We translate experience into language and mistaken the language as the actual experience. – Joseph O’Connor
What is Language Really?
The words you use throughout the day are nothing more than labels you give to your feeling and emotions. They are simply descriptions of your sensory experiences that help you gain a deeper understanding of your life and circumstances. However, these words are only generalizations you make about reality. They don’t necessarily describe reality “as it is” but rather describe your understanding of reality as you perceive it to be. Therefore the words you use are simply interpretations you make about things — for better or worse.
You give your experiences “life” with every single word you speak. As such, things don’t really have any meaning if you don’t take the time to give them a label.
You might for instance label something as being “disgusting” or “delightful”. Each label provides a different interpretation of your experience, and each label consequently gives you a very specific kind of feeling. You will, therefore, feel good or bad depending upon the label you give to something. In other words, how you feel at any moment in time is heavily influenced by the words you use to describe your experiences.
Your words are therefore very much assumptions that distort your experience of reality. These assumptions are used to make sense of what’s real or ain’t real, what’s true or isn’t true, or what’s painful or pleasurable. The key understanding here is that these assumptions are yours and yours alone.
Your words are in ways biased interpretations you make about people, events, and your environment. These interpretations are based on your beliefs, values, self-concept, meta-programs, human needs, psychological rules, thoughts, perspectives, and much more. They are, therefore, in essence, nothing more than psychological anchors we use to induce specific kinds of emotional states.
You experience a particular emotion because the words you use are psychologically anchored to that particular emotion. In other words, each word you speak makes you feel a certain way, and therefore using the “word” itself is a primary reason why you are feeling a certain way at any moment in time. This is, of course, good news and bad news. It’s good news because it means that you are fully in control of the emotions you will allow yourself to experience at any moment. However, it’s bad news because you normally induce your emotional states without conscious awareness.
The Evolution of Your Language Patterns
Over the course of your life, you have had your ups and downs. You’ve experienced painful moments, and you’ve also experienced numerous pleasurable moments. At one time or another, you experienced each of these moments for the very first time. And it’s during that “first time” that you made certain assumptions and generalizations about that experience that formed the foundations of your beliefs about “that experience”.
At the youngest age, before you even knew how to talk, you would observe the facial expressions of your parents and you would listen to the words they consistently used. Through your observations, you made certain assumptions about what is a painful and what is a pleasurable facial expression. However, you didn’t quite know at the time how to verbalize these experiences. But soon that would all change.
As you learned how to speak, you started to give labels to these facial expressions. You also began to label those same emotions within yourself. You would for instance smile, and call that “happy”. Or you would frown, and call that “sad”. Your facial expressions and other people’s facial expressions now had a label, and these labels gave your emotional life more meaning.
As you continued to mature and develop over the years, every facial expression you made and the way you used your body was given a specific kind of label that described that particular state-of-mind. And it’s at this early developmental stage that words began to attach themselves to specific kinds of emotions and feelings. These words, in essence, became your emotional anchors. You no longer needed to express yourself through your facial gestures or through your body language to experience the corresponding emotion. Now all you had to do is speak the “word” and you would automatically feel the corresponding emotion. However, there was one problem.
The problem was that the words you spoke “boxed you in” to experiencing things a very specific way. You no longer gave yourself the freedom to allow your body and face to do the “emotionalizing” for you. It was now the words you used that provided the trigger you needed to experience a particular kind of emotional state. These words now formed the foundations of your emotional experiences.
All this might very well be advantageous. After all, communicating through words seems much easier than trying to get that same message across using your body and face. However, you were no longer communicating how you really felt, you were instead labeling your state-of-mind a certain way; thereby triggering a specific kind of emotion. In other words, your verbal language was now directly influencing your state-of-mind, and you, therefore, experienced a certain emotion just because you decided to label your state-of-mind a specific way.
This is all quite significant, however, things become a little more problematic when you consider that the labels you give to certain experiences are based on how you’ve been conditioned over a lifetime. And how you’ve been conditioned results from what you’ve observed and how you’ve handled pain and pleasure in the past. And the big problem with this is that these labels you give to your experiences might very well have absolutely no basis in reality because the words you use are nothing more than interpretations of experiences that are unique to you, and you alone.
Someone might for instance spill some coffee on you. Based on your past conditioning you might immediately see this as a threat. And a natural response to a threat is to feel angry. And so in your head, you label this incident as something that makes you feel angry, and you, therefore, start yelling at the other person who looks back at you in absolute astonishment.
You learned this response back when you were a child through observing your parents. Your dad might have, for instance, spilled some wine accidentally on your mum’s new jeans. She reacted aggressively and started yelling at your dad; telling him how upset and angry she was. And it was this event that shaped your understanding of what it takes to feel angry. And so, years later when someone spills a cup of coffee on your work clothes, you too react in a very similar way by feeling angry about the situation. However, things could have been very different.
What if after your dad had spilled the wine on your mum’s jeans, your mum responded in a very understanding manner? That experience would then be ingrained into your psyche, and it would probably take a lot more than a coffee stain to get you feeling angry. This, therefore, suggests that your experience of anger is only your interpretation of reality; and there are certainly other interpretations you could make depending on the labels you give to those experiences.
All this is very significant because every single day you are now giving labels to your life experiences without even giving them a second thought. You respond in anger because you label yourself as feeling angry; you get frustrated because you label yourself as feeling frustrated; you feel stressed because you label yourself as feeling stressed, etc.
It’s important to understand that you don’t have to feel a certain way about something. You can most certainly choose to feel a very different way about things, however in order to feel differently about things you need to label these experiences in a very different way.
When for instance you think about feeling anxious, at that moment your facial expressions and your body will respond in a certain way that represents an anxious person. However, when you label yourself as feeling excited, then immediately your facial expressions change, your body language transforms, and your expectations shift. You are no longer feeling anxious because when you label yourself as feeling “excited”, this feeling of excitement is already rooted in your psyche in a very specific way. Your body, your facial expressions, and your entire being responds to excitement in a very different way compared to how it responds to anxiety. You have therefore transformed how you will respond to a situation based on the label you have given to that particular experience. And it all started with the language you decide to use.
The Power of a Word
Think of words as something that not only transforms your state-of-mind but also something that changes the course of your entire life.
The verbal language you use literally transforms your experience of reality. It influences your beliefs, evaluations, choices, decisions, perceptions, thoughts, actions, attitude, physiology, habitual patterns, behaviors, etc. In fact, every aspect of your psychology is transformed as a result of the words you choose to use to describe your state-of-mind in any situation. This literally means that your words will essentially determine what you will try or what you will fail to try, which ultimately shapes your expectations and your results moving forward. In other words, your verbal language shapes your destiny — for better or worse.
When for instance you give the label of “fear” to an experience; consider for a moment what comes along with that fear. With fear come certain expectations, beliefs, thoughts, physiological responses, and behaviors. And all these things consequently influence the choices and decisions you will make and the actions you will take moving forward. Therefore, your label of “fear” isn’t some isolated psychological event that has no relevance for your future. It’s a rather significant event that can dramatically shape your life in immeasurable ways.
What all this suggests is that the words you use to describe your state-of-mind at any moment in time actively shape your destiny. It’s therefore absolutely paramount that you get into the habit of transforming your vocabulary in a more positive and helpful way that is in-sync with the type of life you would like to live.
Developing a Rich Vocabulary
One of the significant challenges that most people will have moving forward is that they simply don’t have enough words to express how they are truly feeling.
Many people will be familiar with common emotions such as stress, anxiety, worry, anger, overwhelm, frustration, happiness, love, hate, shame, etc. However, there are many more emotions. And because there are many more emotions, there are therefore many different labels you could potentially use to help alter your state-of-mind in any situation.
For instance, please have a look at this list of emotions. Just imagine for a moment having the freedom to describe how you’re feeling in so many different ways. What could be the possibilities? How rich would your life be from an emotional perspective?
When you have a limited vocabulary, you live an emotionally impoverished life. On the other hand, when you have a rich vocabulary, you live an emotionally enriching life. And because you have so many ways to describe how you’re feeling, you, therefore, have many different ways to perceive and interpret your experiences. And because you have “choice”, you can now consciously choose the labels you will use that will best serve you moving forward. You are no longer at the mercy of your limited vocabulary; you are instead the one shaping your life and your destiny with purpose.
Identifying Your Language Patterns
In order to transform your language patterns, you need to first become conscious of the words and phrases you tend to use throughout the day. Furthermore, you need to identify how these patterns are affecting your choices, decisions, and actions. Once you have a clear understanding of how these patterns are influencing your life, you will have the necessary motivation you need to make some positive changes moving forward.
Here is a three-step process that will help you gain some clarity in this area:
Step 1: Examine Your Language Patterns
Let’s first begin by analyzing your language patterns. This is not so much about how you talk to others, but rather how you tend to talk to yourself and how you describe the positive and negative experiences in your life.
Have a think about the words you tend to use throughout the day. Specifically, think about the words that cause you the most anguish. These will be words that typically arouse negative feelings and emotions. Ask yourself:
What words do I habitually tend to use each and every day?
What emotions do these words tend to trigger?
Why do these words tend to trigger these particular emotions?
How do these emotions affect me? How do they affect my life?
For the purpose of this exercise, make a list of 20 words that you might typically use that arouse limiting emotional states. However, don’t just limit yourself to words alone. You can most certainly list short phrases as well. Although the shorter and more succinct the phrases, the better.
Once you’ve completed this exercise, feel free to progress to the next step.
Step 2: Bring Your Language Patterns to Conscious Awareness
Your second task is to become consciously aware of how these particular words and phrases developed over a lifetime. We’ve of course already touched upon this area within the previous section, however, it’s important now to take a look at your own life and pinpoint how the words and phrases you consistently use have been conditioned into your psyche.
To begin with, think back to your childhood experiences and recollect how your parents and guardians might have influenced you. Ask yourself:
How did my parents influence these words and phrases?
What influence did my peers have on my vocabulary?
What have my parents and peers got me saying?
How accurate are these labels I give to my experiences?
As you work through these questions, remember to reflect upon the typical words and phrases you identified within Step One of this process.
Now, have a think about the television programs you watch, the music you listen to, the newspapers and books you read and ask yourself:
How has the music I listen to shaped my language patterns?
How has the media shaped my language patterns?
What typical emotions do I tend to experience as a result?
What about the books I read? How have they influenced my language patterns?
Becoming aware of these “influences” will make you more consciously aware and vigilant of your surroundings in the coming days and weeks. You might even start second-guessing some of the words you use to describe certain emotions and experiences. And that’s essentially what must happen. Awareness is after all the first step to long-term change and transformation.
Step 3: Assess the Impact of Your Language Patterns
The final step of this process requires identifying the typical language patterns you tend to use throughout the day and the effect that these patterns have on your life. Ask yourself:
What language patterns do I see emerging here?
How do these language patterns shape my beliefs and expectations?
What assumptions do I tend to make as a result of these language patterns?
How are these language patterns affecting the choices and decisions I make?
How are these language patterns ultimately affecting my life?
Are they empowering or limiting me? In what specific way?
Really have a good think about how you use words and phrases throughout the day and how these patterns tend to affect your emotional state-of-mind. The verbal language you use is, after all, shaping your experience of reality. And if you don’t appreciate the emotions you experience throughout the day, then maybe it’s time you take conscious control and started altering those language patterns with purpose.
Transforming Your Words and Phrases
Throughout the day we all have certain things we say to ourselves without any conscious thought or effort. Most of these words we use are relatively harmless and don’t have a great impact on our state-of-mind, on our beliefs, or on our expectations. However, there are certain words and phrases that can actually hurt us.
These language patterns seem kind of harmless on the surface, however, each word and phrase has a hidden agenda that provides you with insight into your true intentions. Consider for a moment words and phrases such as:
I should have…
I would have…
I could have…
I have to…
Now, on the surface these words seem rather harmless, however, consider what some of these words imply. For instance, when you say “I should have…” this implies you’re feeling guilty. Or, when you say “I could have…” this implies that you’re trying to take credit for something. Or, when you say “I can’t…” this implies that you’re focused on the negatives. Or, when you say “if…” this presupposes you may not. Or, when you say “I’ll try…” this implies that you are already making an excuse for failure in advance.
As you can see, what you say may have one meaning on the surface, however, there is a completely different meaning below the surface, and it’s this “hidden” meaning that is manifesting at an unconscious level in your life.
The language you use comes attached to a set of beliefs, expectations, psychological rules, etc. All of these aspects of your psyche come to the surface as you use these language patterns, and when they come to the surface they limit your resourcefulness in that particular situation.
It’s therefore absolutely paramount that you become consciously aware of the consequences of each word and phrase you use. Furthermore, you must willingly choose to use a different set of words and phrases that will help you to become more resourceful in each situation.
Using Affirmations and Questions
If you’re finding this transition difficult, then it might be worthwhile to get into the habit of using affirmations. Affirmations will help you to stay focused on the right things in the right way.
Instead of saying to yourself that “I can’t…”, choose instead to use a positive affirmation that is stated in a present tense:
I can do this…
I am good at doing this…
This can be done…
This is possible…
I believe in myself…
These affirmations will at the very least focus your mind on more positive outcomes. And when you’re focused on more positive outcomes you instantly become more aware of possibilities and opportunities you could potentially take advantage of. These affirmations also make you feel better. You are therefore no longer wallowing in self-pity, but rather focusing on things you can do to help improve your circumstances.
Affirmations do however have their limitations. They are limited because they are passive in nature. They don’t actually encourage you to do anything; to make a decision; to take a specific action. However, questions can do this for you quite effectively.
When you ask a question you naturally involve your brain with finding an answer to that question. For instance, instead of saying “I can’t…”, choose to ask the following set of questions:
What if I could do this?
If I could do this, how would I go about doing it?
What would be possible if…?
How would another person do this successfully?
What small thing could I do right now that could prove to me that I can get this started?
As you ask these questions you are already engaged and searching for answers. Of course, you might not immediately acquire the answers you are after. And that’s perfectly okay. If you don’t have the answers, then ask a different set of questions that can help you acquire these answers. In fact, the more questions you ask, the better you will feel because more questions bring about more possibilities, and when you have more possibilities you have more options available moving forward.
It’s also important to note that every question you ask makes you more resourceful. And the more resourceful you become the better questions you will ask, and the more answers you will have that can help you work through your circumstances successfully.
To gain more insights about questions, please have a read of How to Ask Better Questions.
Consciously Choosing Your Words
Have a think for a moment about the words you typically use on a daily basis and the negative emotions that are often associated with those words. Now imagine NEVER AGAIN using those words in your life. Ask yourself:
What if I never used this word ever again in my life?
Without this word in my vocabulary would I ever feel the emotion that this word represents?
Maybe the emotion would be less intense or different without this word?
How would my state-of-mind change without ever saying or thinking this word?
Of course not using one particular word might force you to use another word to describe what you’re experiencing or feeling. And this is perfectly understandable. It’s all about letting go of those negative and limiting words that put you in a very poor state-of-mind. These are the words that you must eradicate from your vocabulary.
Consider for a moment:
What emotions would I never want to experience again?
What kinds of words represent these emotional experiences?
What alternate words could I potentially use to label these experiences?
Think through all the negative emotions you ever experienced and write down the words you typically use to label those emotions. Now, cross these words out with a pen and write down alternate words you could use that describe those same emotional experiences. Keep in mind though that you have two options you can select from:
- Option 1: Replace the negative words with words of a lower negative intensity.
- Option 2: Replace the negative words with positive words.
Here are some examples:
- Change ANGRY to passionate or disenchanted.
- Change AFRAID to uncomfortable.
- Change CONFUSED to curious.
- Change SICK to cleansing.
- Change NERVOUS to energized or excited.
- Change FRUSTRATED to fascinated.
- Change FAILURE to learning.
- Change EXHAUSTED to recharging.
- Change DISAPPOINTED to delayed.
Now consider for a moment what eliminating all those capitalized words from your vocabulary would mean to you. Not only will you not feel those emotions as you have felt them in the past, but you will now become more resourceful than ever before.
For instance, instead of feeling frustrated you now describe “frustration” as fascination. This is advantageous because when you’re fascinated you think differently about the situation, you ask better questions, you have different expectations, etc. You essentially become a very different person in this situation just because you “flicked the switch” from frustration to fascination.
Or, let’s take a look at another example from this list. Imagine you eliminated the word “failure” from your vocabulary. What would be the significance of this? Well, for starters consider how you feel when you label yourself as a failure:
Do you feel upset?
Do you feel miserable?
Do you feel inadequate or incapable?
What else might you feel?
Now, think about how you feel when you are in a state of learning:
Do you feel curious?
Do you feel excited?
Do you feel intelligent?
What else might you feel?
Given all this, which state-of-mind do you think would be more appropriate to experience in any situation? Of course, that answer would be a “learning” state-of-mind. Why? Because when you’re in a state of “learning” you naturally become more positive and resourceful. You no longer pity yourself or think about how miserable your life was when you labeled yourself as a failure. Instead, you are now asking better questions, you are looking at expanding your horizons, you are grasping for new opportunities and experiences, etc. The possibilities are literally endless. And the best news about all this is that in a state of learning you access a different set of beliefs that are built upon the idea of “learning”. These beliefs are certainly not accessible when you label yourself as a failure because from a “failure” mentality there are no empowering beliefs. All beliefs built upon the idea of failure are there to bring you down emotionally and discourage further effort. And that certainly isn’t an optimal way to live your life.
Some Words of Caution
Some words or phrases you use might be deeply ingrained in your psyche. In fact, they are so deeply entrenched, that even thinking about using another word or phrase can create an incredible amount of internal resistance. It may even bring-up all these limiting beliefs to the surface that make it very difficult for you to put yourself into a more positive state-of-mind.
In such instances, you should tone down the changes you are making. Therefore, instead of transforming a negative word or phrase into a positive word or phrase, choose to replace that negative word with another word that is of a lower negative intensity. For instance, you could turn “I’m feeling angry” into:
I’m feeling a little irritated.
I’m feeling somewhat uncomfortable.
I’m feeling rather disenchanted.
Each of these words still “border” on the negative side, however they are not filled with as much emotional intensity as “anger”, which means that you will not experience as much resistance to these words as you would if you interpreted your anger in a positive way, e.g. “I am feeling passionate”. In this instance, “passion” might be a little too far of a stretch.
Over time as you feel more comfortable using these “less intense” words, you can switch to using more positive words that will allow you to become even more resourceful in these kinds of situations. It’s all about making progressive change that is believable over an extended period of time. However, if you would like to make more rapid changes then please have a read of How to Transform Limiting Beliefs.
Now, as a final exercise, go back to the list of emotions and write down all the words you could potentially use that could replace your current emotional language patterns. After which, immediately start putting these new words to use. It would be interesting to hear how you go.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic? Would you like to optimize how you think about this topic? Would you like a method for applying these ideas to your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m confident you will gain tremendous value from using the accompanying IQ Matrix for coaching or self-coaching purposes. This mind map provides you with a quick visual overview of the article you just read. The branches, interlinking ideas, and images model how the brain thinks and processes information. It’s kind of like implanting a thought into your brain – an upgrade of sorts that optimizes how you think about these concepts and ideas. 🙂
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Power Words to Instantly Get What You Want @ Reader’s Digest
- 5 Words and Phrases Powerful Leaders Always Use @ Inc.
- 10 Power Words that Can Punch Up Your Pros @ Inc.
- 10 Words that Make You More Powerful @ Inc.
- 40 Words for Emotions You’ve Felt, but Couldn’t Explain @ Thought Catalogue
- How Great Leaders Use the Power of Language @ Inc.
- Improve Your Life with Positive Self-Talk @ Very Well
- Picking Up Patterns in Language @ American Psychological Association
- The Power of Language @ Think Simple Now
- The Power of the Spoken Word @ Huffington Post
- What Language Experts Find so Strange About Donald Trump @ Think Progress