In the movie Arrival, the way a group of aliens talked dictated the nature of time and space itself. Because this species didn’t have the language to describe the past and future, they could essentially time travel.
Why am I bringing this up? Because it’s an extreme example of one of the most important aspects of life itself — language.
The words you speak and think affect your reality. Think about it. The concept of time itself is simply something we made up with words to describe intervals. Time doesn’t really exist. Except it does to us because we gave it a name.
Again, I’m using these “out there” examples to hammer home the point of how effective language is to shaping reality.
Think about the way you use language.
Think about a word like “can’t.” It’s not that you’re just selling yourself short. Once you use can’t, the possibility of achieving whatever comes after it ceases to exist.
Or take a word like “should.” As soon as you insert it into your language, you just created a bunch of different contexts and emotions around what comes next — guilt, anxiety, FOMO, and doubt to name a few.
In your case, pay careful attention to the phrases you use to describe reality. Especially the ones that sound reasonable.
Here are some of the top negative phrases people make as well as ways to reframe them in your mind.
“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” – Carl Jung
Let’s count all the negative connotations and emotional associations you create when you blame your lack of success or purpose on your kids.
First, when you say you’re sacrificing your dreams for the sake of your kids, you subconsciously place blame on them for your failings. You don’t usually catch yourself literally saying “I’m sacrificing for my kids,” but you utter a bunch of little phrases that amount to the statement.
This manifests itself in many ways.
You can create a codependent relationship with your kids where you don’t feel whole yourself and try to fill the void in your life with their accomplishments — self-actualized and fulfilled parents don’t push their kids to go to Ivy League schools.
Also, when you claim you’re making a sacrifice for your kids, the word itself creates feelings of martyrdom.
What negative consequences come from martyrdom? Self-pity, quiet deep-seated anger, stress from feeling you’re always underwater having to support everyone else, so it goes.
Flushing your dreams down the toilet isn’t a sacrifice. It’s a cop-out. And you’re doing your child a disservice anyway because children don’t listen to what you say, they absorb who you are.
I will never tell my kid what to do. She’ll watch the way I live and make up her own mind, just like daddy.
“Civilized man has exchanged some part of his chances of happiness for a measure of security.” — Sigmund Freud
The words practical and realistic are pernicious because they assign comfort and safety to things that aren’t always that way. Also, they assign risk and danger to things that aren’t dangerous.
Do you know what’s considered practical and realistic in our society?
This isn’t to deride buying a home, going to college, and getting a job, but the language in the excuses people make for never trying alternative routes lulls them into a false sense of security.
It also makes them scared of branching out and trying something new and “risky.”
What is impractical about spending 1-2 hours per day working on a side hustle for months to years until it works while keeping your job?
What is impractical about taking a portion of saved money and investing it or starting a business?
You can change your life and be risk-averse at the same time.
“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” – Lin Yutang
“Busy” people are out of control, frazzled, and counterproductive instead of productive.
Busyness is keeping you from reaching your true potential. When you say you’re busy, you’re saying you have no control over yourself or your ability to prioritize.
Speaking of … when I turn down a request, instead of saying “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy,” I’ll say that “I can’t make this a priority right now.”
When you speak the language or prioritization, you’re telling yourself you have control over your decisions.
What you choose to work on matters much more than how hard you work.
When you understand that you don’t always have to be running around doing a bunch of busy work and errands, you focus on getting important shit done and letting everything else fall by the wayside.
“Strike the word should from your vocabulary.” – Scott Mautz
Anything that comes after the word should instantly become a burden. When you say a phrase like “I should start working out,” you instantly feel guilty for not working out.
Instead of being something you look forward to, it becomes a problem you need to solve. Langauge can add mental energy where it isn’t needed. The more friction you put between yourself and an outcome you want, the harder it is to achieve and the less excited you’ll be about trying.
What word can you use instead of should? Try “want” on for size. Using want gives you more desire to start. Or “I’m going to.” Make a pronouncement that you’re going to do something, and you put a seed in your mind that the thing will get done.
You don’t want to have an overwhelming sense of feeling obligated. You want to be excited to tackle what’s next.
Use Derek Siver’s simple rule for decision making:
Use this rule if you’re often over-committed or too scattered.
If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.”
Find things to get excited about that pull you toward your goals, instead of having to push yourself.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford
How many things are you truly incapable of doing?
Sure, I probably can’t become an NBA basketball player. I can’t become a famous singer because my voice sucks. And, due to the laws of physics as they stand right now, I can’t fly.
Aside from the most extreme answers, you can do most things.
Stop using the word can’t for things that are simply hard to do. Instead, be honest with yourself and admit that you’re unwilling to do what it takes.
“I can’t get ahead in this life.” No, you’re unwilling to do the often time-consuming work it takes to change your life. Be honest with yourself about that. It’s okay to admit and understand that you aren’t taking steps in the right direction…yet.
Admitting that first, though, gives you your agency back. You understand that you’re in control, even if you’re not exerting control.
Then, you can change.
“Never tell your problems to anyone…20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” Lou Holtz
Across the country from 5 to 7 p.m. on a daily basis during the week, groups of people congregate together at happy hours.
Do these groups spend time talking about side projects their working on, exchanging ideas on how to improve their own lives and the community, or having a deep philosophical conversation about changing the world?
No, they bitch and moan about their jobs, gossip, get a little tipsy, and mostly talk about dumb and inconsequential shit.
I’m painting a caricature here to make a point.
People don’t realize how much of a negative impact this type of behavior has on their psyche. Each time you complain, it’s like you’re adding an extra pound of weight to a metaphorical flack jacket on your motivation.
The thing about complaining? Even justifiable complaints are at best, useless, and at worst, counterproductive and dangerous.
Next time you’re out with a group of friends and you hear a round of complaints, challenge the group and call out the fact that you’re having a mental circle jerk of negativity.
Watch how they react. They might snap at you sharply and harshly.
How dare you pierce the barrier of their excuses. How dare you cross the moat of negativity and get to the heart of what’s going on deep inside.
We complain as a coping mechanism. And we defend our complaints because it’s painful to take on full responsibility.
I’m not saying to become a motivation robot who never has any down moments. I still complain because I’m human. But I try to catch myself.
That’s the theme of this entire post. Don’t beat yourself up about your negative behaviors, but watch them, be mindful of them, and gradually reduce them over time.
“Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.” — Tim Kreider
If you know me at all, you know I hate the news, politics, and most of the media in general. They have every incentive to sensationalize information, spin the facts, and keep you outraged.
There’s a correlation between the amount of time you spend obsessed with politics and your level of happiness and motivation.
I was sitting at a coffee shop yesterday and I overheard two older folks having a deep discussion about politics. Who’s going to win the debates, what the polls are showing, what senator or congressperson did what, blah, blah, blah.
As cruel as it sounds, in my mind I thought, “You guys are going to die soon. You should be focused on basically anything else but politics. Maybe knock off your bucket list…something. Anything but this.”
“But Ayo! Politics and laws affect our lives. Shouldn’t you be informed.”
Foolishness. If I could create a list of things the news does, “inform” would be at the bottom of it. And yes, laws and policies affect your life, so go ahead and do your research prior to voting and just vote. Leave it at that.
Spend the rest of your time working on, you know, your actual life.
Speech is one of the most powerful phenomena ever to exist.
When you speak, both internally and externally, you shape reality with the words you use. Understand the extent that your language shapes the way you see reality itself so that you can use better language.
Use words of possibility – “I can” “I will” “I’m capable.”
Use words to paint a picture of a better future – “I’m working on this” “I’m improving” “I’m willing to put in the time”
When you speak with others, inject some positivity into the world. When someone asks “how are you,” respond with “I’m fantastic!” You’ll startle people because people are, sadly, not used to positive energy.
Speak that energy into yourself and into the world, though, and you can create change for both.
Speak what you want into existence.
Talk the talk so that you can walk the walk.