Four simple language swaps for more positive and clearer thinking

There’s an old phrase I’m calling BS on: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’

Because after decades of interviewing experts and writing features about mental health and now helping clients as a clarity and consistency coach, I know the power of language. Words can hurt, in the same way that they can help, hinder and even offer a completely fresh perspective.

Patterns and repetitions in the everyday language you use cement certain ways of thinking, so switching it up after years of using the same old words and phrases may seem clunky at best. But it can be done – and where better to start than with a few intentional swaps that you can get cracking with today.

Try these four simple swaps to help shift the dial in 2023 towards a more positive mindset…

Swap BECAUSE for IN ORDER TO

This helps shift the focus forward to the future, so rather than feeling stuck in what isn’t working for you right now or the negatives you want to leave behind, this swap allows you to get clear on your goals, vision and desired outcomes. Then you’re powered by a more positive purpose and what there is to gain, rather than the current status quo that isn’t serving you.

Example:

- I’m looking for a new job because I don’t have any work/life balance, it doesn’t challenge me and I don’t earn enough

- I’m looking for a new job in order to spend more time with loved ones, broaden my skill set, and earn a salary that helps me pay for things that bring me joy

Swap I HAVE TO for I GET TO

There can be a punitive feeling to I have to, like it goes hand in hand with an eyeroll or laboured sigh, because you don’t feel you have the control you’d like over the specific situation or action. Which is why this language swap is great for positively impacting your mindset in two ways:

The first is that it taps into the idea of gratitude in a more organic way than keeping a gratitude journal or naming three things you’re thankful for each morning. I get to encourages you to acknowledge any privilege in the things you’re referring to, which might have felt out of reach in the past or you might not get the opportunity to do in the future.

Secondly, I get to feels more like there’s a decision to be made by you, rather than for you, and invites you to explore; I get to, but do I want to? I get to, but will that be helpful to me right now?

Examples:

- I have to go for a training run > I get to go for a training run, because my body is healthy and it gets me closer to my fitness goal

- I have to arrange a dinner with my parents > I get to arrange a dinner with my parents, because it’s an opportunity to spend time with them which might not be available at some point in the future

Swap IS THIS GOOD? for IS THIS HELPFUL?

Labelling anything as good or bad can be all-or-nothing thinking, setting you up for failure or self-judgement. It may also encourage you to look outside yourself for validation or acceptance, to whether your way of acting or thinking is deemed ‘good’ by other people or society in general?

Instead, Is this helpful? Brings the decision-making back to yourself. Is it going to help life feel easier for you later today, tomorrow or next week? Is it going to make you feel positive, motivated and like you’re moving towards your goals? If the answer is yes, great. If the answer is no, can start exploring what you might do differently.

Example:

- Is it good for me to say yes to that extra work project I don’t have the capacity to take on > Is it helpful for me to say yes to that extra work project I don’t have the capacity to take on?

- Is it good to watch another episode of The Crown past 11.30pm? > Is it helpful for me to watch another episode of The Crown past 11.30pm?

Swap I AM for I FEEL

I am tends to be all-encompassing language which labels and defines you completely, in turn triggering deeper emotions like shame, guilt and sadness, depending on the situation. If you swap for I feel instead, you’re speaking to an emotion you feel at that moment, in the knowledge that everyone feels negative emotions sometimes and they're transient. It’ll help you separate the emotion from your self-worth, and empowers you to take action to remedy the situation if necessary.

Examples:

- I am angry > I feel angry

- I am a failure > I feel like I’ve failed

Victoria Joy is a qualified coach who helps people take back control of their everyday, cutting through the overwhelm to create helpful habits and consistent routines to make life feel easier. You can find her on Instagram.


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