Words are powerful. They have the ability to build people up or tear them down. And that includes you too! “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can change your brain,” says Belinda Anderson, life coach and author. It's true.
Words are powerful. They have the ability to build people up or tear them down. And that includes you too! "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can change your brain," says Belinda Anderson, life coach and author. It's true. The words you say to yourself can either motivate you toward your goals, seriously hinder or stall your progress, or prevent you from even starting on your journey. Below are some of the words and phrases you should eliminate from your vocabulary, along with suggestions of what to say instead. Try eliminating these words and thought patterns from your day â€” for just one day to start â€” and see if you feel better and stronger afterward.
Women may be notoriously guilty of saying, "I look fat today," and it's human nature to be self-deprecating. But in order to form a better (not to mention more accurate) self-image, it's important to get rid of negative adjectives. "You don't want to associate with negative terms," says Beverly Flaxington, author of "Self-Talk for a Calmer You" and The Human Behavior Coach. "Catch yourself using self-defeating talk and make a conscious choice to change the talk. Instead of 'fat' you are 'getting healthier,' instead of 'ugly' you are 'beautiful in my own way.' You may not believe these things if you use overly positive language, so I advocate for using something more neutral to replace negative terms."
Related: 4 Healthy Ways to Boost Your Body Image
How many times have you caught yourself saying, "I only ran three miles today," or "I'm just emailing you to let you know..." or "I just did a yoga DVD" (as opposed to an intense gym session)? It's time to put a stop to that. "Avoid thinking of any day as test of your character," says Emily Balcetis, associate professor of psychology at New York University. "Whether you run three miles or only three blocks, today is not a statement about you as a person." Instead, take every day as a chance to progress a little bit further. "People who approach challenges and goals with a growth mindset rather than as a test of their fixed nature don't see setbacks as failures but as opportunities to develop skills and learn better habits," she says. So even if you didn't run as far as you wanted to on a given day, tell yourself that, regardless of how many miles you logged, any run is better than no run and that you were able to make time in your busy schedule to do something good for yourself.
Related: The True Power of Inner Strength
3. Too Much/Not Enough
It's easy to think that we're either too much of the wrong thing or not enough of the right thing. But that just reinforces the embedded presupposition factor of the brain, says Noah St. John, author of "Book of Afformations" and founder of SuccessClinic.com. "If you ask yourself, 'Why am I not enough?' your brain naturally starts to search for the answer, acting like a computer or Internet search. You find whatever you're searching for." Rather than presupposing you're not good enough, St. John recommends "afformations" (no, that's not a typo), which reframe your questions to lead your mind to search for better answers and avoid the endless repetition of the commonly prescribed "affirmations." In this case, try asking yourself "Why am I enough?" You'll set your brain on the right path and you'll be delightfully surprised with what your mind can come up with. To paraphrase Henry Ford: "Whether you think you're wrong or you're right, you are."
Related: Gratitude: A Powerful Fat-Loss Tool
Saying things like "I can't eat that pizza" and "I won't lose weight if I don't work out" is actually working against you. "When you are trying to make change happen, stay away from negative language," says personal and career coach Beverly Flaxington. "It is important to fill the mind with the positive 'what do you want' ideas and not confuse it with negative terms. The mind will drop the 'can't' or 'won't' and will focus on what you do not want to do." Plus, many times those can't and won't statements simply aren't true. Instead, focus on what you can and will do. Tell yourself things like "I can have one cheat meal a week," "I have plenty of healthy and delicious snacks to keep me full" or "I will lose weight because I'm sticking to my workout routine." The one exception to this, of course, is actual physical limitations. If you truly can't eat something because of food sensitivities or do something in the gym because of an injury or physical handicap, your mind may naturally remind you as a protection mechanism. Still, it's important to focus on what you can do instead of what you can't.
Related: How Happiness Makes You Healthy
Calling yourself a failure is a surefire way to ensure that you fail in whatever you do. In that sense, you are your own self-fulfilling prophecy. "You want to be the most positive coach to yourself that you can possibly be," says Kate Cummins, Los Angeles-based licensed clinical psychologist. "So by doing that you take 'I'm no good' and change it into 'I am good, and I'm going to do this'; or 'I'm a failure' into 'I have failed in the past, but I have also won, and I will win this time.'" But, at the same time, you don't want to lie to yourself. "Make sure you leave room for disappointment," Cummins says. "If your expectations are perfection, you are setting yourself up for failure. Forgive yourself, be patient with change and give yourself room to grow."
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Sure, some days you might feel luckyâ€”and that's great! But you should never use luck as an excuse for why you can't do something or to discredit someone else's accomplishments by saying they're lucky. "There is such a thing as luck," says author and personal development coach Noah St. John, "but you need to marry luck with hard work." A quote (erroneously attributed to Thomas Jefferson) states, "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." St. John also warns against the temptation to compare your life to the lives of people you follow on social media. So while you're envying someone's abs or arms, don't tell yourself that they're just lucky, remind yourself that they had to work hard to achieve the body they have and that if you work hard, you can achieve your goals as well.
If you keep pushing things off until some distant tomorrow, you'll never get them done. The common trap is to say, "Oh well, I didn't eat well today, so my diet starts tomorrow." But that allows you to keep delaying and to never really start. Instead, pick a concrete and realistic start date and stick to it. "Keep yourself accountable. If you don't do it tomorrow, when will you do it?" says author and personal development coach Noah St. John. More than just a start date, though, you need to have a reason to keep you motivated. "You need to have a 'why to,' not just a 'how to,'" says St. John. So whether that's losing weight to lower your blood pressure and risk of diabetes or to quit smoking so you can set a good example for your kids or get fit so you can feel great in your bathing suit next summer, pick a reason and remind yourself of it daily.
Just as you want to avoid calling yourself (or anyone else) a failure, you really should avoid negative adjectives in general. "The mind is a heat-seeking missileâ€”it will move rapidly in the direction you point it," says personal and career coach Beverly Flaxington. "If your thoughts and beliefs are constantly negative, then failure is what you'll get. You want to think, self-talk and out-loud talk only about what you want. Drop the negative viewpoints entirely. They are destructive." So if you find yourself fixating on what you perceive as your negative aspects, choose to intentionally turn your thoughts around to focus on your strengths and abilities. Instead of saying, "I haven't quit smoking yet; I'm so stupid," tell yourself, "I am strong for making the decision to quit smoking."
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"Saying 'I should've gone for a run' makes you feel guilty for not going on your run," says life coach and author Belinda Anderson. "Instead, say 'I intend to go for a run' or 'I choose not to go for a run today.'" The latter options are more empowering and give you back the decision-making authority. The word "should," on the other hand, makes whatever task you feel like you should do seem tedious or undesirable. When you tell yourself that you're choosing to do somethingâ€”whether that's going to the gym, quitting smoking, going to bed earlier or spending more of your time volunteeringâ€”your mind automatically reframes the task as something that you want to do, rather than something you're forcing yourself to do. So replace "should" with words like "choose," "intend," "desire," "want" or "could."
Related: 17 Proven Motivations to Get You Running
The old adage "never say never" is especially true when it comes to meeting your goals because it's a toxic word that will sabotage your progress. "When you are trying to lose weight, for example, if your automatic thoughts are saying, 'I'm never going to reach to my goal weight,' and those are the words circling in your head, it will be almost impossible to lose weight because you've already set yourself up for failure," says clinical psychologist Kate Cummins. Sure, it may take you a while to reach your goal weight, quit smoking or reach whatever personal development goal you've set for yourself, but it will happen with patience and persistence. "Instead of focusing on this negative self-talk, remember to tell yourself positive things," Cummins says. "Write loving notes to yourself on your mirror like, 'Hey there, healthy and slender woman,' or 'You got thisâ€”keep up the good work!'"
Think you're too busy to go to the gym or spend more time with your kids? Think again. If you tell yourself, 'I'm too busy to do it because...' you'll always make yourself right, says author and personal development coach Noah St. John. "But you're making excuses for yourself," he says. "How much longer are you going to listen?" Figure out what your excuses are (like being too busy), and then start asking yourself the right kind of leading questions. Instead of "Why am I so busy?" ask yourself, "Why do I have so much time to do what I need to do?" St. John suggests. Even though you won't feel like you have a lot of time at first, asking the question will lead your brain to seek the answer. The answer might be, "Because I have good time-management skills" or "Because I eliminated something nonessential from my schedule and replaced it with something more important." Keep asking those types of "afformation questions," and you'll surprise yourself with the answers.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you currently trying to lose weight, quit smoking, get more sleep or attain some other life-improvement goal? Do you find yourself saying these words to yourself? Which ones do you find yourself saying most often? What are you doing to counteract that negative effects? Have you noticed positive results from your positive thinking? What are some other words you've stopped saying to yourself? What words do you say instead? Share your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comments section below.