Let me start off by saying that when I first got into the personal development game at the age of seventeen, I started with watching films like “The Secret” and after initially getting into the new-age stuff for a few years, I developed a distaste and distrust of anything smelling remotely like bullshit. I had a feeling that all this hype about positive thinking and changing your self-talk was just B.S. promoted by personal development book authors and film directors as a magic pill that would cure anything. Because humans have a natural impulse to go for the quick fixes, naturally, the promise of the magic pill would sell.
However, having suffered failure to stay motivated to take the right kinds of action that would bring me the kind of experiences and things that I wanted in life, I finally decided to go to work with this stuff. I began to see it as the underlying foundation for success and the missing link in my own development. I realized that my perceptions and negative beliefs I had about myself and what was possible were putting me in unresourceful negative states like depression, apathy, and helplessness and those states were making it impossible for me to take actions that would lead to success.
I felt like taking the right actions were impossible but that was only a feeling created by a negative belief that caused me to quit early. Had I not had the hindering belief, taking the right action would otherwise be very possible for me to do! It finally dawned on me what all these other successful people and personal development authors were talking about was real. Thoughts and self-talk are the foundation of beliefs. Beliefs form perceptions which determine how you interpret an experience. An emotional state is then produced depending on how you view that situation (good, bad, angry, depressed, excited, etc.). The emotional state you experience will determine what kind of action you will be motivated to take. Those actions will determine your success or failure. In other words, I realized if I changed my negative self-talk, I would change my emotional state and consequently, whether I succeeded at a goal or not.
How Words Affect Your Physiology
Words you use to describe an experience will affect how you view the experience and the significance it has in your life. Changing how you respond to that experience changes the course of your life either positively or negatively.
Words are like cogs in your brain. Words interact with each other and create your perceptions and beliefs which inspire you to a certain action. They are the makeup of your emotional state. Literally your thoughts are an habitual circuit in your day-to-day life that produces certain states of mind. People generally have the same kinds of interpretations, thoughts, reactions to people, feelings about their job and or lifestyle every day, and those habitual thought circuits produce similar emotional states every day. The handful of emotional states that you experience on a day-to-day basis are produced from the habitual thoughts that build up your perceptions and beliefs about yourself and the world.
Becoming aware of the negative thought pattern “Oh god, now I have to go to work” and realizing the implications of what it means about your beliefs about yourself and the world, then changing it to a more accurate and favorable thought pattern will change your emotional state. You don’t have to go to work, you could just not go. But you “choose” to go to work to make the money to keep your life running. Saying “I HAVE to go to work” implies that you have no free will. It implies that you HAVE to because maybe you are “stuck” in this job and cannot find anything better, or do not have the skills to do anything better. Every person is probably a little different. “I choose to go to work” implies you have weighed your outcomes and are choosing the best possible course of action for now.
Taking a look at this example, it’s easy to see how words affect your physiology. Emotions are actual chemical reactions in your body. Having the thought that you HAVE to go to a job causes you to “frame” or interpret the situation as a helpless one, which makes you feel helpless. The feeling of helplessness is an emotion that causes one to feel lethargic and not take the right kind of action because why take action when you know it’s helpless anyway, right? Better to recognize that you actually CHOOSE to go to work, whether you enjoy it or not. This thought is more empowering because it gives you the feeling that you are in control, and if you wanted to, you could choose something else.
Look out, I’m peeved!
Tony Robbins talked about this phenomenon in great lengths in his best-selling book “Awaken the Giant Within.” He describes his favorite word to replace words like “angry”, “pissed”, and “outraged”: “peeved.” For example, if something negative happens to you, you could say “I’m really pissed off.” Just saying that will amplify the negative feelings of being pissed off! But What if when your buddy asks you what’s wrong? You answer “I’m a bit peeved.” Peeved. Lol. It’s kind of a funny word right? It softens the emotional effects that saying “I’m pissed off” would cause. Plus it’s just a ridiculous word anyway. Even just saying the word in a moment of frustration could make you giggle and interrupt the negative chain of thoughts. This could make you laugh and consequently, change your emotional state to a lighter, more positive one.
Let’s use an example from my life related to money stress. In the past, when I suddenly discovered an unexpected bill that was I required to pay off and didn’t have the sufficient funds in that moment, I might have said, albeit jokingly, “I just got raped by this giant bill.” Now, I say stuff like this in humor, so it’s not all bad. But what is the problem with this? I’m comparing the situation to getting “raped” which is a terrible tragedy for someone to experience. One’s thoughts and subconscious respond to those words by perceiving the arrival of this bill suddenly as getting “raped” which amplifies the intensity of the experience. Also, “giant” bill. Is the bill really giant? That’s funny because it looks like a normal-sized bill to me. The paper has the same size and dimensions as most other bills. But labeling it as “giant” causes it to be blown out of proportion in my own mind and makes me fear and feel more stressed out than if I were to view it as it really was: a bill that I don’t yet have the money to pay for.
Instead of saying “I just got raped by this giant bill” it would put me in a more resourceful state of mind to say “I just got an unexpected bill in the mail, and I’m feeling a little stressed because I’m not yet sure how I’m gonna pay it.” This not only a more accurate interpretation of the situation but it’s also more empowering because inherent in the sentence is the assumption that I am not sure how I will pay it YET, but at a future time I will be.
Now that we know how the language we use in our thoughts affects us, let’s look at some practical steps we can take in order to change our language, reprogram our physiology, and thereby choose more productive actions in order to create the experiences we want in life.
Practical steps to using your words to enhance your mental state
1) Notice. Be aware of your thoughts. Notice when you are using inaccurate words to describe your experience. Noticing that you are using ineffective language with yourself is the first step to changing it. For example, lets say you catch yourself either thinking in your own mind or telling someone else “I have to do XYZ…” Notice and ask yourself “Wait… do I really HAVE to? Is someone holding a gun to my head? Or do I CHOOSE to do it?” Most likely the answer is going to be “I CHOOSE to do it.” Even if it is not the best decision, it is one that brings a benefit in some way, i.e., “I choose to go to this job that I don’t really like every day because it brings me a stable paycheck and gives me a chance to possibly save and invest into something better someday.”
If you happen to be alone or in a situation where you really have time to reflect you can further ask yourself, “Is there a better choice that I could be making?” If you ask yourself that enough times, you will eventually come to an answer. The power of asking questions is another topic on its own and will be discussed in a later post.
2) Restate. After noticing a faulty labeling of a situation using step one, identify the unresourceful wording and restate the phrase aloud or in your head. If you catch yourself thinking or saying the same faulty thought many times throughout the day or week, and you restate it every time, eventually, the faulty pattern will be replaced by the new one. Building off the example above, let’s say you notice yourself saying to yourself and other people “I really hate that I have to work this job every day.” Well what’s wrong with this? “Hate” is a very strong word that could possibly be modified to lower the intensity. Also, as stated in the example from number one, “have to” is another faulty part of the sentence. Well how about this as a restatement, “Lately, I really feel unsatisfied with my choice to work this job every day.” This restatement implies that you do indeed make the choice to do this job every day, when you could possibly be making other choices, and perhaps, more satisfying ones.
The first example “I really hate that I have to work this job every day” implies that you are trapped and helpless because you “have to.” Also, the sentence implies you feel “hate” which is a very emotionally charged word. People kill each other in this world being in a state of hate. Not something you want to add to your mental/emotional state unless absolutely necessary for the situation. Note: I’m not saying you should never let yourself be in a state of hate. It is part of our emotional tool box because it has its place in this world. Maybe you’re in a situation where you witness someone physically harming a loved one or even yourself. Using the physical power that the emotion brings may be resourceful in that situation as opposed to just feeling “unsatisfied” with the situation. But using these examples show different emotions can be more or less resourceful depending on the situation.
3) Automate that language. Notice every time you catch yourself repeating that same negative phrase throughout the day/week and reword it every time you catch it. Make your newly worded phrase the go-to phrase. Make it a habit. Eventually, it won’t require any effort anymore as it will be automatic.
More ways to harness the power of words
Music: Music is a tool that we can use to change our emotional state. Hell, even music without words has the power to produce massive state changes. Just look at how fast house music can cause one to want to jump around and dance. Imagine the right kind of music combined with words that are uplifting and inspiring. One artist I love to listen to is Kreva. I find his music super uplifting. Plus much of his lyrics are about seizing the best moments of life and living awesomely. Of course, you must understand Japanese in order to get the best of his music 😉
Fill your life with music that puts you in the emotional states you want to be in: inspired, excited about life, confident and courageous, and curious. If you fill your life with this kind of music, those lyrics will become part of your physiology. They will inhabit the thoughts of your mind, just as filling your life with negative music with negative words can cause you to be in a pessimistic, depressed, lifeless state. Just look at the lives of the musicians making that music. Their own lives are a product of the language they use, as well as the language they use is also a product of their lives – its cyclical.
Aim to cut out the garbage, and replace it with inspiring alternatives.
Books, movies, media, and the people you surround yourself with: It has been said by great people that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. A part of this has to do with the fact that as humans we unconsciously copy the language of our peers in our social group. Do an experiment. For the next couple days or so, observe the language you use and notice if you catch yourself saying the same words and phrases that your friends use, whether it be slang, foul language, expressions, etc.. Yes, those words have an impact on your physiology and state too!
Your job now is to either set up your environment and social group with people who you want to become like. This could either be done by actually spending time with those people, but if that’s not possible, it could be done by reading books written by great people whose lives you wish to emulate. Also, notice the language they use. Especially the empowering language. Commit to using that language more in your life. Keeping a journal helps as well because you can write down quotes and phrases that you particularly like so that you can remember it more easily and use it later. What great or famous person would you like to be your personal mentor and role model for resourceful language? How about Albert Einstein? How about Bill Gates? How about Gandhi? Well, you can! Read their books and/or famous quotes if they haven’t written any books and start using that very same language in your day-to-day life!
Affirmations: Affirmations are another fantastic way to program yourself with the right kind of language that will put you into resourceful states. Affirmations are easy. Just think of some kind of belief that you want to be a part of your mental state. For example, “Every day, I am improving my skills and am adding more value to people’s lives than the day before.” Repeat this sentence in your head over and over for a span of time. When I didn’t have a car here in Japan, I used to choose an affirmation to repeat in my head while on my forty-five minute bike ride to the gym. And sometimes back from the gym as well! Imagine the impact repeating the same belief you want to internalize over and over for forty-five minutes to an hour and a half a day, 3-4 times a week! Think of it as brainwashing yourself with belief that you would like to internalize. If you don’t like the negative connotation that the term “brainwash” can carry, think of it as “brain fortifying” or as I like to think of it, reprogramming your physiology.
Summary of this post:
The language we use affects whether we make productive decisions or not, because it affects how we interpret our experiences and what kind of emotions we have in response to those experiences. This emotional state will then determine how we respond to that experience: either consciously and productively, or reactively and non-productively.
Three steps to changing your language:
- Notice when you use inaccurate or faulty language in your day-to-day life.
- Restate the sentence in a way that produces a more desirable, resourceful emotional state.
- Automate that language by catching yourself every time you use that same faulty language, and correcting it. Eventually, the new, resourceful language will become the habit.
Other ways to take control of your language and emotional state:
- Books, movies, media, and people