“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
I was first introduced to the concept that words have power through the movie What the Bleep Do We (K)now? (2004). When the section came on describing the work Dr. Masaru Emoto did on ice crystals, I was far more than intrigued. At the time, I was studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques and was fascinated with the way words can affect everything from our patterns of thought, to the molecular structure of water, to emotional changes deep within our psyche.
This fascination lead me to challenge some of the fundamental beliefs I had regarding life. It also lead me to put away the fantasy and science fiction novels I had read as a youth, replacing them with books on Spirituality, Self-Awareness, and Sacred Scriptures. I furthered my study of NLP beyond the capacity as a sales tool, and began to breakdown language in general. I began to look at the origin of words, tracking the meanings of words I thought I was familiar with to their original definitions.
For example, the word ‘destiny’ is thought to be connected with a pre-defined purpose. It relates to our fate, or something that is intended to happen. Yet the word comes from the Latin ‘destinare’, which means to “make firm” or “establish”. For someone who did not believe that we create our own destiny, that everything we do is already planned, this new understanding brought forth the ability to accept a different way of thinking. If our destiny is truly something that we establish, something that we have control over and choose to make firm, then our future must be subject actions we take every day. Before we take these actions, the future is only a potentiality, it remains fluid. As Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
As the meaning of words began to change, I understood how even a simple change in the structure of a sentence can have a definite and far reaching impact on our lives, and the lives of those we touch. For example, pretend you just watched someone play flamenco guitar at a concert. You’ve never played guitar before, and the friend you went to the concert with just said, “Imagine being able to play like that.” Two possible response might be:
“I can’t see myself doing that”
“That appears to require skill I don’t currently have.”
In the first example, we deny ourselves the possibility of ever playing flamenco guitar. The words ‘I can’t…’ carry with them the impossibility of ever being capable, so there is no use to even try. Where the second statement, although similar to the first, provides avenues that open doors which could eventually lead to being able to do the task.
Where the words “That appears…” means it looks like, not that it is. How many times have we thought something was one way because of how it appeared, only to find out it was very different? The statement ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ comes to mind here. Also, the phrase ‘I don’t currently have’ means there is a possibility you could have this skill in at some point in the future. It is simply a recognition of where you are now, allowing you to consider what it might take to develop the skill required.
The same holds true with the self-talk we repeat inside our own minds. Words do not have to be spoken to have power, they can simply be thought. Consider that it is impossible to utter a word without first thinking the word. The word must pass through your thought process at some point prior to it being vocalized. Even when we sometimes say something we regret, the typical apology is to say, “I didn’t know what I was thinking.” Which is far different from “I didn’t know I was thinking.” We knew we were thinking in order to have stated what we did. We just weren’t paying attention to what was going on in our mind at the time we said it.
Some words will have a greater impact on certain people than other words do. And the same word used on a variety of individuals will elicit far different responses. For example, those who are suffering from eating disorders are more susceptible to words that could potentially be describing size, shape or figure. Even an innocuous statement such as “You look healthy” could be misinterpreted into meaning ‘overweight’ for those who have a higher focus or concern with appearance. In NLP training, students are taught “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.”
At any point in time, we hold in our hands the potentiality to complete any task we set our minds to. It is the words we choose when we respond to the potentiality that determine how successful our attempt will be. And the more often we repeat the statement, the more solid the foundation becomes. That’s because our thoughts follow certain paths through the network of synapses, axons and dendrites in our mind. As familiar thoughts come up, the mind recognizes them, along with the emotional stimuli that is associated with the thought, and the process becomes automatic.
This is how fears can become overwhelming over time. For example, I once had an experience with a dog that stayed with me for years. We had gone to a store, I think it was a furniture or carpet store, and the owner had a large dog. I seem to remember it being a Doberman, but the memory is fairly early, so the details aren’t clear. When we first got there, I remember the dog barking, and the feeling I had inside that this animal didn’t like us being there.
The owner got the dog settled down, and it was laying on the floor, staying fairly still. My sister was a huge animal lover as a kid, and she knelt down near the dog, slowly leaning in to pet it. I knelt with her as well. The owner was distracted talking to my parents about whatever it was they were there to purchase, and so my sister and I weren’t really being watched. Slowly we would lean in, getting closer and closer to the dog, until we could almost pet it. I could feel the animal wanting us to leave it alone, that it really didn’t want to be bothered, but we continued on.
When we got close enough to almost touch it, the dog jumped up, snapping at us and growling. It didn’t bite us, but the effect was just as bad. For years after that, I had a fear of dogs. If I encountered one while out delivering papers on my route, or walking home from school, I would freeze in my tracks. Even the friendliest dog was to me a vicious beast. Years later when my youngest talked us into getting a dog for our own home, I was still not comfortable having them around.
I eventually overcame this fear by changing the words I used in my mind when thinking about dogs, and by using visualizations to strengthen the power of the words. This past summer, I volunteered to watch my friends dogs, putting myself in a home with not just one, but four of the animals. And it was one of the most enjoyable weeks I have ever had. They were no longer a threat, and I found myself playing and rough housing with them like I was a kid.
The same ability is possible for any part of our lives that where the patterns of our past no longer serve our needs, if they ever did. It all starts with our inner dialogue. By making small changes to the words we use inside our minds, or those we state aloud, we can begin to see a new possibility. I’ve not only had this process work for me, but I’ve been fairly adept at leading others in the same process as well. A few years ago, when I was working as a Sales Manager for a Fortune 50 company, I helped my sales reps open the possibility of becoming more than they ever saw possible, simply by showing them how the words they used were the only thing keeping them from accomplishing what they wanted to in life. Here are some examples of what I heard them saying:
“I’m not good at handling objections.”
“I always have trouble getting sales closed.”
“I can’t deal with rude customers.”
“I just can’t sell (enter product name here).”
By changing the sentence structure, such as putting the words, “I used to have trouble with…” instead of “I can’t…”, or “I’m not able to…” created enough of a change that they could begin to see the possibility of being able to do what they previously considered difficult. What they learned in this process was how they were convincing themselves every day that they weren’t good at a certain task. No one was telling them they couldn’t do what I knew they could. They were the only ones who were denying themselves the ability to move forward. When they understood this, the power of the words “I can’t…” started to fade. And as they faded, they created room for new possibilities.
From “I used to have trouble with…”, we moved on to “I’m getting better at….”. Now we were talking about improvements, rather than disappointments. The new pathways these thoughts were creating carried with them new endorphins as well. Instead of feeling depression or despair or failure, they began to feel freedom. And the successes they started to have only increased the transition. Eventually, they were saying, “I can’t believe I used to think…”
Of course, it’s always possible to go back to the old ways of thinking. Those patterns are still very familiar to the mind, and a small failure, coupled with the wrong word choices, can destroy months of positive change. But with recognition comes growth, and even a fall back into old patterns will eventually feel weird as long as the desire for change is present. The more desire you have for a goal, the faster you will travel towards the accomplishment.
And here’s another way that words have power. If you choose to believe you can make this change in just a few months, guess what – you can! If you believe the change will take years, guess what – it will! It’s all based on the words you use, and the level of support you have in reaching your goals. If you say, “By the end of this month, I will see positive evidence of the changes I want”, you will see it. If instead, you choose to think, “Someday I might be able to do this.”, someday will always be in the future, it will never be now.
The bottom line here is, you can have the life you have always wanted. You can create the level of success and happiness you never thought you would have, because you’re not smart enough, or you aren’t as qualified, or whatever lie you are currently letting run free in the playground of your mind. Why continue to suffer a life of complacency and remorse when you have so much more potential? You weren’t created to be ‘good enough’.
You were created to be brilliant, to be powerful, and to be a shining example of how life is meant to be! Enough with teaching yourself to accept things the way they are. Enough playing small in life because you think this is all there is. Enough blaming your parents, or your siblings, or your children, or your spouse!
You, and ONLY you, have the power to be whatever you want to be! You don’t need anything more than to change the words you use inside your own mind. You can create a freedom beyond imagination, or you can create a prison beyond escape. The choice is yours.