What you think about, you bring about. –Lisa Nichols
I used to think that self-improvement books were hooey, which is my mom’s polite way of saying “bullshit.” Quotes like “Set your intention and it will manifest!” and “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”1 set me on edge.
Slowly and surely, though, I’ve been converted to Camp Positive Thinking.
Understanding the Power of Words
Until recently, I was a student. I studied rhetoric, which is just the study of persuasive speech. We spent a lot of time talking about how the words we use create and shape our reality, which can get pretty philosophical (but I loved it!). I spend most of my time talking and thinking about how the words we use matter and are powerful.
Not convinced? Think of how you feel when there’s something you’re really excited about. How would you describe it? Fun, exciting, joyful, thrilled, happy…you get the idea. Now, imagine how you’d feel if someone you care about came along and told you whatever you are excited about is stupid, lame, dumb, and a waste of time. Kind of crushing, right? The power of words, my friend.
Think of the last time you tried to convince someone to go to a movie you wanted to see…say, Batman v Superman. They think the plot is kind of lame and movie tickets are expensive. You are prepared for that – you show them the trailer, point out the exciting bits, offer to pay, and seal the deal by reminding them about the best part of this movie: Wonder Woman. They can’t think of any more reasons not to go, and you quickly pre-buy tickets for opening night. That’s rhetoric.
Look at all these words that don’t exist in English (but probably should!). When you have the words to describe the feeling you are experiencing, it validates what is happening! Being able to put your feelings into words names the feeling, and naming is powerful.2 Part of the reason that people like Brené Brown and Susan Cain are so wildly popular is because they put some scary, big feelings into words!
Learning all of this got me thinking. How were the words I was using persuading me to feel?
I started paying closer attention to the words around me. Here are a few things I noticed:
- I would call myself crazy or stupid for being (legitimately!) upset with someone.
I realized just how shitty this was when, one day, someone else told me my feelings were crazy – and I was MAD. Why was it okay for me to tell myself that, but not for others? I hear this a lot. So many people call themselves crazy, stupid, dumb, ugly…why do we do this?!
- I watched a lot of movies and TV shows that made me feel terrible.
I would binge on reruns of CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order…and then wonder why I was convinced that someone was going to kidnap/torture/kill me. I watched hours of House and then be a sarcastic jackass to everyone. I’d watch sad documentaries and wonder why I thought the world was going to hell in a handbasket.3 Even when I was watching shows that made me laugh, I’d zone out for hours and ignore my life – which never left me feeling good.
- I spent a lot of time on Facebook, but it never made me feel better.
When I started paying attention to how it made me feel, I realized it mostly made me annoyed or angry – either I was reading political posts that pissed me off (or filled me with righteous outrage!) or I was reading about human rights violations/crime/other negative news.
Why did I keep surrounding myself with words – from self-talk to TV to social media – that just made me feel terrible?!
Determined to change it up, here are 5 strategies I developed to increase the positivity in my life!
5 Ways To Use the Power of Words to Live a Kick-Ass Life
- Practice positive self-talk.
Pay attention to how you “talk” to yourself (even if it’s only inside your head!). Do you put yourself down or make fun of yourself? Refuse to use negative self-talk. Speak to yourself kindly, and even compliment yourself! Cheer yourself on, give yourself mental high-fives, and give yourself a break when things are hard. It’s okay to feel good about who you are!
- Use action words.
Swap if and should for will and can. Start talking about your ideas as if they are already happening – say “I will get this job,” instead of “If I get this job.” You are communicating to yourself and those around you that you know it is possible and that you can (and will!) achieve it.
- Have conversations about your dreams and goals.
Constantly be verbalizing what your dream life looks like. Write journal entries about your goals. Talk with supportive friends and family about where you see yourself headed. Tweet/Instagram/Facebook your goals. Put together a vision board. Whatever it takes to make your big dreams familiar to you – the more familiar they feel, the more you will believe they are possible and work towards achieving them. When you can see yourself achieving it, you will believe you can.
- Consume uplifting and positive media.
Stop watching TV and movies that make you feel terrible. Avoid (or delete!) social media that brings you down. Throw away magazines that make you hate your body. Choose to read positive articles, blogs, magazines, books and Twitter users. Listen to positive podcasts and music. Watch TV that makes you smile and laugh.
- Create a positive atmosphere.
As the saying goes, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Surround yourself with positive, inspiring people who are committed to improving their lives (and the lives of those around them!). Everyone needs to let off steam sometimes, but constantly staying stuck in bad circumstances and a complaining mindset will inevitably bring you down. Choose to spend more time with people that share your positive vision for life!
Real Life Examples
Here are just some of the things I’ve done to get these 5 things going in my life:
- Reduced social media.
I deleted the Facebook app off of my phone (eek!). I curated my Twitter feed to be full of inspiring people (and devoid of politics!)4. I followed Instagram users that took beautiful landscape photography of places I want to visit and artists that I admire. I (try to) remind myself to stare at my phone less and spend time with the people I love more.
- Reduced the amount of TV I watched.
When I do watch TV, I stick to comedies. Suggestions? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Agent Carter, Brooklyn 99, Downton Abbey (I always get a good laugh out of Maggie Smith’s snark).
- Started reading positive (self-help, gasp!) books.
I had to read a lot of downer stuff for school – no need to fill my free time reading depressing stuff too!
- Listen to happy music.
Spotify has some great, upbeat playlists. I put one on every morning while I am getting ready, and listen to other music throughout the day.
- Redirect negative self-talk.
When I notice I am giving myself a hard time, I switch it up. I remember how hard I work, and I let that shitty inner critic know that it can shut up already.
- Turn complaining into action.
I was a chronic “I’m sooooo busy” person – any time someone would ask me how I am, I would always answer “tired” or “busy” or maybe just heave a huge sigh. Lame. So, I rearranged my schedule to give myself more time off (including dialing back some commitments). I get 7 hours of sleep every night, minimum. I make sure to eat good-for-me food on a mostly regular basis. And anything I complain about, I ask myself, “How can I make this work for me?”5
No one benefits from you feeling like shit.
Stop putting yourself down, consuming media that makes you feel badly, and wasting your time and energy on people and things that don’t serve you.
What can you do to use the power of words in your life?