Change the words that you use in your everyday vocabulary and you can transform your life. Angela Gray explains how.
We all have our favourite expressions, words that we use every day without really giving them a second thought. But words matter – far more than we appreciate, affecting both ourselves and our listeners. Thankfully, we have the power, and the choice, to be able to change the words that we use, really to follow that old maxim, ‘Don’t say what you think, think what you say.’
Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within, believes that, ‘simply by changing your habitual vocabulary, the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life, you can instantaneously change how you think, how you feel, and how you live.’
To illustrate how our choice of words impacts our own and others’ lives, let me offer the following simple example. This is what happens when I phone two of my friends, Adam and Colin:
Me: Hi Adam, it’s Angie. How are things?
Adam, sighing: Oh, all right I suppose.
Me: Hi Col, it’s Angie. How are things?
Colin: Absolutely wonderful! I’m firing on all four cylinders at the moment.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who I choose to see the most! Even when things aren’t a hundred percent with Colin, he’ll say something along the lines of, ‘Well, there’s a bit of a blip at work, but apart from that, life’s splendid. ‘His conversations are full of words such as ‘exiting’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘marvellous’, ‘challenging’, and ‘stunning’.
Colin’s choice of words is affected by his enthusiasm for life and, consequently, he affects those he meets in a positive way. As Robbins says, ‘People with an impoverished vocabulary live an impoverished emotional life; people with rich vocabularies have a multi-hued palette of colours with which to paint experience, not only for others, but for themselves as well.’
We are fortunate in that the English language has the largest number of words of any language on earth – an estimated 750,000! But, how many do we actually use? Linguists suggest that the average person’s working vocabulary consists of only 2,000 to 10,000 words, which does seem rather a waste. Perhaps even more astonishing, though, is that out of the 3,000-plus words related to human emotions, more than 2,000 describe negative emotions, while only roughly 1,000 describe positive emotions. That’s nearly twice as many negatives as positives. No wonder we’re such a gloomy lot!
At first sight it would seem that Robbins is merely saying that if we alter our words then that’s it, our lives are instantly transformed. But there’s actually a bit more to it than that. Robbins believes that ‘if all you do is change the word, then the experience does not change. But if using words causes you to break your own habitual emotional patterns, then everything changes.’
Let’s look at another example here. Imagine that things are slow on the work front and you’re understandable starting to get a little anxious about it all. But, as anyone who has suffering from full-blown depression would tell you, you’re not really depressed; you’re frustrated, doubting, anxious. But because words actually affect our emotional state, the more you say you are feeling ‘depressed’, the worse you will feel. Subconsciously you will begin to believe your own words. Thankfully, there is a way forward here. Firstly, ban ‘depression’ from your vocabulary and, secondly, replace it with something positive such as ‘I’m feeling better’ and ‘I’m thinking on turning things around’. As simple as it sounds, this is just as effective it has to be tried to be believed!
As we have already learned, there are plenty more negatives than positives when it comes to describing emotions. But even the negative descriptions can be turned around if people want them to. Years ago now, I met a woman who’d had what society labels a ‘nervous breakdown’. Recovering fully, she decided not to go back to her highly-paid but highly-stressful career. Instead, she moved to the country, picking up temporary work as and when she needed. Content and confident that she had made the right choices, this woman passionately denied that she’d had a ‘breakdown’, saying that she much preferred to think of it as a ‘breakthrough’.
Similarly, the sensations which we label ‘stage fight’ can be seen by one person as impossible to overcome, keeping Carly Simon, for example, from performing live for years. Bruce Springsteen, on the other hand, experiences the same kind of tension and nausea but renames these feelings ‘excitement’ and can’t wait to get on stage. As Robbins says, ‘For Bruce Springsteen, tension in his stomach is an ally; for Carly Simon, it’s an enemy’.
So, are you ready to change your vocabulary? Pay close attention to the words you use over the next week or so and note just how many negatives you use every day. Then make a decision to change, to choose your words more carefully and begin to feel the difference. Use your imagination, use your dictionary and thesaurus; enjoy the words that you speak and write.