“What an idiot! How could I be so stupid?”, “I’m tired of hearing about this. Can we change the subject?”, “I hate how disruptive this is!”, “I’m worried about not having enough time.”
All of these statements represent certain word choices that can ultimately reflect our attitudes about ourselves, our outlook and potentially an upcoming change. And the list certainly doesn’t stop here.
Even though we might take them for granted, words have power, and the more we use certain words to describe our thoughts and feelings, the greater the chance we have of creating perceptions and beliefs that reinforce our use of those words.
Alternatively, the words we use can help us better understand our current thinking and underlying issues that inadvertently bubble up. If we find ourselves blurting out words we dislike or thought we have stricken from our vocabulary, then it may be time to explore what’s really going on.
When our actions run contrary to our intentions.
I recently listened to a podcast where a mother of a toddler was mortified by using the word stupid with reference to her son.
She stated that the word wasn’t one they used in their household, but after a potentially disastrous action by her son, she just blurted it out. It clearly hurt her son’s feelings, and she felt horrible for saying it.
The lesson for her was that what we hide inside eventually comes out, and she had been frustrated by some of her son’s behaviors for quite a while.
Even though she didn’t consider her son to be intellectually challenged; the situation just happened to be the tipping point for her and she reacted quickly and concisely by using a word that best represented her immediate emotions.
Words highlight hidden dimensions and also habits.
We use words to describe our thoughts and emotions, so when words we don’t normally use pop up, there is probably a reason, although it might not be readily apparent.
In addition, we are habit forming creatures, and our preference for certain words are no exceptions. I recently noticed my own habit of using the word ‘worry’. I believe it was something I picked up from someone else, without realizing it, and eventually noticed it had permeated various areas of my speech on a regular basis; “I wouldn’t worry about that”, or “I’m worried that we won’t make it in time”, or “no worries”, and so on.
Once I became aware of my using the word, I started to realize just how deeply it had permeated my daily speaking habits. I tried to stop using it but had a difficult time until I made the decision to replace the word with a different one. More about that in a moment.
How do we want to feel?
I also want to mention something I recently heard on a short sales webcast. The product isn’t important, but something one of the presenters, Asha Gill, said fits very nicely with today’s approach to the words we use.
It has to do with how we want to feel. Sit with this question with regards to your change (how do you want to feel once your change is complete?), as it will come up in our exercise for today.
Fixed and growth mindsets.
The last post briefly mentioned work by Dr. Carol Dweck around Mindset, specifically relating to differences between fixed and growth mindsets.
A fixed mindset is not conducive to change in the way a growth mindset is, and today’s exercise is one of several offered in this series to help develop an expansive point-of-view.
Please keep in mind, that neither I nor Dr. Dweck suggests an either/or approach to mindsets (even though it is presented that way in her book for simplicity purposes); rather, these things appear along a continuum and vary according to context.
Even if you are a person who feels you’ve got the growth mindset down, I encourage you to give the exercises from this theme a try; you may be surprised to notice some parts of your thinking that are more fixed than you think!
Today's exercise - word magnification:
This exercise is relatively easy to do on the surface, but will take time and practice to replace old words with new ones, so being kind to ourselves is paramount when doing this, as is perseverance, as it is through practice that we will find success:
Applying the 5 whys to sudden outbursts.
While this exercise is most helpful with identifying and altering our word habits to more closely align with our change, it may not be able to resolve those situations where we unintentionally use words we typically don’t like.
For these situations, applying the 5 Whys exercise can provide us with valuable insight into why these words suddenly popped up. Once we’ve exposed the underlying issue, the likelihood of those words continuing to lurk beneath the surface fades as well.
Here’s an example: If, Daniel, a person who is usually sensitive to the words he uses and tries to avoid using words that are judgmental or rash, spontaneously blurts out, “stupid idiot!” when he is cut-off by another car when driving, imagine his surprise and horror following his sudden outburst.
In this case, it could be worth exploring what that sudden emotional display was all about. Is it really about the driver, or could it be something that Daniel has bottled up inside? Could something in the situation uncovered a deeper issue within Daniel than just annoyance at another driver? Perhaps it had to do with a personal sense of not being assertive or aggressive enough, a hidden fear about his health or feeling powerless about a change taking place in his life.
For the best learning experience, be mindful.
When we are going through transition and change, it is very likely we have unidentified and/or unresolved issues which could bubble to the surface with no prior notice.
Great learning can come from exploring these avenues, but keep in mind that sometimes doing this can result in our feeling vulnerable and raw, so if we’re about to go to a party or have a bunch of kids over for a sleepover, this is probably not the time to delve into the depths of our psyche.
The good news is that the more we do these sort of exercises, the better and faster we get at them, and often times we are able to identify the issue and move on with little emotional fall-out.
If it feels like something big though, please be planful about when to explore, and take appropriate measures to reduce the potential for lashing out at yourself or others.
Coming up next, the stories we tell.
While noticing and tweaking the words we use to more closely align with our change is a good first step in developing a change mindset, another important aspect has to do with the stories we tell ourselves and to others about our change. That will be the focus of the next post, so stay tuned!
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About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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