“Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment.” ~Ira Gassen
The spoken word has incredible power.
If you can harness that power and put it to work in a positive way, you can change your life and become a happier, more successful person. This isn't new age psychobabble — there's science behind it.
I've become fascinated with the science of neuroplasticity and the impact it has on our ability to change in positive ways and live happier lives. Neuroplasticity is a term that describes the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to stimuli, cognitive demands, and new learning. As a result, the brain can create new neural pathways and connections.
For the damaged or disabled brain (such as people with strokes or brain injuries), plasticity allows the brain to repair or reroute damaged neural pathways so a person can re-learn to use functions previously lost to brain damage. With repetitive practice, a stroke victim can learn to re-use an affected limb because other parts of the brain begin to take over the movement function for that limb.
For me and you in our everyday lives, the adaptable brain allows us to make profound positive changes if we're willing to do the work. One area where this work has a daily practical application is with our words and the language we use.
If you repetitively think negative thoughts, you're actually strengthening neural pathways in your brain that support continued negative thinking. Negative thinking leads to negative feelings, and negative feelings impact your relationships, work, motivation and sense of well-being.
Now, if you speak your negative thoughts and put your feelings into words, you are exponentially reinforcing your brain to remain in that negative thought pattern. If your language is filled with fearful comments, self-condemnation, negative remarks about others, complaints, or self-pity, you are literally talking yourself into more of the same.
Alternatively, if you focus your mind on positive and affirming thoughts, even if you don't feel happy or positive in the moment, you will stimulate and reinforce the “happy” part of your brain. With repetitive practice, your feelings will change for the better, supported by a stronger happy brain function.
If you want to accelerate the process of feeling great about yourself and your life, change your language to reflect your positive thinking. Speaking words puts action behind thought. It gives momentum and reality to the thought.
Changing your language is the first real action step toward changing your life for the better.
Now, I suspect some might see this positive talk as too Pollyanna. Well it might be. You don't have to believe it at first to begin the practice of retraining your brain. You just have to speak the words and try to put some feeling behind them. As with physical exercise, you get stronger and more motivated as you continue the practice.
Awareness of your own thought and language habits is the key to this work.
If you accept and embrace (and I hope you do) that you can change your life by changing your thoughts and words, then you must start paying attention to your thoughts and words.
Here are some ways that you can begin to incorporate new powerful words in your daily life:
1. Language starts with thought. Pay attention to your thoughts, and whenever you catch yourself in a negative thought pattern, bring it to a screeching halt. Immediately say out loud, “Stop!” Break the pattern by speaking or singing something to distract you from the negative thoughts. Repeat this for five minutes to unlock the negative pattern.
2. Start your day with verbal intention. When you wake up, go to your mirror and have a chat with yourself. State out loud your intention for how your day will proceed. For example, say something like, “I intend to have a joyful, fun and productive day filled with positive and successful interactions and events.”
3. Use car time as self-talk time. My friend Steve Chandler who is a speaker and coach uses his time in the car to practice his coaching and speaking skills out loud. Instead of listening to negative news on the radio or feeling anxious about traffic, use the time in the car to repeat positive affirmations about yourself or to rehearse a positive conversation or presentation. You may feel goofy doing this, but do it anyway. This verbal activity will reinforce the feelings behind the words you are speaking.
4. Disengage from negative conversations. When other people start kvetching about their day or some co-worker or politics, politely excuse yourself from the conversation. If that's not possible, do what you can to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. Whatever you do, don't participate in this pessimistic discourse. There is nothing positive that will come from it.
5. Express gratitude. Several times a day, take a moment to look around you and verbally acknowledge what you are grateful for. I just did this little exercise as I am writing this post and expressed gratitude for my computer, my ability to write, the people who will be reading my post, the bird on the limb outside my window, the books on my desk. You get the picture. Good things are all around us, and if we take the time to see them and speak thanks for them, we begin to feel uplifted and happy.
6. Follow difficult words with action words. There are times when we do have to speak about negative, painful or unpleasant things. During these times, speaking about our pain helps us unburden ourselves from it. It is a necessary part of healing. But once the burden begins to lift, follow up with words and discussion around healing and action. Speak about feeling better and moving forward even before you feel ready to do so. You will be paving the path for yourself as you take the first step toward healing and happiness.
7. Include writing in the mix. If you really want to give your brain a double whammy, write down your affirmations, words of gratitude or positive thoughts, before you speak them. Writing about these ideas is another reinforcing action step that sends signals to the pre-frontal cortex, stimulating feelings of joy.
8. Do the work consistently. Strengthening your brain and transforming your thoughts and feelings takes practice. Like exercise, the work must be done regularly and with intensity if you want to see results.
Commit to pro-actively speaking positive affirmations and words of gratitude at least three times a day. Pay attention to your thoughts and words all the time. Regularly remove yourself from negative conversations. Rate your level of happiness and contentment on a scale of one to ten as you begin this work, and then rate yourself again after a month or two to see how you are progressing.
Positive, powerful words are tools that can set you free and change your life. Choose them wisely.