Words For Thought

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When we’re using words to communicate thoughts and feelings, we don’t always stop to consider how loaded or powerful they are. In my line of work (both as an author and psychologist), words are always powerful. There are some that I hear, time and again, that I’d like to bring to your attention.

Consider the word, “just.” You may offer a gift to a friend while saying “it’s just a little something.” You may describe your work space as “just a cubicle in the corner of the office.” You may share your work responsibilities by saying “I’m just helping out at reception.” As you read any one of these three examples, you most likely can realize the way in which the word “just” minimizes the effort behind your chosen gift, the shame or embarrassment you might feel about your work space or the work that you are doing. Try re-reading any or all of the three statements but leave the word “just” out of each. Hear the difference? And now that I’ve pointed this out, you will likely catch yourself each time you add “just” to your statement and either retract it or even not say it out loud. Without it, you can show pride in the work you are doing or that you have space in the workplace set aside for you. In regards to the gift, you may even choose only offering gifts to people that you are proud to give. If you feel that its deserving of a “just”, then maybe don’t give it. It’s not the amount that you’ve spent, but the thought and the effort that goes into it. So, give with a smile and confidence when you say “I hope you like it. I thought of you when I saw it.”

The other word that crops up time and again is “should.”

“I should exercise more”, “I should call my call my aunt to wish her a happy birthday”, “I should be more patient.”

My question in response to statements such as these is “If you think you should, why aren’t you?” Responses are varied. Some may offer up excuses such as “I don’t have time.” Some, after reflecting on my question, may be able to honestly respond with “because I don’t really want to.” That may be an aha moment and can actually be liberating. “So, why don’t you want to call your aunt?” I might enquire further. “Well, I don’t like her and I think it’s phony to call just because I’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do.” Getting to the root of why your “should” is not being put into action can be very helpful and can free you from the bounds of doing the “right” thing because you have been taught to behave in a certain way.

Instead, my suggestion is to replace the “I should” with something that denotes free will. “I know that exercise would be good for me, but I choose not to.” You may even want to consider what else you could do that would be good for you. Something that may not fit the conventional going to the gym to exercise routine, for example, but perhaps briskly cleaning your home.

Your other option is to consider substituting the word “should” for “will”, “won’t” or “will, when…” in other words, instead of “I should exercise more,” for example, you have the choice of saying “I will exercise,” “I won’t/choose not to exercise” or “I will exercise when I’m cleaning the house.”

The other series of words I sometimes hear is “To be honest.” What does this mean? That you are typically not honest? Even though we typically accept this as a commonplace expression, it may cause the listener to consider how honest the speaker is at other times.

I hope that this gives you some words for thought!