I was clicking through Netflix the other day looking for a movie, and wound up watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, You Don’t Know Bo.

Back in the day, Bo Jackson was an exceptional two sport professional athlete in the MLB and NFL. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was a cultural icon because of Nike's landmark ad campaign, "Bo knows."

But what struck me in watching the film was Bo’s habit of referring to himself in the third person. The scientific name is illeism.

It’s not new and it’s not restricted to other athletes like Shaq and Lebron James. There’s a diverse group of past, present, and fictitious people who have used the third person to reference themselves:

  • The Rock
  • Julius Caesar
  • Salvador Dali
  • Charles de Gaulle
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Jimmy in a classic episode of "Seinfeld."

Some social commentators say these people who refer to themselves in the third person suffer from the scientific condition known as "extreme immaturity." Other commentators say it’s part of a narcissistic personality:
I, however, take a more sympathetic and practical view of this behavior. It can help us get it right or make it happen.

If you’ve participated in athletics on any level or done any type of performance art, you’ve probably been told to visualize yourself doing it in order to get it right. You can do so from the perspective of a first person, or externally as a third person might observe you.

Recent research has demonstrated that the latter third person perspective is more effective in raising the likelihood that we’ll get it right. The researchers say we tend to interpret other people's actions as saying something about them, while we interpret our own actions as saying more about the situation we're in.

Thus, when we picture ourselves acting in the third person, we’re visualizing ourselves as an observer would: someone who is engaging in desired behavior, and thus increasing the likelihood of success.

Please excuse Jerry now. He has to meet with a prospect who will become a new client.

Kalish is an EBA Advisory Board member and President of National Benefit Services, Inc., a Chicago-based third party administrator. He is a Guest Lecturer at John Marshall School of Law LLM Program in Employee Benefits and serves on the Great Lakes IRS Advisory Council for Tax Exempt and Government Entity Plans. Jerry has been publishing The Retirement Plan Blog since 2006. He can be reached via email at jerry@nationalbenefit.com and followed on Twitter.


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