Do the words we choose simply reflect our experiences or define them?
Sayings like actions speak louder than words; show, don’t tell; or more working, less talking may possess elements of truth, but they also undermine the transformative effect of language.
Fully grasping the extent to which speech affects how we think and act holds potential for incredible growth.
The way we describe the world, our actions and ourselves influence our experiences. Simply put, our word choice, whether spoken or not, shapes our reality.
Our internal dialogue rarely stops, so controlling the words we choose to have bouncing around upstairs can turn that voice into a constructive coach rather than a negative Nancy.
Using the Power of Words to Change your World
Language’s strong link with the primal unconscious mind gives it tremendous power over us, viscerally.
The terms problem, dangerous or hopeless trigger a mild fear response. Moreover, negative words cause us to automatically frown or tighten up, furthering their adverse effects. Even when they are spoken from a neutral or happy place, the undertones of negativity reverberate through mind and body.
Your brain is already an expert stress creator, scanning for potential threats in order to keep you alive, a throwback to mankind’s once harrowing existence in the wilderness. The good news is that the brain is highly elastic and can be taught to preserve serenity.
Changing how we describe a situation can change how we experience it.
Priming through language is one such method. Negative, fatalistic language creates the optimal breeding ground for those types of attitudes, which inform future decisions. Breaking the pattern of unfavorable thought, speech and action can start with the words we use to communicate with ourselves and others.
TRY IT! Take something that’s worrying you — you probably feel it right now in the pit of your stomach. Pinpoint that thought. Write it down. Then rewrite it with more positive language, even including a cause and a solution.
1) The Power of Words to Express Freedom
I have to go shopping. I should go to the gym. I need to study.
How can we feel empowered when this is how we express our decisions? What does this say about our understanding of freewill?
Judging by those phrases, our lives belong to someone else and we don’t call the shots. These are not the statements of someone who is free to choose.
Whether or not you realize it, you have decided to go shopping, work out or study because you want to. You do not have to.
TRY IT! Simply opting for a neutral verb, such as go, can make all the difference. Compare these thoughts:
- I have to go to the store because we have nothing in the fridge
- I’m going to go to the store so that we can make a delicious salad tonight
Feel the difference? The former conveys obligation and negativity while the latter subtly expresses gratitude and opportunity.
Even when stuck between a rock and a hard place you always have a choice, a plethora of choices in fact. Sure, you probably don’t love working on Saturdays, but maybe adding that sixth day a week will make it easier to purchase a home by the end of the year.
Reframing the scenario linguistically transforms it from a hardship to a strategic way for you to achieve your goals.
2) The Power of Words to Express Success
Words even forecast outcomes. Would you put your money on someone who says they will try to make it to the market today or someone who claims, I am going to the market today?
In the first instance, the speaker plants the seed of doubt, not only in his or her own mind, but in the minds of those nearby. Next time you use indecisive language reflect on whether it is coming from a place of laziness.
Trying to do something is a way of mitigating expectations. It’s an escape plan and subconscious permission to fail. If you really can’t determine if you’ll make it or not, dive into the details: I have to go to an appointment at 2pm, but if it lets out on time I will go to the market.
Apologize if you have something to apologize for, but adopting senselessly apologetic speech does you no favors.
Our timid, doubtful expressions become a foundation too weak to support assertive thought and determined action. Both sides drag one another down. Positive affirmations possess strength largely because of their stark contrast to our feeble, negative language.
The difference between I still can’t speak French, and I can’t speak French yet, comes down to one critical acknowledgment of your potential.
TRY IT! Monitoring your language is tough. Speak more slowly to give yourself a chance to interrupt negative patterns. If you can, get a group of friends together and spend a week policing each other. Before long, you’ll be able to police yourself.
3) The Power of Words to Express Happiness
Let’s take a closer look at the linguistic differences between obligation and gratitude, because therein lies a key to happiness.
Do you have to spend the holidays with your family or do you get to? Hear the shift in gratitude? Reshaping our vocabulary reframes our relationship to the world. Are we suffering or are we growing? Failing or learning? Obligated or free?
Once we label ourselves as victims, we view our experiences through the lens of victimhood. In that state, life is an uphill battle. Once those delusional, destructive labels are obliterated, a newfound appreciation can grow.
TRY IT! Negative words trigger negative chemical reactions in our brains. When we say, I feel horrible, we genuinely feel more horrible than when we say, I don’t feel very well. Next time you find yourself in a suboptimal situation tone down your language. Pretend there are children nearby who you don’t want to scare. Then, observe the effects.
Average conversations heard on the street highlight our propensity for exaggeration, sometimes to our own detriment. We hate that, we love this, we can’t stand him, we loathe her. What does this language say about us as individuals and as a society? We sound unhinged, petty and unpredictable.
By widening our vocabulary and, in turn, lightening our emotional load we create space for serenity in our minds and lives. The power of words that are carefully chosen and honest lets us disembark from life’s emotional rollercoaster and achieve a level of peaceful happiness that will spread like wildfire.