The Weight of Words – 5 Tips to Avoid Words Weighing you Down
We use words everyday. We use them to communicate our needs, express our emotions and to engage with strangers, friends and family.
But research suggests the most common and constant conversations we have are the ones that play out in our mind. We all engage in “self-talk”, but we all do it differently. And how you talk to yourself, and the words you use, are what makes all the difference.
A little bit of self-criticism has the power to motivate or spur us into action. For example, it can help you break a bad habit (like walking and texting) or start a new one (like going to the gym).
But as we previously learned on this Blog, words, used negatively, may shape our experiences or even create them. At their best they have the ability to motivate, inspire and truly transform us. At their worst, they have the ability to paralyse us, and hold us back from unlocking our true potential.
What narrative are you writing for yourself every day? Here are my five tips to employ words in your life as a positive force for change.
1. Watch the way you to speak to yourself
How often do you find you call yourself “stupid” for making a mistake, tell yourself “I will never be …. enough”, or think “I can’t …”? Consciously observe your thoughts for a week and jot down the words you use. You might be surprised just how much you berate yourself. (In fact, it’s scarily common!)
The older we get, using certain words, or “scripts” in response to situations becomes habitual, learnt overs years of negative self-talk. The good news is awareness is the first step to breaking the cycle of these bad habits. Consciously take steps to audit that inner dialogue, and observe the messages you send to yourself daily.
2. Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate
If you weren’t consciously self-talking before, I recommend you start now. When you catch yourself engaging in negative or unhelpful self-talk, start talking to yourself. Research suggests using the words “you” or your name, instead of “I” is more powerful. Ask, “Why do you think that? Why are you talking to yourself like that, Justine?” The more awareness and rationality you can bring to these scripts, the easier it will be to start understanding them, then eradicating them. And don’t be afraid to be ruthless with your self-talk – it’s time to spring clean!
3. Re-write your story
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
― Henry Ford
When next faced with words that negatively shape or create your world, STOP and take the opportunity to rewrite your story.
Faced with a challenging work or personal situation? Instead of using negative words that easily roll off the tongue (“it’s a disaster”, “it’s hopeless”, “we’re doomed”), try reframing the situation: Could you re-word the situation as “I am facing a challenge right now”, or an “or this is a great opportunity to do things differently.” (If you can’t do that, I understand. Skip ahead to step 4).
When faced with your inner-self telling you that “you can’t”, why not add the magic word “yet”? I can’t do it yet. According to Caroline Dweck, a pioneer in the field of motivation, those three letters build a bridge into the future of possibility.
Instead of saying “I am” – I’m angry, I’m upset, I’m down- which is fixed and unchangeable, try using the word “I feel”, which reframes the situation to understand that what you are experiencing is an emotion which may change.
No matter the dialogue, make sure you keep it clean and kind. Speak to yourself as you would somebody that you cared deeply about.
Dr Kristin Neff is a pioneer on the subject of self-compassion and suggests that we all need to speak to ourselves more kindly. She suggests: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
4. Fake it ‘til you become it
Don’t believe it? Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter. Surrounding yourself by positive words and affirmations and positively re-frame the situations you encounter by using positive words, even if you don’t really believe the words you use yourself, doesn’t matter.
Because here’s a secret: The more you repeat these words, the more real they become.
In Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On it, entrepreneur Kamal Ravikant eloquently recalls the tale of how his business fell apart, his relationships fell apart, and slowly, he too fell apart. In a deep well of depression, one day he woke up and made a simple vow to himself that changed the course of the rest of his life: He vowed to love himself. Everyday, multiple times a day, he told himself he loved himself. It became a mantra that he repeated on a loop.
Of course he didn’t believe it at first – he was a failure, he was nothing. But eventually, something powerful happened. Life started loving him back. And one day, he work up and realised he actually did love himself without even realising how he’d got there.
“What if you don’t believe that you love yourself? Doesn’t matter. Your role is to lay down the pathways, brick upon brick, reinforce the connections between the neurons.”
Here is what he had to said about negative self loops:
“This I know: the mind, left to itself, repeats the same stories, the same loops. Mostly ones that don’t serve us. So what’s practical, what’s transformative, is to consciously choose a thought. Then practice it again and again. With emotion, with feeling, with acceptance. Lay down the synaptic pathways until the mind starts playing it automatically. Do this with enough intensity over time and the mind will have no choice. That’s how it operates. Where do you think your original loops came from?”
It resonates with the powerful message delivered at a TED Talk Conference in 2012 by social psychologist Amy Cuddy: Fake it ‘til you become it. By adopting a power pose for just two minutes, Cuddy explained, you could radically impact your hormones that relate to confidence, and radically change your life. In fact, I embraced Cuddy’s advice before my own TEDx talk in 2015 that helped me take to the stage.
After recalling the story of how she had given the advice to a student who wanted to quit because she thought she didn’t belong, she had this to say.
“She comes back to me months later, and I realized that she had not just faked it till she made it, she had actually faked it ‘till she became it. So she had changed. And so I want to say to you, don’t fake it ‘till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”
Surround yourself with positivity, engage with it, and sooner or later you might be surprised with what your internal critic starts to produce!
5. Watch the way we speak to others
Finally, once you’ve audited your own self-talk, start paying attention to the language you use with others. Do you use words to build others up, or tear them down? Also, how do you deal with compliments – do you deflect them and make excuses for your success? If so, commit to accepting compliments gracefully by offering a simple “thank you” when others acknowledge your work. And in turn, find opportunities to acknowledge the positive in others.
Science is rapidly discovering that the mind is not as fixed as we thought it once was. We have the power to change, at any age.
What is it that you would like to change in your life? Whatever it is, start with your words, and I promise the rest will follow.