“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”George Orwell
The role of language
What does language have to do with self empowerment? For many, the first thing that comes to mind is affirmations – those positive one-liners that people put on sticky notes on their bathroom mirror to remind themselves that ‘You are beautiful.’ Most of us don’t think too far beyond this aspect.
We, as humans, have brains that are wired to use language and create meaning through language. It’s an evolutionary super-power which we often take for granted, and that wiring is also something that we can use to create a more fulfilling life for ourselves. Language is kind of like the operating system that is running in our minds when we aren’t paying attention (which for most of us is most of the time). It is making a LOT of things happen that we might not notice, and it determines how we make sense of our subjective experience.
A language experiment
Let’s try an experiment. The next time you talk to somebody I want you to pay attention to some of the words that they use. How often do these words and phrases come out of their mouth?:
- I need…
- I should…
- I want…
- I can’t…
- Busy / not enough time
- ‘They’ made/make me so…
- It’s just…
- I’m afraid…
For many of
Okay, so who cares?
As you look at that list, what do you think happens to somebody who has those phrases as the ‘operating system’ of their mind? What happens to how somebody perceives the world when they are constantly thinking “I need… X,Y,Z”? When somebody is consistently speaking the about ‘everything, always, nothing, never’ how extreme do you think their experience is? How often do you think they see their world from an ‘all or nothing’ point of view?
These language pieces end up having a huge impact on our lives. They determine how we view others, what we believe about ourselves, what behaviors we default to, and which actions we tend to steer into or away from. If somebody is consistently using disempowering language, they are probably going to feel disempowered a lot of the time.
What to do with it?
Now let’s try a harder experiment – look at the language that YOU use. How often do you find yourself using the phrases above? What are the feelings that come up for you when you use them? How do you think those
What if instead of saying “I need to” you chose “I get to”? How does that change the way you feel? What if you used “I believe” instead of “I can’t”?
What if we take it one step further, and replace our negative self-references with positive ones? What if it isn’t “I can’t make friends”, but instead is “I’m learning to make friends.” How would such a switch change the way you view going into social environments? As you look at some of your other language patterns, what else could you change that might help change your life?
Affirmations, like the one we talked about at the beginning here, can be useful if they are helping you change the language that you default to in your mind, and there are plenty of other ways like the exercises above that might just help you get there faster. Where do you want your words to take you today?