We all know that words are powerful – they can inspire us, open us up to new ideas and places, comfort us, and get us excited. Words can also hurt us, shut us down, frighten us, and close us off to what is possible. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” But in order to change your thoughts, sometimes you have to change your words.

Self-talk – what we say to ourselves, usually unspoken – are the words that impact our thoughts about ourselves and others, and can often carry the most power. We know that positive self-talk and daily affirmations work wonders to bolster people and give them the confidence and strong outlook to face the challenges and pressures they may encounter each day. And negative self-talk holds people back and keeps them stuck in the unknown and the worst-case scenario.

When you catch yourself having a negative conversation with yourself, or heading toward a frame of mind that will nurture your fears, simply changing a word can make all the difference. Here are a few cases in point:

“What is” instead of “What if?” – Have you ever been paralyzed by a fear of the unknown? Or been terrified by a potential negative outcome to an action you’re about to take or a request you’re about to make? When that happens we often will create a host of scenarios of the bad things that might happen – “What if I mess up?” “What if they say no?” “What if ________ (fill in the blank with some other horrible outcome)? By shifting away from “What if?” to “What is”, you allow yourself to stay in the moment and the current reality, focused on what is in your control rather than making up stories about things that are more likely to be out of your control. “What is” is a statement of fact rather than a story or series of questions of what might be. For example: You are getting ready for a big presentation and you think, “What if everyone hates my presentation?” By switching to “what is,” your thought becomes “I am giving a presentation tomorrow about a project that the whole division is very excited about.” “What if?” leads you to fear and what can’t happen. “What is” leads you to clarity and what’s possible.

“And” instead of “But” – This is one that is taught in many an interpersonal communication class. Whether we are talking to ourselves or speaking with someone else, “but” gets in the way of productive dialogue. It negates what is in front of it and turns what may be intended as a positive comment into a negative one. “You gave an excellent presentation but it would have been great to hear your personal story.” “You gave an excellent presentation and it would have been great to hear your personal story.” Say those two sentences out loud and see which one sounds more open and positive. “But” cuts you off from seeing the whole picture. “And” opens you up to the full idea.

“Get to” instead of “Have to” – If you complain about the things you have to do as if they are heavy burdens to carry and obstacles to your success, then they become just that. However, if we can focus on the things we do as activities that we get to do, suddenly they seem more inspiring, positive, and doable. If you “have to” walk the dog every morning before work, what would it mean to see it as something that you “get to” do? To breathe the morning air, say hi to the neighbors, and get a little attention from your furry pal. “Have to” weighs on you. “Get to” makes the effort much lighter.

“Happening for me” instead of “Happening to me” – Similar to the previous word choice, thinking of why things are happening for you rather than to you shifts your thoughts to much more positive, future-focused perspectives. When life takes a hard turn, it is not easy to see how it can be positive in any way. Losing a job is an example of that. Being fired or laid off is a difficult circumstance to deal with. If you spend long hours questioning why it happened to you and replaying conversations and thinking about what you could or should have done, it is very hard to move past and begin anew. When you can move to why it is happening for you, then you can see more clearly, learn from the experience, and move forward toward growth and change. “Happening to me” keeps us feeling like a victim. “Happening for me” points us to what lies ahead.

When you find yourself caught in words that keep you stuck or dwelling in the negative, change a word, so that you can change your thoughts, and change your world.

What word changes help you to get back on track?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in changing your self-talk to the positive, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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