Ever heard yourself say something like:
“I can’t __________.”
“I had to ____________.”
“I’m not good at __________.”
We all have used these phrases, but why does it matter so much? I often tell clients that there are only 3 things you can control:
- Your thoughts
- Your words
- Your actions
Sit for a second and look at the things and people that surround you: Can you control the things or people around you? Nope. What about the outcomes of each situation? Not exactly.
You can’t ultimately control what happens, but you can influence outcomes by how you choose to interact with others and situations. Your thoughts determine your words, and your words influence your actions.
For example, if you have a very loud critic in your head that continues to tell you that you can’t stay organized, you will most likely also have a habit of telling others, “I can’t stay organized.” And given that your thoughts and words determine your actions, what are the chances you are going to behave in a more organized way this week?
And there is another layer to our sneaky words:
The words we choose will also impact our own internal thought patterns – not just our actions. Our words can shift both ours and other peoples’ perspective of ourselves.
When I tell others, “I cannot stay organized,” I’m basically not only confirming that belief of myself to others, but also to myself. I am telling my internal critic that he’s right. I’m giving others the right to ‘classify’ me as a non-organized person. I am choosing to create, and then verbally confirm a somewhat negative belief about myself.
Well, that definitely sucks.
Another question to ask yourself is, “Am I being more proactive or reactive” when I speak? Proactive language establishes ownership and awareness of our choices. Reactive language is an easy way for us to disconnect from our choices or ownership of any given situation.
For example, if you might usually say something reactive like:
“I have to go to the grocery store today. Ugh.”
Putting that statement into a proactive language sounds like:
“I am choosing to go to the grocery store today because I want our family to have food.”
Technically, they both have a similar outcome: We go to the grocery store and buy food for the house. But the tone and intention of the wording is very different.
When we use phrases like “have to,” we are expressing to others that someone or something else is forcing us to go grocery shopping. Is that true? Nope. Most likely, no one else in the family is planning on doing the errand, but did anyone truly FORCE you?
You probably made a decision to go to the grocery store based on wanting or needing to feed you or your family. You also decided how, where and when to go based on yours and your family’s schedule and location. If you really break it down: NO ONE forced you. You made a series of choices and decisions that are leading you to the store.
If we are all making decisions on how to behave (which we all are), than our words should reflect those decisions. Proactive language is just that: Speaking as if we are in charge of our decisions and making conscious choices as to how we behave.
Proactive language shifts us into the position of choice and strength. It verbally informs others that we are aware of what we are doing and saying, and are taking ownership of our involvement in the situation at hand.
So now what? How can you start making small shifts?
During the day, just start noticing how you are phrasing things to yourself and others. What words are you using, and what types of thoughts about those situations are running through your head?
And when you hear yourself say something negative about yourself or your qualities, OR notice you are using some sort of reactive response when people ask you about something… it’s time to start practicing.
And that’s all it is – Practice. The more you practice, the better you get, and the better you get, the less it feels like work… and eventually starts to feel more natural and you stop hearing yourself say those negative or reactive things.
And before you know it, your attitude and your outcomes will shift in a more positive direction. Others will notice and ask you how you did it. Before long, you might even find yourself as a resource for others in this area, helping them shift their language and inner dialogue.