You create your experience with your words, so choose them wisely, says Saj Shah…
“I am so stressed!” These were the words that effortlessly spilled out of my mouth whenever someone inquired about my job, even during the peak of my pharmacy and legal careers. In truth, I used the word “stressed” as a catch-all term to describe numerous aspects of my life even outside of work, from parenting and finances to being stuck in traffic.
It became a reflex for me to label any frustration, threat, overwhelm, pressure, busyness, or anxiety as stress. What I found fascinating was that the more I used the word “stressed” to define my day-to-day circumstances, the more I actually felt stressed in the present moment, even over trivial annoyances. My habitual vocabulary was rewiring my mindset to perceive and experience more stress than joy in the moment. Simply put, the words I chose to describe my experience became my experience.
Words possess immense power. They carry energy that can either create or destroy, trigger joy or misery. The meanings they convey shape our beliefs, drive our behaviours, and ultimately construct our perception of life and the world around us. The words we habitually employ act as an electric charge that permeates our lives, either positively uplifting and empowering us or negatively disempowering and limiting us.
Within the English language, there exist approximately 500,000 words, around 3,000 of which convey distinct emotional charges. Astonishingly, two-thirds of these emotionally charged words lean toward the negative spectrum.[i]
As human beings, we are hardwired to be more attentive to negative words due to an artifact of past memories passed down through generations from ancestral times when survival threats were genuine.
Consequently, we instinctively respond more rapidly to negative words, perceiving them as potential threats to our survival. To overcome our neural bias towards negativity, we must generate at least three positive thoughts and feelings for each instance of negativity.[ii]
Remarkably, certain positive words like “joy,” “peace,” and “love” have been found to possess the power to influence gene expression in the brain and body, reducing the amount of physical and emotional stress we typically experience throughout the day.[iii] These findings indicate that words hold the potential to impact even our biological makeup.
The effect of words is not limited to humans alone. Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto conducted experiments on water molecules, revealing that human thoughts and intentions can physically alter the molecular structure of water.
Dr. Emoto demonstrated that words carry vibrations that can modify the structure of water crystals. Uplifting, positive, and encouraging words created beautiful, balanced, and symmetrical crystals, while destructive, hateful, and evil words had the opposite effect. Considering that humans are composed of at least 70% water, Dr. Emoto’s discovery holds far-reaching implications for the influence of negative words on our own bodies.[iv]
Expanding our vocabulary to include words that infuse joy into our experiences makes perfect sense. By increasing the frequency and intensity with which we use positive language daily and reducing the usage of negative, disempowering, and self-limiting vocabulary, we can create a profound shift.
Shifting away from self-limiting language that fosters negative thought patterns may seem daunting at first, but it merely requires determined effort and repetition. We must train ourselves to recognize when we veer into a negative space in our minds, catch ourselves, and consciously reframe our focus towards something positive that serves us.
Merely noticing the following aspects will enhance your ability to catch yourself and make a conscious shift towards positive language:
- Observe the negative words you commonly use daily to describe something or someone. Pay attention to their frequency, intensity, and the situations in which you use them.
- Be mindful of any self-criticism or self-deprecating throw-away hyperbole used to describe yourself. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I hate my body,” “I’m so stupid,” or “I’m such an idiot”?
- Take note of the words encountered during the morning routine, such as reading a newspaper, watching the news, or scrolling through social media feeds. Assess whether they exhibit a negative or positive bias.
- Once you identify the top three negative words regularly used, observe whether the emotions and feelings you consistently experience correlate with these three words. With the top three negative words in mind, infuse some fun and playful creativity by replacing them with alternative positive and empowering words that open up new positive experiences for you.
Here are a few commonly used words that you can begin resetting to trigger joy:
BUT – The word “but” has a tendency to negate everything positive that precedes it. Consider the statement: “I enjoy my job but it’s demanding” This creates what I call a “yes, but…” trap. Anything following the “but” undermines the power of the initial positive statement and establishes anxieties and fears as barriers and problems we must address before taking action. By replacing “but” with “and” we gain more choice, freedom, and actionable possibilities. For instance, the revised statement becomes: “I enjoy my job, and it’s demanding”.
CAN’T – The word “can’t” implies a lack of control and diminishes our personal power by setting limits on our capabilities. We can reset “can’t” with phrases like “I’m choosing not to” or “It’s better if I don’t”. By doing so, we regain a sense of control in our decision-making processes. Additionally, transforming “I can’t” into the question “How can I?” opens up possibilities and propels us towards finding creative solutions.
TRY – Do you catch yourself using phrases like “I will try to make it” or “I will try to do…”? Take a cue from Jedi Master Yoda in Star Wars: “DO or DO NOT. There is NO TRY!”. The word “try” implies doubt, uncertainty, and the probability of failure, projecting a defeated and negative mindset. Instead, let’s embody determination and positive energy by removing “try” and replacing it with action-oriented statements.
Expanding and embracing positive shifts in language opens the door to a magical experience of the world. It elevates our energy levels, sparks creativity, and fuels inspiration and motivation. By choosing our words wisely and consciously, we can reshape our experiences and foster a joy-fuelled existence.
Have fun injecting some “joy” into your habitual vocabulary and witness the remarkable difference it makes.
Saj Shah is a pharmacist, lawyer, health technology entrepreneur, viral TEDx speaker and author of best-selling book ‘JOYNETIX – Unlock Your Joy Potential’.
ii) L. Fredrickson, “The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions”, American Psychologist 56/3 (2001), 218–226. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218.
iii) Narsi MSW, LCSW, “Words Can Change Your Brain by A. B. Newberg and M. R. Waldman”, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 56/1, 88-89, doi: 10.1080/00029157.2013.741424
iv) Emoto, The Hidden Messages in Water (Hillsboro, Oregon: Beyond Words Publishing, 2004).