By Guest Blogger Angela Hoffman, Certified Integral Coach©
Language shapes our behavior and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. — Dr. Andrew Newberg
We have all been the recipient of powerful language from others…hurtful words, words of hope and encouragement, and commands or directives. We also know from experience that the words we hear from others affect us in a profound way. If you have ever been the recipient of an insult, you know the power words have to affect your mood and self-esteem.
The words you say to yourself have the same ability to profoundly affect your life.
Research shows that words have the power to impact our cognitive functioning, decision-making, mood, and health. In addition to noticing the power of words other people say to us, it is just as important to pay attention to the words and stories we tell ourselves. Words shape our beliefs about ourselves, our self-perception, and our very lives. Here are 3 ways words impact us on a deep level:
1. Words Shape Your Identity. Our life experiences have shaped our beliefs about who we are. For example, if you were told often as a child that you were the “shy one,” you have likely adopted that as part of your core identity. That story about yourself impacts your ability to interact socially with others. In my own example, for many years I taught children in elementary school. “I am a teacher” became not only my story, but my identity. When my career path changed after twenty years of teaching, I struggled with deep questions about my own identity.
Try this: Take time to reflect on stories that you have taken on as your identity. Ask yourself this questions: Does this capture the whole of my identity? What is the source? In what ways does this story help me move successfully through my life, and in what ways does it limit me? Then — take action. Challenge your story. Try on a different way to describe yourself.
2. Words Shape Your Ability to Achieve Your Goals. When you have set a goal that is difficult but worthwhile, what story do you tell yourself about your ability to achieve it? What words do you use as you take steps along the way? See which one of the following statements resonates with you.
“___ has always been hard for me.”
“I’ll never understand this!”
“I am determined to get there no matter what it takes.”
“I never finish what I start out to do.”
“This is really important to me and worth sacrificing for.”
Which of these statements indicate the likelihood that someone will reach their goals? Research shows that people’s belief in their ability to succeed (or not) far outweighs talent.
Try this: Next time you set out to achieve a goal, reflect on the stories you are telling yourself. Notice how they impact your confidence and mood. Then, challenge any stories that may derail you from your target. Say out loud: “This is my new story: ____.” Take action and see what happens!
3. Words Shape Your Ability to Stay Positive.
Much like achieving goals, the stories we tell ourselves also affect our ability to stay positive and overcome adversity. Remember that staying positive is a choice; so is the story you choose to tell yourself about the situation. A situation just is. Humans interject their own perceptions to make it either a “positive” or “negative” situation. By remembering that, you give yourself power to choose what you believe and how you want to respond. Your story about the situation plays right into your response.
For example, if Mr. Z is applying for jobs and have not yet received an offer, he can tell himself “What’s the use? I’ll never find a good job. I just don’t measure up to the other candidates.” Or, he can tell himself “I know my skills and abilities. I know the right job is out there, and I will keep searching until I find it.” Do you sense the difference in both the stories and in their power to affect Mr. Z’s ability to get a job?
Try this: think back to situations that have been difficult for you. Reflect on the stories you told yourself; notice any patterns that arise. The next time you are faced with adversity, notice the story that naturally arises. Challenge that story if it will hinder your ability to stay positive, and give yourself a new, powerful story of positivity and perseverance.
Words have profound power to shape your identity and your life. Choose your language to live the life you were meant to live.