Mind Your Language

Rafael Dupre
Written by Rafael Dupre

‘I should have known better!’ 
  ‘I am useless at this!’  
‘I will never be able to make this work’

Sound familiar? 

Do you recognise these comments on your work or actions?

We all have this little voice in the back of our head commenting on our everyday life, on all our actions and choices and more often than not on our failings and shortcomings. It is constant, even when it is not always that loud or noticeable.

Have you ever kept track of how often this voice’s comments are negative and critical versus how many times it encourages you or gives you praise?

Now, imagine if that ever-present and opinionated inner voice was a real person.

Would you want to hang out with them?

It is quite likely that after half an hour you would tell them to take a hike. No one wants to spend time with someone who criticises them, points out how useless they are or are negative about pretty much everything all the time. You would tell them to take it elsewhere and not bring you down all the time, ruining your mood – if not your entire day.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

So, if you wouldn’t want someone else to talk to you that way, why would you do it to yourself? How is it helpful?

The language we use, with ourselves or with others, determines a great part of how we feel. If your inner voice is self-critical for instance, it could be that you actually feel criticised and incapable, useless or generally worthless. If you use more positive language with yourself, you will feel lighter and less burdened by the same shortcomings or failures.

Photo by Jorge Urosa

So, if you can change the language, you can change how you feel. And when you feel more positive, you will start making more positive choices and more constructive approaches towards life.

Let me give you a few examples: If you tell yourself ‘I can’t do this’ – then that’s pretty final. You will not make any more attempts and will no longer feel the need or have the courage to try, practice or improve your skills. You may feel beaten – end of story.

But if you add ‘yet’ to that sentence, suddenly everything changes. ‘I can’t do this yet’ – creates hope…possibility. Right now, I might not be able to get this done but maybe at some point in the future I will. And you are more likely to keep trying and feel motivated instead of beaten down.

Have you ever noticed how often you use the word ‘should’?

We use it pretty often and frankly, it is not a helpful word. Should implies guilt or shame: ‘I ‘should’ get on with work’ means that if I don’t, then I am doing something wrong. ‘I ‘should’ have gotten on with work’ means I have done something wrong already! It is a negative use of language and consequently makes us feel negative, down, pressured into taking action. Like there is no other choice.

But, if you replace ‘should’ by ‘could’ the meaning of that sentence changes: ‘I could get on with work’ means that you have a choice and again it creates possibilities. It puts you in charge, makes you feel more in control and therefore you feel content. You might still make the same choice and get on with work, but now at least you are doing so because you weighed up your options and their consequences. You chose to do it because you wanted to and not because you would feel guilty if you didn’t. We go from a negative motivator, guilt, to a positive one – choice!

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Erase that unhelpful word ‘should’ from your vocabulary and replace it with the more helpful ‘could’!

It is remarkable how small changes in our language can make a big difference in how we feel and how we behave as a result. All it takes is awareness!

Would I speak to my best friend in the same way I speak to myself?

Treat yourself with the same empathy, understanding and kindness. Change the language of your inner voice accordingly.  Be your own best friend!

Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash

It is hard to break a pattern though, something that is so ingrained will resist being changed. It therefore can be helpful to use a physical reminder: an alarm on your phone; a note on the bathroom mirror; a simple bracelet that you notice every time you stretch your arm… Anything that reminds you to pay attention to your inner voice and its language – so you can rephrase things more positively when you catch yourself being negative.

Just for today…one day at a time….

Should you change your language or could you? And if you haven’t mastered it yet, no problem, you will get there at some point. You just aren’t there YET

Main – Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash