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We’re two weeks into the New Year, and you’ve set your goals, crafted a plan, and maybe even enlisted the help of a coach or signed up for a goal achievement course. These are all great steps, but you’re at risk of falling short of your goals if you don’t have a handle on one simple thing: your words.
That’s right, words—those little invisible packets of meaning that dance through our minds and float out our mouths. Because we can’t see them and we can’t touch them, they may seem benign, harmless. But they have more ability to shape your life than you may realize.
Depending on how you use them, your words can drain your power or propel you forward.
Sound like self-help fluff ‘n stuff or wishful thinking? Are our words really that big a deal?
According to brain research, yes.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman explain that negative thoughts and speech release stress-producing hormones “that immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, especially those that are involved with logic, reason, language processing, and communication.”
Negativity also slows our brain down, inhibiting our ability to generate creative solutions and organize our thoughts.
This means negative thinking is bad for pretty much every area of life—our vocation, our relationships, our health—and our goals. And the negative effects occur whether our words are expressed verbally or remain in our mind as thoughts.
In their article, Happy Brain, Happy Life, Susan Reynolds and Teresa Aubele say, “You are what you think you are, and all of your actions proceed from your thoughts…self-generated changes in your life are always preceded by changes in the way you think about something.”
When you think negatively, telling yourself things like, I can’t stick to this exercise plan…I’m never going to finish this project…chances are, you won’t.
Negativity is like going for a hike and putting rocks in your backpack—it needlessly makes the journey more difficult and decreases your chances of reaching your destination.
Understanding what’s actually going on inside when we have negative thoughts puts a whole new perspective—and weight—on our words. It’s a little scary to realize that criticizing myself or indulging in a bout of pessimism can actually change my brain function and derail me from reaching my dreams!
But not to worry, there is good news!
Positive words also have power, and they can reverse these effects and spur us in the right direction.
Like negative thoughts, positive thoughts release chemicals in the brain, but these chemicals create a calming effect, decreasing stress hormones and creating a “sense of wellbeing,” which promotes optimal brain function.
Additionally, and especially pertinent for reaching our goals, is that positive words activate the part of the brain that motivates us to take action.
Hearing a positive message encouraging a specific behavior, such as, “I’m an accomplished artist; I paint daily to improve my skills and grow my portfolio,” increases our likelihood of engaging in that behavior.
Telling yourself, “I’m peaceful, I’m productive, I’m strong,” takes you farther down the path of becoming those things.
Positive words wake us up. They get our attention, make us feel good, fuel our passion, and propel us forward.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next few months or this year? Do you want to eat healthier? Exercise more? Rest more? Make more friends? Create a work of art? Grow your business?
What positive words will you use to move yourself in the right direction?
Here are some steps to get you started.
- Think of an area of your life you want to improve.
- Create a positive statement about that part of your life.
Add power to your statement by:
—Stating a specific action as well as a general statement of your desired state of being: “I walk for 20 minutes during my lunch break every weekday; I am strong and healthy.”
(When setting goals, it’s important to make them specific: “I eat at least three vegetables a day,” versus “I eat healthy.” But general statements, like “I’m an artist, I enjoy my work, creative ideas come easily to me” still inspire positive changes in our brains and shape the way we think about ourselves, and thereby the way we act. I’m fan of using both specific and general positive statements.)
—Word it as if you’re already doing it: “I eat…” versus “I am going to eat…”
- Be on alert for any negative thoughts, e.g. “I’m a terrible eater; I’m unhealthy.
- Every time a negative thought intrudes, stop and say, “No, I am…(fill in your positive statement.”
- Don’t wait for the negative statements to crop up to start speaking the positive. Consider these options: write your statement(s) on a sticky note and paste it to your bathroom mirror. Make a point of saying it out loud every time you enter the room. Or, write it on a notecard and place it on your bed stand and say it first thing every morning. Alternatively, create a photo quote using your positive statement and set it as the wallpaper on your phone’s home screen—you’ll remind yourself of your positive aspirations every time you check your phone.
P.S. I created a fun sheet to help you walk through these steps. If you didn't get it at the beginning of the article, you can get it by clicking on the button below.
Prayer: Thank you, Father, for creating words. Thank you for the amazing way my brain functions. Help me to be mindful of my thoughts and speech and to maintain awareness that I hold some power over my path by the words I speak. Help me to build myself and others up with positive words and to refrain from damaging myself and others with negative speech. Thank you for my goals this year and for providing all I need to accomplish them! Amen.
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