Language – your best friend or worst enemy?

Since our daughter came along over four years ago now, my husband and I have been very conscious of the language we use around her (even more so in the last two years since she’s started repeating everything we say!). Thinking on this recently, I was amused about how  conscious I am of what and how I say things around her to ensure she doesn’t pick up bad habits or repeat anything untoward in inappropriate situations (if you get what I mean!). Yet when she’s not around, shouldn’t I be just as conscious of my thoughts and self-talk? Aren’t my personal habits just as important?

We all do it – speak negatively to ourselves, both internally and externally. Verbalise our concerns in conversations without thinking through their impact. Think things that aren’t the best about our colleagues, family and friends. We are human, after all, and our brains are wired to keep us safe.

I’m sure you’ve probably all heard some form of this before but knowing what we do about the brain it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it again. One of my favourite sayings when speaking with clients, friends, family – anyone really! – is “would you speak like that to your best friend”? Would you like them to speak to you like that? Majority of the time, the answer is no. Hell no, even. You wouldn’t dare tell your friend they have a huge butt, your boss he is pathetic and stupid, your parents they aren’t good enough, or your neighbor they’re idiotic to think like that. Well…maybe you would, but let’s say you wouldn’t for the sake of this article!

Could you be sabotaging your progress and performance?

The words that you use help you to make better choices on an individual basis, to stay on track with your long–term goals and can also be a game changer in the way you interact with others. The language we use is reaffirming the thoughts and beliefs we have. If we continuously feed our negativity bias, it continues to gain strength on a daily basis and makes it more difficult to change our wiring away from this focus.

Some people are more strongly wired naturally for pessimism. In fact, research has shown that 50% of our natural wiring for this comes through our genetics, and if that is the case it’s going to take more of your energy to change this. The good news is, regardless of your genetics, it can be changed – we can retrain our brain into thinking more optimistically. Even the most pessimistic mind can be turned around with enough focus and training.

Language is one of the simplest, yet effective ways of supporting the brain through change. At any one point in time, the brain is working sub-consciously to keep us safe. And by doing so, the benchmark is low in terms of the risks it will take. What this means is we can easily do small simple things to help it increase in awareness and resilience.

Simple examples of common language …

When you think about common situations in the workplace or at home etc., what are some of the things you say that could be changed to provide better opportunities rather than negative reinforcement? Here are some common one’s I hear often:

Instead of… Try…
I couldn’t because they didn’t get it to me on time. What could I have done to help them deliver on time?
I don’t have time. Is this really a priority to me?
I can’t believe how stupid I am. What could I have done differently to change the outcome?
I explained how to do this yesterday! Maybe I can show you another way?
How could they not understand this? What questions do you have?
I’m/you’re not good at this. What am I/we missing?
Here are all the reasons why we didn’t meet our target/goal. What can we improve on?
It wasn’t my fault. What could I have done better?

These are only a small sample of many, but you get the idea – our language helps us to stay above the line and be accountable. The more we practice this, the more it becomes second nature, habitual. And before you know it, your natural reaction will be to look for the opportunities rather than listing out all the negatives of any situation or scenario. Just another way you can be at your best, always.

What are some of the things you say that could potentially be framed to a more positive view? I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on what you could replace them with.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.