Humans are like fish in water when it comes to language.We think in words, we talk in words, we listen to words. Words are all around us, in us. We use words to express our joy, anger, fear, happiness, grief, frustration and annoyances. Yet because we are like fish in water, we are not aware of how words affect us; how changing the simplest communication can change a world, ours or someone else’s. How we express ourselves determines our success or failure with goals, relationships, careers, even happiness. The words we use with ourselves determine our attitudes, moods and health.
I hear mistakes in people’s communication all day long. Those mistakes often lead to a failure or misunderstanding one has of a situation or another person. Here are some examples:
1. The word: Don’t. The brain doesn’t process the word “don’t.” If I say “Don’t think of a pink elephant or a yellow Volkswagen,” what do you think of? Don’t hesitate; don’t miss this opportunity; don’t misunderstand; don’t wait; don’t go now; don’t forget. What are you actually saying to others when you use “don’t?” You are telling them to do exactly what you don’t want them to do. Instead, use: Take advantage of; remember; stay longer; please understand; take action; get going now.
2. The word: Hope. Hope is an interesting word. It is not that there is anything wrong with it; it is just misused. When Hope is used it creates two pictures inside the brain, one of a positive outcome and one of a negative outcome. Both pictures have equal weight. So hope introduces or promotes doubt. A better word would be “anticipate;” unless of course, hope is the best you can do in a situation. There is a big difference between saying you hope something happens and you anticipate something happens. When working with goals and outcomes use “anticipate.”
3. The word: Try. “Try” presupposes failure. “Try” is only an attempt, not success. Use “can.”
4. The word: Lost: For things you cannot find, use “misplaced.” You misplace files, keys, documents, etc. We lose loved ones when they die. Lost means gone forever.
5. The word: Stuff: I am amazed how even some of the most complex thinkers will use this word to describe items. “I’ll show you my stuff.” What is “stuff?” Instead, use specific language to describe what you are talking about: your car, your creative products, your photos, etc.
6. The word: Everybody. Use “some people” or “most.” “Everybody” is a universal statement that seldom describes all people in a situation.
7. The word: Hate. Use “dislike.” Hate is a strong emotional word. It is said to be the language of cancer.
8. The word: Depressed. Some people go around and tell themselves they are depressed and wonder why they are depressed. Depressed is a depressing word. Ask yourself, “What do I need to be happy or to change my situation?” By asking simple questions of yourself, you send your thinking in another direction. All you need to do is ask. Knowing the answer is not required. The answer will come to you if you keep asking the question.
9. The phrase: I’m afraid of heights. No, you are afraid of falling. Heights are heights. Being afraid of falling is natural. Some say we are born with it. In fact in one research study researchers took a baby around six months old and placed it on a large see-through movable floor. As the floor rose from the background, the baby began to show signs of stress as they perceived the difference between where they were and where the ground was. The fear of falling makes us pay attention to our surroundings so we remain safe. Caution is a good thing when we are high above the ground. When you feel the fear, pay attention, be present and be careful.
10. The phrase: I’m afraid of flying. No, you are afraid of crashing. When you consider the fact that over 1,800 planes fly into and out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport a DAY, the chances of anything happening are slim. In fact, most people will not even know someone who was in a plane crash. I knew a guy who was in three crashes and survived all of them. The real fear is of crashing not of flying. Flying is what you want the plane to do.
11. The phrase: I have a fear of failure. Often this masks as a fear of success. People tell me they have a fear of failure so they won’t take any risks or action to create success. Therefore they must actually be afraid of success. They are already failing. How can they be afraid of something that is already happening? People who have true fears of failing do everything they possibly can to avoid failure, which makes them successful.
12. The phrase: It kills me, or It is killing me. Really? Usually people use this phrase to refer to some difficult but not impossible situation. It (whatever ‘it’ is) isn’t really killing you. It may frustrate you; but it isn’t killing you.
13. The phrase: Lose weight. This is related to the word “lost.” Weight and Wait are phonological ambiguities. In other words, they sound the same even though they mean different things. Are you saying you want to ‘lose weight’ (which ambiguous in and of itself) or are you saying you want to ‘lose WAIT?’ When you set a health goal such as this, use specifics: I want to be a size____. The brain responds to numbers. It knows exactly what you are talking about.
14. Motivate versus Inspire: For me motivate sounds like the “motivate” is an unwilling participant; whereas “inspire” is a richer word which harnesses the willingness of the other person to joyously participate.
15. Criticism versus Feedback: When positioning information as feedback, a person is more likely to take it in and consider it. When framed as criticism, a harsher word, not so much. You are likely to get resistance or be resistant.
16. Hard versus Challenging: “Hard” makes something almost impossible to achieve; “challenging” makes it possible given the right strategies for accomplishing your goal.
17. Stupid versus Interesting:“Stupid” is an assessment of intelligence, which may or may not apply. “Interesting” is much less harsh and removes the harshness of the judgment. You might even use “Curious” instead. Do this for a week. Notice what it does for your state management.
A few other tips on words:
There are Assertions and Assessments.
Assessments belong to the observer. They are subjective and can be called into question: “Mary is tall.”
Assertions are about the observed. “Mary is 5’10’ tall.” They are facts and are verifiable.
Use assertions when possible. They are more credible.
Here is a little exercise to help you understand your own language:
Listen for consistent language patterns or words you use, especially when you are frustrated or angry. Once you have the words, begin changing them to softer versions. Look for other words with more positive connotations. Notice how your ability to deal with situations changes through time.
Language is the mirror of the mind. Your language reflects your inner thoughts and organization of thinking. Language and thought cannot be separated. Change your language and you will change life. Be aware though. Being educated in language will help you change your language to help you get what you want in life.