THE POWER OF LANGUAGE
Taking Ownership of What We Think and Say
Communicate What We Really Mean
Georgette D Green, M.A.
The Power of Language – Most people would likely agree that it is important to communicate effectively with one another. We all want to be heard and understood. I would argue that most of us often use language that undermines this very desire. Not only are we misunderstood by others, many of us consistently use language in our thought life that undermines our own belief systems and desired goals – And we do not even realize we are doing it! Most people simply do not realize the power of language.
Let me illustrate with a simple word that is a regular part of the English language. That word is the conjunction ‘but’ that is used with opposing statements on either side of it. For example:
“I need to lose weight but I’ve never succeeded in the past.”
“I want to get in shape but I hate exercising.”
“I know I would feel better if I ate healthier but I don’t have time to cook.”
Take notice the part of each statement that comes just before the period:
“I’ve never succeeded in the past.”
“I hate exercising.”
“I don’t have time to cook.”
Each of these statements are clearly defeating. What if we simply switch the statements as follows:
“I’ve never succeeded in the past but I need to lose weight.”
“I hate exercising but I want to get in shape.”
“I don’t have time to cook but I know I would feel better if I ate healthier.”
Simply moving words around communicates a completely different message, and creates an opposite effect in motivation, intent, and even emotion.
This exercise illustrates that how we choose to use our language is important. The power of language is in what we think in our minds, what we verbalize, and what we express nonverbally with body language, facial expression, and the tones we use.
I will go through examples to assist our thinking about effective communication and use of accurate language with self and others. It is important to note at this point that it takes time to discard habits, mindsets, or belief systems. It takes time to create new habits, mindsets, and belief systems. It takes intentionality and consistency. Some of the examples will make perfect sense, some will lead you to scratch your head, and some might seem completely crazy. That’s alright. The point is to be mindful in your personal growth.
Let’s first consider our thinking. We have all experienced ruminating over something. You know, just going over and over something in your mind. We sometimes call this the “hamster wheel.” You know how, whether it seems positive or negative, it kind of gets bigger and bigger the longer you think about it? For example: “I can’t believe she said that to me. I really can’t believe she said that to me. Why would she say that? She must be. . .” And on it goes until we never want to see this person again! Sound familiar? We’ll get back to this in a moment.
The Power of Language – Nonverbal
The second element to consider is nonverbal communication. Imagine a motivational speaker walking out on a stage taking small steps with shoulders slumped, head held down, fingers fidgeting, face frowning or showing no expression, and speaking with a monotone voice. It would not be long before the room would clear out and everyone would either be thinking, “Thank goodness I didn’t pay for this?” or “How can I get my money back?” It really would not matter what this person had to say because the audience would be gone or sleeping!
There is one example I like to use that is practical for everyone. We have all experienced walking into a room where either another person or a group of people are standing around. Think about how you feel when they respond to you by glancing up to see who it is and then simply go back to what they were doing. How would you feel if when they saw it was you, their facial expressions and eyes brightened up, and they stood a little taller? Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine both scenarios. Can you feel the difference?
As stated, this example is a practical one that we can easily begin using with those around us. I challenge you to brighten up every time you encounter your children, significant other, friend, coworker, etc. Do this consistently and see what happens over time. Do this with yourself when you stand in front of a mirror.
The Power of Language – Words & Phrases
Finally, let’s consider verbal communication, words and phrases themselves. This is not only important in communication with one another but with ourselves as well. There is no way to have an exhaustive conversation or give an exhaustive list, especially within the context of a blog post, so I want to simply offer some practical applications.
Before moving on, I want to ask you to do something. I want you to pick up any lightweight item and try to lift it above your head. Try to lift it as high as you can.
If you participated in this request, you either lifted the item or you did not. There really is no “try” involved. “Try” does not exist. It is typically used as an excuse, a procrastination, or a means to get someone “off your back.” Maybe to get yourself off your back! “I’m trying. . .”
This is when I begin to challenge you to say what you mean. Use accurate language and state what is real.
Some alternative examples:
“If the kids get finished with their homework in time, I’ll go to the meeting. If not, I won’t make it.”
“I am not really interested in that event.”
Think of some of the ways you use the word “try.” What if “try” was not an option? Write down what you can say to accurately communicate what you mean.
Some other words and phrases to consider:
SHOULD–Equates to Verbal finger-pointing; Expresses failure; and Invites defensiveness or shame. ALTERNATIVES: “One thing that has worked for me. . .” “Next time I think I’ll do. . .”
Stating something that is helpful and without judgment.
BECAUSE – Context “Children explain. Adults inform.” “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” It really creates ownership. When we use the word “because,” we can get lost in excuses and blame. Just Own It.
HAVE TO – “I have no choice”; We always have some choice; it is important to take ownership of our choice or change our mind. If we don’t recognize that we have a choice, it can be dangerous. Stating that we have no choice can lead to resentment build up against the person, situation, etc. that we believe is creating this “have to” situation.
CAN’T – Self-defeating. If I say, “I can’t,” there is a strong period at the end. I have made a decision. Be careful when making the statement, “I can’t.”
NEGATIVES: I hate it when. . .; yeah but. . . Pay attention to negative statements you consistently use. They will undermine your goals and any positive attitude.
GOSSIP CONVERSATION: Consider how you would feel if you were the subject of the conversation, or maybe your child, spouse, or best friend. Ask the question, “If the person being talked about was here, would we be saying the same things?”
WHY – This is an undefinable and intangible question.
REMEMBER the example of thought I used earlier. “I can’t believe she said that. I really can’t believe she said that. Why did she say that?” When we bring “why” into the equation, we begin to make stuff up. We don’t know why she said that. If we want to excuse what she said, we explain it to ourselves with something completely different than if we don’t want to excuse it.
ANOTHER example is when we begin to ask questions like, “Why am I like this?” or “Why do I keep doing this?” etc. We are opening a Pandora’s box and can lose sight of anything helpful. The answer will usually be, “Because I did that terrible thing,” or “Because my mother said that thing.” or “Because I’m a terrible person.” There may be an event, decision, or something that factored into the present situation. However, it is only one factor. It’s kind of like taking a million-piece jigsaw puzzle, pulling out one piece, and thinking we have the whole picture.
I’m not suggesting that we never ask the question. Just that we realize that the answer will always be more than we can ever uncover.
Using, What, How, When, Where, and Who are more helpful. For example:
“What are some of the factors that led me here? When did I become aware? How did I play a part? Where can I go to gain insight? Who can help me move forward?”
These questions are more tangible and allow for helpful answers.
REMEMBER, it takes time to discard habits, mindsets, or belief systems. It takes time to create new habits, mindsets, and belief systems. It takes intentionality and consistency. So, however you decide to move into health and wellness, do it with intentionality, be consistent, and pay attention to accuracy of expectation and language.
Georgette Green received her Master of Arts in Professional Counseling in Nashville, TN. She worked as a counselor in Nashville and Franklin, TN until moving to Pensacola, FL in July 2016. She is now working as a local writer and speaker in Pensacola.
The power of language to affect our mind and body is unmistakable, yet most people don’t even consider it. This is one of many things that makes Optihealth different than other Pensacola Weight Loss Centers.
If you have any questions about the power of language to affect your mind and body, please contact us today!