Tool: Change Your Language, Shift Your Life
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Take a look at your language.
You are not what you were. From this moment on, you can be something different.
Language is powerful. How we use it reflects how we think. When you pay attention to your language, you can see what it reflects about how you think. When you put the work in to change your language and your thinking - you can shift both.
Talking about You
To start with, you can watch how you talk to yourself, and about yourself. Do you say nice things? Notice doubt. Notice when you are lacking self-confidence, or giving yourself criticism. Stop it.
Consider the opposite. What would that be like?
Talking about Everything
Try having a one-week moratorium on any negative language. If you really want to dive deep: go for a whole month.
Don’t take this lightly. Make a commitment. Some people use rubber bands, and switch the hand the band is on when they notice a negative thought. You might want to do something special to kick this off to underline the moment. A little bit of ceremony can go a long way.
Once you get started, remember: no complaining, no criticizing, no despairing, no hand-wringing, no gossiping, no worrying, no fussing. This covers things that are both within and outside of your sphere of control.
Prepare to be stunned. If you are like most of us, you may be very surprised to find exactly how much negative thinking has infiltrated your mind. Your habits. Your conversations. Your work. Perhaps your whole circle of friends. Possibly your family.
This is why the commitment is useful. As I have said before, the work here is not for the faint of heart. Much of the fear we have is tied to the negativity we are surrounded with. There is a range - from disempowerment, to worry, to cynicism, to regret, to judgment, and to hate.
When you go all in on this project, you will start to See. You will see how hard it is to change. You will see how your words and your thoughts go hand in hand. You will see how pervasive this stuff is. And you will see that you can change it. You can change it for you.
You can learn to convert the thought from a negative statement to something that is no longer negative. It’s sort of like Harry Potter’s not-so-secret weapon: The Disarming Charm. Really what you are doing is de-fusing. Diffusing. Removing the charge.
Removing the charge is the key. How do you take something that is inherently negative, and take away the negative charge? That’s for you to figure out. If you find that you need some additional back-up, call for help, or sign up for some coaching.
My Abridged Story
I did this language-change exercise in the late spring of 2008, for 30 days. I did it because I knew I needed some help, and I wasn’t sure where to start. This tool seemed as good as any, so I thought about it... and made a commitment.
At the time, I was working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This is an agency not known for sunshine and flowers. It is an agency known for incompetence. Am I using negative language? Yes. Is it charged? I say no. I reviewed my statement, and I find it to be true: FEMA is most certainly an agency known for incompetence. If you Google “FEMA incompetence,” you don’t even have to finish typing “incompetence” because it auto-fills… and the search returns 79,400 results. It has also been my experience that there is incompetence at FEMA. I’m not making a rash judgment. In my experience, it’s a fact. I saw it. I also saw some phenomenal people, working very hard to do right by the citizens they serve. Like many places, it's a work in progress.
So, in 2008, I worked in a FEMA office with some heavy negativity. We were working on a post-9/11 program to support first responders. The team I was on was pretty downtrodden. Pretty much every day, someone on the team said that the program was dead. It was very disheartening. I didn’t admit that the program was dead myself until 2011… after I had seriously and thoroughly checked it out, and I was absolutely sure it was true. In 2008, I was bound and determined to see the program succeed. That’s tricky to do when you are surrounded by fear and doubt.
When I started my “no negative language project,” I figured I could make it the whole month with just a few challenges. I didn’t make it even a few days without trouble. I’m laughing now, because looking back… I did not know how to participate in a conversation with grouchy folks without joining in. Or agreeing. Or adding more fuel to the fire. It was quite the challenge.
I soon learned. I learned to make un-charged statements. That is a skill.
I also learned to avoid certain conversations, or to just keep my mouth shut. Especially in meetings - where you can’t beg off with an excuse like you can in a casual chat.
I did start to be less a part of the group. There was less camaraderie. Less invitations for coffee. Less people randomly popping into my office for a chat. A little bit more alone-ness.
There was something else, though, and it was way better. I started to feel a weight lift. I started to see light. I started to see possibility. I started to feel freedom. I got ideas.
I also got some new people. When I could speak with less negative charge, people were more willing to help with the cause. It's easier to listen to someone when the energy is cleaner. I certainly didn't pull it off 100% because I was definitely emotionally invested in this thing - but it was a sea change away from where I had started. It kept me focused on relating facts and developments, and it gave me more objectivity than I would have had otherwise. Folks who knew me during this time would certainly tell you that I was passionate. And upset. But I worked very hard to watch my language. It helped me be objective, and it also helped me have some conversations that might never have happened had I not made the language shift.
Changing my language helped me go after my vision - which was to make the program work. I’m having a good laugh now, because that vision totally and utterly failed. That program is dead as a doornail. Not officially. Officially they’re doing an “update” right now as I write this. Okay, calling it an “update” - with quotation marks - is a bit snarky. I feel like I’m entitled. It was deliberate snark. I’m laughing again. Sometimes humor is the best way to deal with heartache. But it definitely feels better than getting lost in it.
My 30-day language change in 2008 was a life transformation. For the most part, I have never gone back to the way I was before I lived that commitment. I get a little frustrated now and then… and then I remember. Usually. There are still challenges - and I make mistakes - but this is part of my life now.
My hope in providing tools like this is that other folks can make that change. I would love love love to have helped people back then - and now - make the shift. But you have to want it. Sometimes it is easier to stay where you are. Sometimes it is comfortable.
Is it what you want?
I made the commitment to change my language eight years ago. I committed to 30 days, but in that 30 days - I realized I was onto something. It became part of my value system. It is now tied to my integrity.
That right there is one of the reasons I decided to be a life coach. This stuff works. Sometimes you need to call in reinforcements or use some tools to help you get where you want to go, but none of us are on this journey alone. We help each other.
We also help each other by helping ourselves. When I stopped using negative language in my interactions, the dynamics of our office shifted a bit. One less person was spreading - well - whatever you call it. One person was trying to de-fuse. One person was shifting their perspective toward the positive. Or at least away from a focus on the negative. Sometimes you just have to hold the line at neutral.
It changed all of my interactions… with my friends, with my neighbors, and with my family. My friendships changed around about that time: I stopped having friends who are consistently grouchy.
Most importantly, it helped me be happy. While there have been some major character-building “opportunities” since that time (ha!), I have found that this shift in my life has been such a tremendous asset. My perspective on even the worst moments has shifted. No, not into silver linings and fluffy clouds and fairy dust. It has shifted to be much more authentic. Now when I am going through something awful, I am able to honestly comment on it, without the negative charge. When I am struggling, I can be clear about it. When I am mad - I understand the reasons why. When I am lost, I don’t have a bunch of trash floating around in my mind about why that is.
It is easier to be present.
Negative language does something to us that can be hard to realize is happening until we stop. It disempowers us. It colors things. It says that the world is out of control, and we can’t do anything about it. “It’s so sad.” “It’s depressing.” Take a quick peek in on any social media channel - it’s everywhere. But we don’t have to be a part of it. We can change our own language. We can change our own thoughts. We don’t have to engage.
When we remove the charge, we change the energy.
The core of the counterfear idea is that the world is a tough place. Counterfear is about accepting the existence of risk, being resilient, and making change.
We’re here to learn and grow and evolve.
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