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Three Words Worth Banning

Posted Jul 21 2008 10:19am

I slid into a hornet's nest of frustration and anger the other night. It was ugly. A true Jekyll & Hyde moment.  One minute, I was patiently installing the worst operating system in the universe, Windows, seemingly under control, then the next, a Niagara Falls of negativity and profanity came spewing from me like projectile vomit. For those of you who live in the dual worlds of Mac vs. Wintel, you know what I mean. For those of you who have only known Windows, well, it's like only having an outhouse. You appreciate the outhouse, but once you have indoor plumbing, you'll never want an outhouse again.

Once I cooled off, which took a good 24 hours and even Elle knew not to venture too close for fear of losing a limb, I gained some perspective. I remembered about the power of words.

With my clients, I often would listen to their language and help them discover the subtle ways they were undermining their own progress by the language they chose. And, the operative word ischose. We choose what we say which rises from what we think and from what we believe. Listen to your words for a day and you'll discover a lot about what you believe about your self, your future, your possibilities. Words become things.

There are certain words that I listen for; words that should be banned from use. Here they are:

  1. But.This is usually preceded by, "Yeah." It serves to undermine and diminish what the other person has said. Just don't know use it. If you're tempted, stop, listen to the other person and try something like, "I understand. How do you feel about (and insert your concern here)?" This keeps the conversation going and maintains a connection. If you're wondering why your conversations seem one sided it's likely because you're But heavy.
  2. Never.Never is an emotional veneer. It removes risk and protects you from feeling the prospect of failure. One of the first times I heard never used in medicine was with a young woman, a patient of mine, who had been strangled and suffered severe loss of blood to her brain. She was comatose; unresponsive. Every physician uttered the same words - "She'll never go home. She'll never do ....." Doctors (and other clinicians as well) sometimes hide behind "never" because it's easier than facing their own uncertainty and admitting they don't know; being wrong. The family didn't believe it. Well, one day, she woke up. Started talking. Eventually, she went back to school. So much for never.
  3. Should.There are two circumstances that the word "should" shows up. The first is when you're not sure but feel an obligation. "I really should start walking" or, "I should be better by now."  When you use "should", you place yourself in a subtly negative mental state. The mind, in keeping with its elegantly efficient design, begins searching for evidence in your day to day life to support the idea that you "should be better". So, instead of focusing on what you need to do so you WILL be better, you focus on what you do not have or cannot do. And, although the cycle is painfully uncomfortable, it becomes increasingly difficult to break. The second circumstance of "should" is when you tell someone else what to do. "You know what you should do?" or, "Well, this is what I think you should do." Instead of telling someone what he or she should or shouldn't do, ask questions. Re-frame your strong opinion, which could be completely without substance, into a question about how the other person feels. "So, how would you feel about doing (insert your opinion here)?" feels completely different than, "Well, what you should do is (insert your opinion here.)"

Now, I would like to tell you that I have perfected the use of words to craft my present and future circumstances and have seamless, bubbly conversations but, well, that would be a lie. I work on my word choice everyday and am always stunned at the subtle infusion of negativity in my mind and in my words. My most recent effort is something very simple. Each morning, no matter how I feel, I say, "Something great is happening today." I felt silly the first few times as if someone was going to quiz me later to prove that it actually happened. But with a little persistence, it's not so silly and I spend the day looking for something great. Yesterday, I went for a jog on the Newton. It was for just 90 seconds but it felt great. There you have it. Something great.

Make your words count.

Doug Kelsey

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