What gives a word power? How do words evoke emotions? What meaning do we assign to the words we use – in communication with others and when we speak to ourselves?
I have always loved language and marvelled at the power of words when selected to inspire, to support, to love – and the power of words when selected to hate, to hurt and to destroy. With the current state of world affairs, it is hard not to observe the power of words used to instill fear, to create anxiety and to divide.
In business, we spend a great deal of time thinking about the words we use when communicating with others. Whether we are writing or speaking, we consider the impact our words have on our clients, our colleagues, and the public. Personally, we may spend time thinking about how we communicate with friends, family and the communities we live in.
How much time do we spend thinking about how we speak to ourselves?
It is estimated that 90% of our conversations each day are with ourselves. And as a coach, I am aware that much of our self-talk contains negative language. And we know that we would never let others speak to us the way we can sometimes speak to ourselves.
I remember my mother telling me when I was young “You shouldn’t should on yourself”. At the time, I thought it was just a strange thing that mothers say. As an adult, I am amazed at the power of that statement to remind me that I “shouldn’t should on myself”. I used to “should” on myself a lot. Through awareness and conscious effort, I am working on changing my language.
How often do you use words like “should”, “must”, “have to” and “can’t” when speaking to yourself? How do those words make you feel when you hear them?
There is such wonder in the power of words. Shifting the words we use from “should”, “must”, “have to” and “can’t” to words such as “can”, “choose”, “want to” and “try” changes the energy and feelings we experience when speaking to ourselves. It is amazing what impact changing a single word can have.
When I woke up this morning and decided to finish this article, it was possible to say to myself:
“I must finish this article today. It should have been posted a week ago.”
I know what impact those words would have on my energy and enthusiasm for writing today. Even in reading the words now, I feel drained and uninspired.
Instead, by having awareness to the power of words, I woke up this morning saying:
“I want to finish this article today. I am excited to get it posted.”
By focusing on changing the “must” to “want to”, the second sentence was completely transformed. Changing one word shifted the energy from looking into the past “it should have been posted a week ago” to being in the present moment “I am excited to get it posted.”
How can you change the words you use in conversations you have with yourself?
Pay attention to the language that you use when you are speaking to yourself. Do you hear any words such as “should”, “must”, “have to” or “can’t”? You may find it difficult to hear your inner dialogue in the beginning. If that is the case, start by paying attention to the language you use about yourself when you are speaking to others. You can invite someone close to you to notice your language too.
How often am I using this language when I am speaking to myself? What do I feel when I say these words? What impact is my language having on me? What would I like to change? Use the best form of reflection that works for you. Some people reflect through journaling, others through meditation, or during exercise. Whatever the method, change occurs through consistency.
Choose words that empower you. Choose words that ignite your energy. Choose words that feel right to you when you say them. And most importantly, be patient. Change takes time and it takes practice. If you are like me, you may have been using these words to speak to yourself for a long time.
Should you catch yourself saying “I should be better at this!”, “This should be easy”, or “How long should this take?” , know that you are not alone. I sometimes catch myself saying the very same things. When I do, I try to remember not to should on myself.