Outside the mind’s box: How ‘self-distancing’ can increase confidence and empower you
When it comes to performing in front of thousands of people, even Queen B can get a serious case of the nerves. The assertive, commanding, and empowered Beyoncé that we know and love, is worlds apart from her private self. In separating her personal life from her onstage persona of ‘Sasha Fierce’, Beyoncé ensures that each time she performs, everything about her is different.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2008 Beyoncé said, “Usually when I hear the chords, when I put on my stilettos, like the moment right before when you’re nervous… then Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different.”
Adele too, inspired by Beyoncé, took on the moniker of ‘Sasha Carter’, after a renowned country artist, June Carter.
This, however, is more than just an act, it is a practice of ‘self-distancing’ that allows one to view their surroundings and situation with a lot more perspective, leaving no room to be clouded by the unpredictability of emotions, which often leads to feelings of stress and anxiousness.
As human beings, our sense of self, or ‘ego’ governs a large part of our behaviour, like our interactions with other people, our sense of self-worth and the image we have of ourselves in our minds. And often this image is very fragile, susceptible to all kinds of doubt and insecurity. Recent studies show that creating an alter ego or thinking of one’s self in the third person can go a long way in boosting morale and instilling confidence.
Dr Ritika S. Aggarwal, a psychologist at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital mentions that, “Talking to oneself in the third person when stressed or anxious could help an individual distance themselves psychologically from the stressful situation. It allows one to view the self and the situation as an outsider who is not as emotionally invested in the situation and may therefore help one think rationally and clearly, as well as cope better.”
Jedi teachings from the Star Wars Universe also focus primarily on the fact that it is fear, attachment, and emotion that is the path to the dark side. Jedi are encouraged to let go of all connections, except the one they have with ‘The Force’. In any given situation when they are emotionally invested in the people that they are protecting; it leaves room for distraction and for being overwhelmed with the fear of loss. It is the step away from everything and everyone that enables the proper functioning of the Jedi.
In a first person shooter game, we get a clear view of every one who attacks us from the front, but as we cannot see behind our backs, we are left vulnerable from that angle, whereas in a third person shooter game, the player gets the advantage of a much larger field of view, allowing for better dodging and well-timed attacks. The same can be applied to the real-world perspective that we have when we are in our own minds.
Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, and also the lead researcher on this topic of ‘self-distancing’ mentioned in an interview with BBC that, “even small shifts in perspective can help people to gain control of their emotions.” The key idea behind this practice is to shift the perspective from “I feel” to “Kate feels”, when thinking and describing one’s own emotions.
Dynamic Perspective = Dynamic Reach
With this added perspective there comes a focus on the bigger picture. Once you are no longer confined by immediate personal wants and desires, the focus can be shifted towards attaining things which will have greater benefits for one, in the long run. There has also been research on this topic that questions whether this practice can lead to improving aspects of self-control and making sure that we focus on our goals with a single point agenda. Instant gratification, then becomes irrelevant, as it is no longer governed by emotions.
“In addition, neuropsychological studies have found evidence that there is no increased cognitive effort for this task and the regions of the brain that control self-referential emotions (i.e. the medial prefrontal cortex) showed decreased activity when talking in the third person, thus inferring that this seems to be a relatively easy method of emotional regulation,” Dr Ritika S. Aggarwal added.
Taking on the persona of a fictional hero or creating an alter ego is an extreme form of the same practice of ‘self-distancing’. These alter ego and personas are created keeping in mind that these are more competent and skilful that we are. This creates a sense of responsibility while we are using that name. There is meaning attached to these monikers. “Pretending to be someone who’s more competent, and getting that distance from the situation, could help them to overcome the frustration they’re feeling when they’re learning something new.”
Through this practice of ‘self-distancing’, we can easily boost our self-control, emotional regulation, and general thought process. Asking yourself the simple question, ‘What would Batman do?’ can completely change the outcome of what one is doing. Because the reality is that Bruce Wayne would not have been capable of ridding Gotham of all its villains. But for Batman, it was a responsibility that he fulfilled easily.