Some Antics with words
People who have taken a course with me will know I am always up to semantics.
I love words. Their power to make us think, laugh or cry. To confuse us or enlighten us.
They are of course merely a tool but can be wielded with power and mastery. However they are often used habitually, clumsily or destructively.
Neurologically we are starting to understand their impact on shaping our brains, our reality, our identity and our lives.
For example saying “that” pain instead of “this” or “my” pain can decrease the pain as it linguistically distances or dissociates “it” from “us”.
Hearing the word pain primes our brain for any incoming stimuli and can alters our perception of feeling. So ironically if a doctor says “Don’t worry. This won’t hurt a bit”. The brain hears the words ‘worry’ and ‘pain’, and is “primed”. This can increase the physical sensations.
Swearing out loud when feeling pain decreases it. Not that there is any swearing in my trainings. 🙂
Even the tone of words can matter. Calm and steady words (whether from a loved one or from ourself) feeds back to the brain that everything is OK and we reduce the stress response. An upward inflection at the end of a sentence, which is a learnt habit, can lower our sense of confidence.
So people taking my trainings need to ready themselves for a language spring clean.
Possibly the most destructive words we can say is ‘I can’t’.
It becomes a linguistic habit, then a mindset, then an identity. Once you believe you can’t, your brain stops looking for viable options. This is more than just a trite concept learnt in self-development courses telling you to believe in yourself. It’s about what happens neurologically when we say ‘I can’t’.
I am reminded of the horrific learned helplessness experiments where a dog is stuck in a box and gets electric shocks. It tries everything to escape but it is not possible. Through repeated failure it learns a powerful lesson – I can’t. When the box is eventually opened (but the electric shocks continue), the dog just sits there. Success is only a few steps away but the dogs brain no longer recognises options as viable.
“I can’t” has become learnt through past experience and now neurologically the dog no longer sees the way out.
If you want to start making radical changes in your life ban the phrase “I can’t”. Success might take work, time, focus, money or new skills. But if others can so can you. And don’t mistake “I don’t know how to YET” for “I can’t”.
Words really do matter. Become a master of your words and a master of your life.