3-2-1 Technique

3-2-1 Technique

This exercise is excellent for achieving clarity and uncovering emotional issues, which is the first step in fixing them. Your mind projects emotions and qualities you don’t like in yourself onto others. By projecting them to others, you don’t have to face them in yourself. It acts as a defense mechanism for coping with difficult emotions.

Wikipedia explains projection like this:

Psychological projection or projection bias (including Freudian Projection) is the unconscious act of denial of a person’s own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, a tool, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.

Projection is considered one of the most profound and subtle of human psychological processes, and extremely difficult to work with, because by its nature it is hidden. It is the fundamental mechanism by which we keep ourselves uninformed about ourselves.

According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one “projects” one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree.

Projection, like all defense mechanisms, provides a function whereby a person can protect their conscious mind from a feeling that is otherwise repulsive.

As Wikipedia mentions, projection is difficult to identify in yourself. Because the perception is that it’s not you that has the problem, it’s the other person.

This 3-2-1 exercise is the best way I’ve found to rapidly identify projections and acknowledge them in ourselves. However, by its very nature, going through this exercise will be a bit uncomfortable. When you do this honestly, you force yourself to face the mirror and acknowledge the qualities in yourself you would rather not have—and would rather not admit that you have.

This exercise is not the best way to deal with the issues. Sometimes becoming aware of the projection solves the problem, but don’t count on this happening. Use this exercise to bring your repressions to the surface and then deal with them actively by using other methods described in this section.

Please do this exercise in writing. As you go through this exercise, it’s important not to overthink your answers. Just write whatever comes into your head and let it flow naturally.

The process

Here’s how it goes:

Step 1 – The third person

Describe a person, thing, or a situation that disturbs you. Write using third-person terminologies, such as he, she or it.

This is your license to rant, whine and complain. Just get it off your chest and on paper. Write down everything you can think of that disturbs you about that person, event or situation.

It’s probably easiest to do this using a real person the first time, just so you get comfortable with the exercise—but this works equally well with abstract situations and events. You can even do this with acne, and as an example, I’ll show you what I wrote down when I used this technique on acne.

Step 2 – The second person

In this step, write as though you are having a dialogue with the person, thing, or a situation. Talk to them about what bothers you, and listen to their responses.

In your imagination, bring the person, event, or situation into the room with you and have a conversation with them. As you do this, please damn the reality. Don’t worry about what they would actually say to you. This isn’t about them; this is about you. In your mind, play the roles of both parties and write down how you envision the conversation would go. Don’t think about it, just let it flow and write it all down.

Step 3 – The first person

Finally, inhabit the perspective of the person, thing, or situation that disturbs you. Write using first-person terminology and refer to yourself in the third person.

In other words, imagine that you are them, and write down what they would say about you after your conversation. Again, don’t worry about what they would actually say in the real world. Just write down what your mind brings up.

A word of warning: this step can be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, please be ruthlessly honest with yourself when you do this. You can’t get over the problem until you know what the problem is, and you can’t know what it is until you face it through self-honesty. So just do it; you’ll feel okay later on.

Finally, as you do this, don’t think to censor yourself. Just write down everything that comes into your mind. You have time to think about it later. For now, just get it all out of your head as quickly and honestly as possible.

This step can be very revealing.

Conclusion – The final step

Finally, look at what you wrote down for all the steps and think about what it means. What’s the real issue here? What is it about you that made you feel that way?


As an example, here’s what I wrote as I used this on acne several years ago. Note that at that time I had a very simplistic view of what acne is and what causes it; the kind you can get while reading natural health websites. I knew less about genetics and the causes of acne we discussed earlier. I believed that acne comes almost entirely down to diet and lifestyle problems.

Step 1 – The third person

My acne bothers me. It comes and goes as it wishes and that really frustrates me. Also, I hate it when other people here point at my skin (acne) and ask what happened. Or when they give advice on how I should get over it—like I hadn’t tried it all already! I just wish my acne would go away and never come back. It makes me feel like such a loser and ashamed of myself.

Step 2 – The second person

  • Acne, you really bother me. Please go away and never come back. I don’t need you and I don’t want you.
  • Well, Seppo, please understand that I’m only the reflection of how you treat yourself. I have no life or power aside from what you give to me through your own actions. If you would stick to your diet, lifestyle, and meditation I couldn’t exist. You’ve seen it yourself. The times you’ve been really good I’ve been going away. Especially now that you’ve nailed a lot of the emotional issues, if you would get back to on track with your health, I wouldn’t stand a chance.
  • So are you saying it’s my fault?
  • I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault. Actions have consequences, and I just happen to be one of the consequences of your actions. That’s just the way it is. There’s no blame or fault involved.
  • Okay, I guess that’s the way it is.

Step 3 – The first person

I don’t understand why Seppo complains about me. It’s his inability to do what he knows is right that keeps me alive. Not only that, but I serve him by highlighting issues he needs to work on. Without me, he wouldn’t even be aware of many of the issues he has already resolved, both emotionally and physically. Not only that, but I also give him his business. I think he should be a bit more grateful to me.

Conclusion – The final step

Interestingly, I seem to be angry at myself: for not doing what I know is right and good for me, for not eating healthy, for going out and drinking too often, for not being so focused on my work.


Some people find it difficult to switch between the three perspectives. One way to make it easier is to physically move to a different spot when you change perspectives. You can arrange three chairs into a circle and move to another chair as you change perspectives.

About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.