Old, habitual, fear-based language can negatively impact your life.
You may not realize it, but the words you say matter…a lot. They can lift your spirits or drag you down in an instant—and others with you! In fact, Karen McGregor says many of us fall into the habit of using fear-based words and phrases that separate us from our power—and we have no idea the damage we’re doing.
“The bad news is that words are incredibly powerful—and that’s also the good news,” says McGregor, author of the upcoming book The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs “The words we say create our reality. When we use words that describe a life we don’t want, we end up creating that very life. When we intentionally replace them with new words, we create the life we want to live.”
McGregor says certain seemingly innocent words can feed our “power patterns”—distorted versions of our Divine power that we pass off as (often unsavory) personality traits such as the Controller, the Victim, the Blamer, the Withdrawer, etc. These patterns undermine our influence, create dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise squelch our potential.
Her book lays out a path—rooted in the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching—for identifying and breaking these power patterns. And she says a good starting point is to start paying attention to the story you’re telling yourself through the language you choose.
“When your mind spins its story about what’s wrong with your world over what’s right, notice the words you say,” she advises. “It will help you awaken to the impact of your words. Then you can replace them with words that get you focused on healthier thoughts and actions.”
Here are a few words McGregor says we should all leave behind:
• “Tired.” “When I was in my twenties, I would often respond to the question, ‘How are you doing?’ with, ‘I’m tired,'” says McGregor. “This one phrase helped to create within me a negative mindset, disengagement, apathy, and a sense that life was difficult and overwhelming. Try saying this to yourself ten times! You’ll probably end up feeling lower energy or even find yourself yawning! We convince ourselves of our energy states through our words.
“After creating a new language, I tell myself something very different from what I used to when I feel my energy dropping,” adds McGregor. “I say, ‘I’m going to have a nap, and when I wake up, I will feel refreshed, energized, and ready to work or play!’ I don’t try to ignore the sensations of my body. Rather, I give it what it needs without creating a dramatic story to go along with it.”
McGregor says once she began choosing words like “energized” instead of “tired,” she became more curious as to what contributes to the state that she wanted rather than the state she didn’t want. Over time, she chose to eat less sugar and cut down on carbs. Then she became vegan and her energy skyrocketed. “I began to forget what that never-ending cycle of exhaustion felt like because my vocabulary became my action—which became my reality,” she says.
• “Busy.” People with Martyr power patterns often use “busy” to make sure everyone else knows how much time and effort they are sacrificing for others. Saviors say it to make sure they get acknowledgment for making the world a better place with their fixing and saving. Victims say it to broadcast the time traps and time-for-money traps they find themselves in. Controllers speak it to ensure every minute is accounted for and that there is justification for never having space for anything else. Instead of speaking or thinking of your life as “busy,” try replacing it with the phrase “wonderfully full.”
Daniel Gutierrez, author of Radical Mindfulness, tells the story of reaching out to renowned meditation singer Michel Pascal as they were to perform at Carnegie Hall on the same night. Daniel began the conversation by acknowledging that Michel might be too busy to talk. Michel said, “Daniel, my calendar is very busy, but I am never busy.”
• “Absolutely.” This word is often intended to be an expression of enthusiastic agreement with another person. But the word itself can often shut out differing perspectives, open-minded thinking, or lively debate. It can also be a quick way to dismiss someone who might want to share some of their deepest concerns or values.
“Instead of using the word ‘absolutely,’ try stopping to digest the words of another and instead say, ‘I’m curious about that,'” suggests McGregor. “‘What is another perspective you might take?’ Another replacement for ‘absolutely’ could be the response, ‘What other possibilities exist?'”
• “Don’t.” “Once in my late twenties when I was on a flight, a flight attendant asked me what I did for a living,” says McGregor. “I told her I was a teacher and she asked, ‘How do you like it?’ I replied, ‘It’s alright, but kids nowadays don’t want to read. So, it’s tough.’ I was expecting sympathy, but what I got was my greatest lesson. She asked, ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ I was shocked speechless. I had developed a habit of saying words like ‘can’t,’ ‘won’t,’ and ‘shouldn’t.’ She challenged me to move from my helpless vocabulary to an empowered vocabulary—from victimhood to empowered action.”
• “Deserve.” When someone shares about a recent achievement of some sort, a common response is, “Good for you. You deserved that.” But the word “deserve” is based in the duality of good versus bad and is in frequent use by those with a Judge power pattern.Judges judge that some people deserve what they receive (good or bad), and others do not deserve what they receive (good or bad). Drop this word from your vocabulary and notice what happens.
• “But.” One word that should be eliminated (that almost everyone uses) is “but.” When someone asks you how your day is going, do you say, “It’s okay, but…”? If you genuinely feel the need to share a negative thought or emotion with someone, do it sparingly. Not only are you taking yourself down and out, but energetically you are doing the same for the people listening to you.
• “If only…” Complaining also shows up in phrases like, “If only…,” “Remember when…?” and “What can we do…?” The more you use complaining language, the more you keep your power patterns alive, especially the Victim and the Martyr patterns.
“Challenge yourself to go seven days without uttering one complaint,” says McGregor. “After managing that, go two more days without engaging in complaining thoughts. If your self-judgment comes up, choose to see it as just another power pattern that is trying to keep you from elevating your love-power. Laugh at the Judge within and remind yourself that this journey is not hopeless. It is hope-filled when you take daily steps to dissolve your power patterns.”
“When you consciously choose the words you speak and think, you set in motion a huge transformation,” says McGregor. “Imagine the joy and achievement you’ll feel when you create a vocabulary that opens a channel of pure love-power and unlocks your true potential.”