Language is a vehicle for expressing ourselves to others, but we also speak to ourselves all the time in our own minds. What we often don’t realise is the significant impact of the specific words we choose to use.
Our words shape how we feel and how we perceive the world around us in really powerful ways. Each word is permeated with personal meaning and associations, and potentially loaded with emotion.
In this episode of Mentally Stronger, I share how changing just a few words in a sentence can shift the way you feel and perceive things in big ways.
Take these scenarios
Imagine you say, “I’m absolutely furious at her for her incompetence. She’s an idiot.” That’s very different to saying, “I’m feeling a bit peeved right now because she made a mistake today.”
These two ways of describing the same thing have very different impacts on you. In the first example, you’ll probably feel angry and hostile towards the other person. In the second example, you’ll feel maybe a little frustrated, but also understanding and open towards them.
If you say something like, “I’m terrified I’m going to screw up this presentation”, you will feel very different to if you say, “I’m a little nervous about the presentation.”
Our language shapes our lives
What we know to be true is that our thoughts, or our mental language, as well as the way we speak out loud, has a profound impact on the way we feel. It even has powerful effects on the body.
Whenever you have a thought, there is a corresponding chemical reaction in your mind and body as a result.
If you are stuck in a traffic jam and you start thinking, “I can’t stand this. This is a disaster”, this will send signals to your body that will turn on your fight or flight response and, in turn, that will speed up your heartbeat and breathing and tense your muscles.
You could alternatively think, “Oh well, I can’t control this, I might as well chill out and listen to some nice music.” This will send a signal to your body that all is well and it can be calm and relaxed.
Optimistic and accepting thinking styles, like those I just mentioned, are linked to better immunity to illness, while depressive styles of thinking may be linked to reduced immunity.
Three tips to change your world for the better
As you can see, you can be in the same situation (say a traffic jam) but different language will make you feel and perceive things very differently. So it’s important be aware of the language we use as we go about daily life and shift it to empower, support and help us.
Here are three tips to change your words for the better.
1. Recognise unhelpful thoughts and words
Start to be attentive to the words you are using, both mentally in your thinking and out loud. If you catch yourself using words that are not helpful, shift your focus to choosing a more helpful way of thinking or speaking about what is happening. For instance, if you catch yourself thinking “I’m devastated”, just catch that and then try on a new way of thinking or speaking, like “I’m just a bit miffed.” Try to bring some playfulness and fun into this process. Just try things, be creative, experiment with it.
2. Soften harsh words
This plays into the first tip. Begin to pay particular attention to any words you might be using that overstate what is happening, ramp up the intensity of emotions you might be feeling, or exaggerate descriptions of events or people.
See if you can deliberately pick words with lower emotional charge and potential reactivity.
If you say you “hate” someone, you might try “I’m a little disappointed with them.”
3. Deliberately use words that uplift and empower
See if you can deliberately use words that make you feel encouraging, happier and stronger.
If you find yourself in a tricky situation you could try saying “Well, isn’t this an adventure!” instead of calling it a disaster. If you make a mistake you could try saying, “Ok, that was a learning experience” rather than saying it was a catastrophe.
If you’re somebody with a harsh inner critic, practice this on yourself too, and apply it to your thoughts.
If you catch yourself thinking “I’m such an idiot”, try shifting to “That’s a shame, but I’m proud of showing up and I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Changing your words may sound simplistic but it can have a profound impact on your mood, your relationships and the overall quality of your life.
So, this is the invitation to practice this week, to change your words and see how it changes your world.
All the best with this. I hope it’s really helpful for you. Take care and stay strong.
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