Five words to give up for 2016

Photo: Andy Robinson

According to some estimates, the average person uses about 5,000 vocabulary words in normal conversation, and twice that in their writing. (Not counting all those grandiloquent SAT words that get pulled out for special occasions.)

But of those 5,000 words, there are a handful that often get used in ways that don’t help us as much as we think they do. Words that at first seem innocent and straightforward, but that actually are tricky little buggers that color our perception of our lives in potentially treacherous ways that can lead us to helplessness, frustration, and victimhood.

If you’d like to try an amazing little experiment on yourself to increase your awareness of how the words you use affect the results you get, then try minimizing or even eliminating the following words from casual conversation:

  • CAN’T
  • FAIR

There is nothing inherently wrong with these words. They aren’t evil or blasphemous. And they are so pervasive in our cultural language that we usually don’t question them. In fact I’m sure many of you are already thinking up examples of times you deserve to use them.

But stay with me for a second. All I ask is that you start to notice how they limit and disempower you when you use them. Listen to how they subtly (and not so subtly) imply and insinuate that you are wholly controlled by your external circumstances, instead of by yourself. Pay attention to how they surreptitiously define you as a victim, obscuring the alternate paths towards growth or achievement.

If you catch yourself saying any of these words today, stop and reflect. What really do you mean, and what outcome do you want to get? Who do you want to put in control of your life and experience? Is there another word you could use that would be more empowering and useful for you?

The words we use matter. They are a reflection of the thoughts we are having in our head, the very same thoughts that are going to create our feelings and lead to the results that we will get in our lives.

So instead of assigning blame for your problem/complaint and feeling hurt and persecuted, what if you focused on solving it?

Instead of spending time listing all of the reasons/excuses you “can’t” do/have something and feeling helpless and disappointed, what if you brainstormed ways that you could, or just acknowledged that you haven’t figured it out yet?

Instead of talking about what someone else “should” be doing and feeling indignant and annoyed, what if you noticed whatever it was that you wanted them to do, but then focused on ways that you could feel better without just having to wait for them to decide to change?

There are over a million words in the English language. So when we find a particular word is limiting us, I would suggest that there are easily better words we can use to communicate what we are thinking and feeling without having to resort to words that keep us locked inside the box of mediocrity and martyrdom.

Awareness is the name of the game here. I can’t tell you never to use these words, for only you know for certain what it is that you want to say. But I hope you will take a moment to evaluate your reliance on these words to see if you are, in fact, being served by them in the ways that you want to be.