How to think straight when bad things happen

When bad things happen we may have an emotional struggle

In difficult times our self talk can be harsh – like a radio turned up high – it drowns out everything else

When bad things happen they result in emotional struggle. You know what that is – the dialogue you have with your inner voice.

It often talks us out of doing something we want to do. But, in times of turmoil it can be hard to figure out exactly what to do – and even what is going on. However, psychological distance can both help gain acceptance and an objective, rational view of our feelings.

Rational thinking is hard to do in the midst of harsh self-talk we are often subject to when things are tough. It’s like a radio with the sound turned up high. It’s telling us off and berating us. What we want to do, if only we could, is to turn the sound down. The good news is that researchers* have found that we can gain psychological distance and treat self-talk as just, well, thoughts. The struggle then becomes less real and less painful – and has less power over us.

The research* showed that a small change in your self-talk – using your name rather than I, me or mine (personal pronouns) – does the trick. Here are some illustrations to show the difference:

Table Shows Friendly, Positive and Rational Advice – Use Your name

Scenario Self-talk using personal pronoun Self-talk using your name
Henry’s fear of using escalators “I’m afraid to get on an escalator” “Henry, just step onto the escalator”
Grace goes blank in exams “I just can’t do exams” “Grace, of course you can. Just walk into the room and do the exam you’ve revised for”
Sophia is anxious when she meets new people and gets tongue tied “I’m an idiot for avoiding new people” “Sophia, you can talk to new people, just go and do it”
a small change in your self-talk makes it akin to giving a friend advice

Use your own name in self-talk – makes it friendly and positive

Psychological distance makes self-talk akin to giving a friend advice. It helps us to be kind, objective and rational, to think straight, in fact.

The ‘think straight’ researcher* was inspired to undertake his research when he heard Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai tell her self-talk story ( Her self-talk dialogue goes like this:

Q: “If the Taliban comes, what would you do Malala?”

A: “Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.”

Malala is Malala Yousafzai, is the young Pakistani female education activist who was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school. She is also the youngest-ever person to be awarded the Nobel peace prize.

If you want to know more about this research* there is an excellent Psychology Today article here

*Kross, E (, (2014) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 106, No 22, 301-324

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Marjorie Raymond

Marjorie Raymond

T: 07779 345 499


We have experience in developing senior managers and their team members – both on an individual and team level – so they can develop practical approaches that encourage positive, constructive behaviour. This, in turn, leads to the development of positive beliefs and values. We are ready work with you, to help you get the best out of your people.

Here are some examples of approaches that can be used and tailored to your individual needs:

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Photos by:

  1. Courtesy of stockimages
  2. courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at
  3. courtesy of Malala Fund @MalalaFund