talking to himself in the mirror. But self-pep talks are not necessarily indicative of unstable personalities--that is, if they're done properly.

Interestingly, according to the Harvard Business Review, getting psyched up may actually require using the right pronouns when addressing yourself. Talking to yourself in the second or third person can help you perform better under stress, a series of studies from University of Michigan and University of California finds.

"We found that cueing people to reflect on intense emotional experiences using their names and non-first-person pronouns such as 'you' or 'he' or 'she' consistently helped them control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors," writes Ozlem Ayduk, associate professor of psychology and director of the Relationships and Social Cognition Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

Before a big speech, presentation, or other stressful situation, third-person self-talk can induce a "self-distancing effect," which can help you reduce stress, perform better, and feel good about your performance afterward, according to the researchers.

In one study, Ayduk writes, participants who talked to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech "were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using 'I' or 'me.'"

After the speech, the study found that participants who used second- or third-person pronouns or their names felt better about how they did. If you don't think that's a big deal, try recalling that speech you're sure you bombed. You probably still shudder thinking about that moment.

"Those are big pluses--ruminating endlessly over past experiences can hurt not only your psychological well-being but also your physical health," Ayduk writes.

The studies found that there were no differences between participants who used second- or third-person pronouns or those who used their own names. "All that mattered was whether the participants did or didn't use first-person pronouns," she writes. "Not only does non-first-person self-talk help people perform better under stress and help them get control of their emotions, it also helps them reason more wisely."

Next time you have a big speech, or if you're feeling stressed about something, test out this small tweak in your mirror pep-talk exercise. Refer to yourself by your name or "you," and hopefully you will enjoy a more relaxed attitude and perform better.

Published on: Feb 9, 2015