Language is quite likely the greatest tool humankind has at its disposal. The power it holds is immense. Our realities and beliefs are shaped and maintained by the language we use. Here in Korea, the culture is embedded in the language. In order to show proper respect, Korean words completely change depending on who the speaker is speaking to. In this way, the culture is reflected in the language, but also the reverse is true. The language helps maintain the culture and shape the reality of those living it. It’s a very real example in which language affects our behavior and the way we think of the world. Because of this, language can both help and hamper us when we want to make a change in our lives. It roots our vision of the world and OURSELVES. And those roots can be strong and super difficult to uproot. However, we can replant that language and grow a new story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. We do it by becoming aware of the language we use with ourselves and being deliberate on we use and change it going forward.
It may be helpful to run through a quick example on how we can do that. Let’s say...it’s difficult to get motivated to work and finish the day. You dread going in every day. It’s a real drag and is leading to some deep sadness in your life. I think we can all relate to this. The first step is to identify the story we are telling ourselves. We need to figure out the language we are using that creates the emotions we are experiencing about work. This is probably the most difficult step. It requires a lot of awareness as we usually are not accustomed to thinking about how we talk to ourselves. So let me refer you to one of my previous blog entries about awareness that may help you with this step. But for now let’s imagine we become aware of what we are telling ourselves. This may be a number of possible things. Maybe it’s “my job never changes”, “I don’t want to interact with this coworker”, “my boss hates me”, “I’m not good at this”, or may be something as simple as “I hate my job”. Whatever it is, we can change the way we view our situation by changing what we are telling ourselves. So let’s take the last one I mentioned, “I hate my job.” What can we say to ourselves to change this thought? It must be something that we both believe and is true. It does not help to lie to ourselves nor change the language to something we are not going to believe. If I were to change it from “I hate my job” to “I love my job” it would do nothing for us if we also don’t genuinely believe the new thought. It would be like replanting those language roots in poor soil. So we need to make sure the soil is rich. Find words that are going to be meaningful and true to you. “I love my job” may work if you think about the aspects of your job you truly enjoy. However, maybe there is nothing you legitimately enjoy about your job. Maybe the words need to change to, “I will be curious about my work” or “I will do a better job today than I did yesterday” or “Today I take another step towards something new”. For each person and each situation, the change in language will be different. The key is to make the change real for yourself by believing it and making sure the new thought does affect you in the positive way you intend. Often you will find that with this change in language, behavior and life changes follow necessarily. If you hate your job and start telling yourself instead that your current job is building your skills for your next job, you’ll find yourself actively searching for a new job and ways to build your skills. Your mind actively seeks ways to make the story we tell ourselves become and maintain our reality.
I cannot stress enough the importance of first becoming aware of the story we are telling ourselves. What that may reveal could be surprising. From there, choosing a story and language that is true, believable, and authentically you is critical in making the change effective. Some questions to ask yourself during this process…
-What am I telling myself when this behavior/reaction/emotion is happening?
-What would I tell a friend if I knew they were saying this about/to themselves?
-The one thing holding me back from making this change is what…? If that one thing were resolved, how does that change what I’m telling myself?
-What is one small, positive change in the story you’re telling yourself that you can make right now?
-Can I call upon one of my strengths to change my story/language?
-If I imagine myself in a future where this change has been made and I’m living the life I want, what story am I telling myself in that future? And what’s holding you back from using that story right now in some way?