Therapists know it, teachers know it, motivational coaches know it, and all sorts of successful people know it: words have power. It’s the worst guarded secret in history, yet so many people aren’t conscious of how much one can improve in so many dimensions of their life with some subtle but key changes to their internal vocabulary.
Verbal communication is probably the most important tool we humans have to share, cooperate, get close to one another. And words are the bridges that work to pull us together. However, verbal communication also plays a crucial role in the way we communicate with ourselves internally: working on our self-talk is as important as working on the way we relate to our co-workers, friends, families, and loved ones, if not more so.
The Oxford English dictionary holds approximately 600,000 words. However, our vocabularies are, on average, only 2,000 words. And the habitual words we use daily? Between 200 and 300. That means there’s a world of words we’re missing out on.
Words are the bridges that work to pull us together. However, verbal communication also plays a crucial role in the way we communicate with ourselves internally: working on our self-talk is as important as working on the way we relate to others.
The role vocabulary plays in our emotions
Try to make a list of the emotions you feel at least once a week, something we could say is habitual. I’ll bet you listed only about a dozen, and more than half of those are related to negative feelings. And you know what’s crazy? Of the aforementioned 500,000 words of English, about 3,000 are especially associated with the description of our emotions. People barely can think of 5 or 6 words for the positive emotions they habitually feel. Imagine if their list consisted of 10, 20, 30 positive emotions. Wouldn’t you think that’s a person that’s happy with their life?
The fact is words affect our minds and bodies, we are just unconsciously underestimating the effects the words we use for our self-talk can produce. Because, after all, the words that we use to describe an experience become the experience themselves.
Let’s look at a concrete example: let’s say that, during the closing of a business deal, the other party took advantage of some delicate information you shared out of good faith to try and get advantages over you. How would you describe yourself? Betrayed? Angry? Frustrated? Enraged? Merely annoyed? Everybody will answer this question differently, but we can all agree that each of these words carry a different emotional load. The “annoyed” man is not feeling the same as the “betrayed, enraged” man or even the simply “angry” person. And this will be related to the words we choose to use in our day-to-day inner and interpersonal talk.
Change through words
It may sound silly at first, but what I’m proposing is that slight changes to the everyday words we use to describe our emotions can help us change the emotional patterns we often fall into. The key is to, first, be able to identify the emotional habits that shape our feelings, actions, and reactions. Next time you feel angry, frustrated, or however a sh*tty situation may make you feel, try to deflate it by changing your tone and affirming you are just “slightly displeased”.
Changing your quality of life and level of fulfillment through the replacement of some words? It may sound so easy that it seems like a scam, but I doubt anyone can really debate the power that the words we use actually hold. And it all starts with one word: choose a word you usually use for a common feeling, preferably a negative one, and each time it pops up make the conscious choice to replace it and take away the power it holds over you.
Instead of “enraged”, be “annoyed”. Instead of “terrified”, be “anxious”. Instead of “sorrowful”, be “kind of blue”. You’ll quickly learn it’s possible to reduce the intensity of negative emotions, and then you can try on doing the opposite: empower your positive emotions. You’ll eventually try to feel “delighted” instead of “happy”, “thrilled” instead of “excited”.
We’ve got to build healthy habits, for these are the building blocks of a better life and the better us. Constructive internal dialogue is one of these habits, and it can quickly change your life for the better. What other important habits to work on can you think of? How would you describe your self-talk? Is it great or still a WIP? Let me know.
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Neal Conlon is an entrepreneur with a focus on growth hacking, leveraging data, and purposely inspiring others to not let the obstacles in a rapidly changing world of tech limit their opportunities. In the last few years, he has pivoted his focus to learning how he can share his years of self-development to empower others to get better, quicker, faster, and to master themselves and the skills to be successful.