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A little thing to make the first day back to work a lot easier

Back-to-work blues? There’s a simple way to knock them on the head, says Lucy Dunn

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By Lucy Dunn on

Today, like 99.99 per cent of people the world over, I will be crawling to work and sitting at my desk to huff my way through an email mountain and scream silently into a cold quinoa salad. Or, rather, *I* won’t be sitting there – a husk of me will; “robot me”. The real me will be tucked up in bed, scoffing the last of the Christmas chocolates and watching the last scrapings of Netflix, in total utter denial that I have to go Back To Bloody Work. 

So, what are the ways to make today a little less miserable? There are all the usual things that psychologists suggest – deep breathing, meditation, taking long lunchtime walks, preferably in a forest – but it can be hard to find the time for, and actually remember to do, any big intention if it doesn’t fit into a busy working day. (Also: finding woodland in central London is tricky.)

Small intentions, however, are different and, after a chance encounter with some new research, I have decided that, to make today less depressing, I am going to spend it talking to myself:

Let me elaborate:

6am alarm goes off. Holy hell, what is that ungodly noise?
I would normally say: ”I hate my life.”
I am now going to say: “Lucy has to go to work now, but in eight short hours she can come home and climb straight back under these lovely warm covers.”

Train is an hour late – due to “lack of drivers” (or delete word “drivers” and insert “interest”).
I would normally say: “I hate commuting.”
I am now going to say: “Lucy might be a little late in, but that’s OK. She can enjoy this train ride by downloading a mind-expanding podcast.”

Computer crashes with weight of emails received over Christmas period.
I would normally say: “I hate my job.”
I am now going to say: “Lucy needs to take today slowly. She is not the only one with her head in her hands. If she looks around, she will see that everyone is in the same boat.”

This idea of giving yourself positive little pep talks throughout the day and taking away negative emotions to replace them with positive ones is not new – in fact, it’s long been a technique used in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), but it’s only recently been proven effective. Last year, a new study found scientific proof that it can fight stress and the blues.

The secret to its success is if you address yourself indirectly in the third person when you’re doing it. According to the research, this way of speaking “leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others”, which in turn “provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control”. The experiment concluded that emotion-related brain activity was significantly reduced when this technique was adopted.

The problem with first-person cheering is the use of words such as ‘I’ and ‘me’. Those words are tied to your ‘self’, whereas your name creates a little bit of psychological distance 

Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University and a co-author of this research, explains it best: “The problem with first-person cheering is the use of words such as ‘I’ and ‘me'. Those words are completely tied to your ‘self’, whereas your name creates a little bit of psychological distance because it refers to lots of people. There are Jasons in TV and movies. That little bit of psychological distance from myself to make it look as though I’m thinking about somebody else.”

If you think about it, it’s such a simple thing to do. Anything that calms you down, gives you perspective and helps you ride the ups, downs and more downs of the first week of January is worth a go. It may take practice, plus you might have to be prepared to look a little stupid if someone catches you doing it, but it works – every time you have a negative thought today, flip it around and mutter something positive, under your breath, to yourself in the third person. Start today, on your walk to work, then try it in the mirror in the loos and the first time you walk into the office. Then, greet your colleagues, turn on your computer and, for Pete’s sake, throw that cold quinoa salad in the bin. 2018, you got this.


This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here

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