Invent a Personal Assistant

Responding to requests in the third person — as if you are your own personal assistant — makes it easier to say NO.

June 1st saw me clapping my hands with glee at the prospect of a month of “no.” I imagined myself turning down anything I didn’t feel like doing. No, no, NO!

But in practice, oy vey! Old habits, which have become ingrained over 16 years of motherhood are hard to break. I swear, since becoming a mom, I’ve started assuming it’s up to me to undertake any request — or worse, to offer to take on things that the person involved didn’t even request but that I think would be helpful to them.

My friend and media coach, Mary O’Donohue, recently shared that she was able to reach out to a literary agent on Twitter to request an interview for her students with no fear at all. If she had been asking for herself, she said, it would have been much more difficult to find the courage to do that on her own behalf. That got me thinking that I could create an imaginary personal assistant who would handle incoming requests. Being the gatekeeper for someone else is much easier than being the gatekeeper for yourself!

Thank God for Aurora, the alter ego I created last month. She would surely have no problem saying no to anything that even slightly rubs her the wrong way. And she certainly wouldn’t be volunteering to be her family’s full-time servant or to take on a task that no one had even requested of her.

Because I spent the month of May cultivating an alter ego, the experience of creating a distance between myself and the self I strive to be is fresh in my mind. As I struggled to say no at all, much less with glee, the thought occurred that I could refer to myself in the third person. Granted, referring to yourself in the third person can feel grandiose, making it hard to keep a straight face. But, given that a lot of my communications come via text, I found that I could hide behind an imaginary personal assistant who was acting as gatekeeper of my schedule and to-do list.

In 2017, the Today Show did a story about the power of talking to yourself in the third person as a tool for quelling anxiety. Mark Reinecke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine told the Today Show, “When we put something in first person there’s a heavier [emotional] load that makes it more difficult to reason about a problem clearly,” Reinecke said. “If you put the problem into the third person, it allows you to keep perspective on it and have a calmer response.”

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