Remember that poster your elementary school teacher had in her classroom? “Be kind, words matter.” Turns out, your elementary school teacher was on to something. Words do matter. And not just the words you use with others. The words you use with yourself are just as important. They have the power to profoundly shape your emotions and behavior, changing the narrative in your head.
If you want to change how you feel, starting with your self-talk is a great place to begin. So to get you started, here are three things to stop saying in 2019.
1. “I should’ve known, should’ve gone, or should’ve done this differently.”
If there’s one word you’re using more than any other that’s dangerous, it’s the word “should.” This word seems harmless. And you say it so regularly, you probably don’t even realize how detrimental it is. When you use the word “should,” you often mean it to be motivating. You use “should” as a way to keep yourself accountable and on track. The problem is, should statements don’t really do either.
Think about some of the should statements you’ve used this week. Take a second to jot down these statements or make a mental list. Notice the way you feel when you say these statements. Notice what emotions come up as you repeat your “should” statements. Do you feel motivated, eager, confident, and prepared? Or do you feel inadequate, defeated, and guilty?
The problem with should statements is that they’re incredibly shaming. They have a second, unspoken half to them that’s harshly critical. “I should’ve worked out this morning.” (Second, unspoken half: “But I didn’t because I’m lazy.” “I should’ve known better.” (Second, unspoken half: “But I didn’t because I’m a failure.”) I should’ve done this earlier. (Second, unspoken half: “But I didn’t because I took the easy way out.”
At first glance, should statements seem helpful. They’re couched in a productive one. But they initiate a horrible cycle of shame. Pay attention to should statements. Listen out for how much you use them. And notice the emotions that come up when do. Ready to change your language and stop saying “should” so much? Here are some simple switches to say instead.
2. This is going to sound stupid, but…”
This phrase almost always comes before a moment of vulnerability or disclosure. Here’s how it happens. You’re about to say something to someone. And just before you do, you worry that they’ll judge you or think you sound silly. You realize there’s a chance they’ll laugh at you. So you decide to beat them to the punch and soften the blow, calling your statement stupid before they can.
This self-deprecating preface is a defense mechanism. It’s a learned safety behavior, designed to protect against judgement and rejection. It probably started when you were young, intensifying over time. And sure, it might soften the blow during the 10 percent of times that someone laughs or judges. But what about the other 90 percent of time? What about when the other person is genuinely listening without judgement or ridicule? You cut yourself down for nothing. You minimized your voice when you didn’t need to.
You probably have your own variation of this statement, and it might include a word different than “stupid.” “This might sound ridiculous,” “This might sound lame,” or This might sound dumb.” Whatever this phrase is, it sneaks in before a moment of vulnerability or risk, promising to soften the blow of potential judgment. But instead, it cranks up the volume on self-judgement and shame. (Read more about why self-criticism is so dangerous here.)
Watch your words when you’re about to share something personal or vulnerable. Do you preface your disclosure? Do you try to soften the blow? Think about letting go of this preface, and just say what you’ve got to say.
3. “I’ll do it when I’m ready.”
You’ve got a dream, an idea, or something you want to accomplish. It’s pulling at your heart strings. It’s bouncing around in your head. But then before you can say or do anything else, fear pops us. It tells you that you can’t. That you’re not ready. It convinces you that with more time and thought, it’ll somehow be easier. That you’ll be “ready.”
This is what I call the readiness trap. The belief that if it’s meant to be, you’ll know. If it’s important, if you’re supposed to do it, you’ll feel 100 percent ready. The readiness trap tricks you into thinking that if there’s an ounce of doubt or uncertainty, you shouldn’t do it. It tricks you into thinking you’re not ready.
Being 100 percent, totally ready is never going to happen. Fear won’t vanish. Doubt won’t go away. You’ve got to learn to move and take a step, even when you’re afraid. So instead of waiting till you’re “ready,” embrace “ready enough.”
What you say to yourself matters. So this year, vow to watch your words. Vow to change your language and stop saying these phrases. It makes a huge difference in your health and happiness!
Which one of these things are you going to stop saying this year?
PS: Scared of making a mistake? Here’s my favorite way to get through that.