When I say language, I mean the words you use to converse with others and more significantly, yourself. If you had to rate it on a scale of importance from 1 to 100, where 1 means it has no effect whatsoever and 100 means it’s the only thing that has any influence, where would you score it?
Give it some thought before you read on because I doubt it’s a question you’ve ever asked yourself before and I don’t want my opinions to influence you…..yet.
I said give it some thought. Don’t just pluck a random figure out of thin air! Do as you’re told or I’m not going to write anymore.
Ok, that’s better. We can crack on now.
I want you to close your eyes at the end of the next paragraph and imagine this scene. I know I’m drunk with power now I’ve got you to think of a number, but humor me nonetheless. You’re at work on a Monday morning and a friend is talking to you at the water cooler and says something like this:
“Jeez this week looks tough. Tomorrow I’ve got to have lunch with Judy because she’s going through a real tough time with her pig of a husband. I really shouldn’t because I’m so busy with that really important project that took over from the last important project and has to be done before the next important project.
On Wednesday I’ve got to go and see my mom at lunchtime when I really need to go and change those jeans I bought that don’t look right.
Then on Thursday I’m at the gym at 6.30am and I have to have lose 2lbs before then because I’ve promised my trainer. On top of that I need to go to get the flights and hotels booked for our trip to London for the 2012 Olympics. And don’t even mention Friday because it’s a bloody nightmare.
I’ve got to take the dog to the vets for his boosters, clean all the windows in the house, finish a pile of ironing, broker a middle east peace initiative and be out of the house by 7.00pm because we’re going to dinner with friends. Jeez, I’m gonna need my crack pipe by then I can tell you.”
If you actually bothered to visualize it, my guess would be that you didn’t see or hear a happy scene. The person talking would have sounded miserable because it’s impossible to use language like that congruently and not sound miserable, or at least unhappy.
Not only that, but I can tell you without the need to read your mind that they had a downward slope to their shoulders and a fairly unhappy, worn down, woe is me look on their face, not dissimilar to a bloodhound that’s just been told Christmas has been canceled and it’s all his fault.
The only thing that caused that reaction was the language because there wasn’t anything else. It can’t be the events because nothing’s actually happened yet; it was the stories that the person was articulating that were causing the unhappy feelings.
There are a number of things going on in that monologue that aren’t at all helpful, but in this post I want to concentrate on one aspect and it’s something we refer to in NLP as model operators as necessity. These are words and phrases like ‘must’ ‘need to’ have to’ and ‘got to’
In and of themselves they aren’t really a problem. In fact we need them from time to time (pun intended). They only become an issue when we use them improperly and more importantly, incessantly.
“Oh come on Tim” I hear you wail, “They’re only little words” Yeh right, and that’s only a little rash, so you may as well ignore that too.
What’s the problem then, why are they such an issue when used inappropriately?
They remove choice and the removal of choice increases stress.
If you say you have to do something, then there is no option. Not a bad thing you may be thinking after all we need to breathe, we need to work and we need to tell everybody we know to read this blog.
However, when we use those kind of expressions to describe things that really aren’t needed, don’t have to be done and aren’t necessities we put an undue amount of pressure on ourselves. We start to feel like we’re backed into a corner and have no way out. This can have one of two effects.
1) We do what we say we have to do and feel crap about it.
2) We don’t do what we say we’re going to do and feel crap about it.
Now that is what I call a lose/lose, situation, but wait, it can get even worse. It’s even possible to achieve a lose/lose/lose if you buckle down and work hard enough at it.
If you’re constantly telling yourself that you need to lose weight, must quit smoking, should join a gym and you don’t comply with any of that, what do you think the effect over time on your self-esteem will be? Not good let me tell you.
You can get to the stage where you no longer trust yourself to do what you say you’re going to do. However, you still persist in using the same language and failing to understand why you feel so bad and why you never follow through with your good intentions.
You can change that though by changing the words you use.
The first stage is to recognize if you’re one of the many people even doing this and if it’s having a negative effect on you.
Start by simply checking in with your language from time to time because most of this stuff goes on in the background. It’s like the noise of an A/C system, in time you tune it out and don’t recognize it, but by being mindful you can start to become more consciously aware.
If when you have taken the time to check in with yourself you feel that you are being too restrictive and want to change, there are two options.
Firstly, you can change those words to ones that elicit a flat response. Instead of saying “I need to do that” say “I’m going to do that” and instead of “I must do that” say “I will do that”
These are simple statements of fact that don’t really have a negative or positive effect on our physiology or psyche. There’s no slumping of the shoulder or grimacing as a rule, just an acceptance of something that is going to happen.
The other option is to change from model operators of necessity to model operators of possibility. These include phrases like “love to” “want to” “like to” etc. When we use these we instantly feel better about something. With clients I occasionally get told that I’m being unrealistic when I suggest this for negative situations and I usually have to stifle an unprofessional eye roll.
Don’t get me started on reality because I’ll be here all day, but let me say this. You make your own reality; it’s completely subjective, so why not use every tool at your disposal to make it a brilliant one? I never fail to be amazed by people that insist on telling me why they can’t do something rather than looking for reasons why they can.
Try saying, “I want to go to the gym” “I’d like to babysit for the lunatic kid next door” “I’d love to buy Tim’s book” See what effect it has.
It may well feel weird to start with but so did naked mud wrestling so that’s no reason to quit. Persist and eventually you’ll feel better about whatever it is you want to get done and the cool part is you’ll even start to fool your unconscious into believing it’s true.
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
- Frank Outlaw
Oh and by the way, you may have guessed by now but I’d score the importance of this somewhere round about 97 or 98. It’s not unreasonable to say I think it’s fairly important.