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Change Your Words, Change Your Life: The Importance of Specificity

Beyond our language lessons at school, many of us never actually progress with our study of language because it’s almost like we’re ‘done’ with our learning, and so our use and mastery of language often stalls.

But when you consider how we personally experience our worlds, you’ll notice that it’s primarily through language and the words we and/or that voice in our heads choose to use…

If so many of us stop learning, refining and even mastering our own use of language when our formal education stops, it’s not surprising to me that we and the language we use can actually be the root cause of much of our negative stress.

Change your words, change your life…

As you begin to notice the words you use, you may start to notice some patterns; some are positive and others serve us less so well…

“I know, but…” or “Yes, but…”

If you frequently use this or others frequently use it with you, pay attention to how much you’re listening (versus speaking). When you use “but” it very often negates (or dismisses) the statement or sentence before it. From now on, whenever you use ‘but’ notice whether you’re giving the preceding statement enough attention before you dismiss or ignore it.

“It makes me feel…” or “You make me feel…”

Nothing and no-one can MAKE you feel anything. It is your choice to feel something, that might be triggered by someone’s actions but they’re not holding a gun to your head and forcing you to feel a certain way. This can be a tricky one for people to absorb because it means taking full responsibility for yourself and the way that you feel.

“I can’t…”

Most of us know that we shouldn’t use “I can’t” and yet many of us still do. It’s one of those cover-all phrases that allows you to avoid being too specific and therefore becomes easy to hide behind. More accurately, what “I can’t” often means is “I don’t want to” or “I don’t know how to” or “I won’t” or “I’m not allowed to” or “I’m scared to” or “I’m embarrassed to” or some other more specific reason than simply “I can’t”.

You may also notice that behind or underneath these unconsciously chosen words, your deepest-held assumptions can be found.

It’s a useful exercise – whenever you notice yourself using generalisations or being somewhat vague – to unpack what’s behind those words…

For example, here’s how you might do that with the following:

“People are just out for themselves”

  • Who, specifically, are people? Specific people you know? Yourself? Your parents? Your friends? Your colleagues? Everyone? Ever? Really?
  • What, specifically, does ‘out for themselves’ mean to you? Think of a few times you’ve experienced someone being ‘just out for themselves’. How often does that happen?
  • How do you know this to be true? Of everyone?
  • What does it look like when people aren’t just out for themselves?

“I’m useless with money/business/people”

  • How do you know that? What specific evidence do you have to support that?
  • What specifics are you covering when you say “money”? Managing it? Earning it? Spending it? Saving it? Having it?
  • What specifics are you covering when you say “business”? Starting one? Growing one? Running one? Stopping one? Marketing? Sales? Customer service?
  • What specifics are you covering when you say whatever fits at the end of that sentence for you?
  • What does it look like when someone isn’t useless with money/business/whatever?

“Nobody ever listens to me”

  • Who specifically never listens to you? Nobody? Ever? Really?
  • How do you know they don’t listen? What specific evidence do you have that they don’t listen?
  • How can you tell when someone isn’t listening to you? How can you be sure this is true?
  • How would you know if someone were listening to you?
  • What do you expect someone to do/look like/say when they’re listening to you?

Start to pay attention to and notice which words/phrases you use on a frequent basis that you feel may not be serving you well? What are they? And what could you say instead?

If you’d like to explore more techniques and tools like this, why not join the next group of The Game-Changer Experience →