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what's in a word?

Written by Emily on September 22nd 2014

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing with my words. I’ve spoken words I wouldn’t normally speak, words that didn’t make sense, and sometimes, words that weren’t even grammatically correct. People have been a bit taken aback, not known what to say and sometimes, laughed out loud at me.

I haven’t been swearing (OK, sometimes I have!) or making up words that don’t exist, but I have noticeably changed my vocabulary.

You see, I’ve been doing a lot of research on changing state (being in control of your feelings to the point of being able to change how you feel) and have read extensively about the power of language and how choosing your words carefully will impact your emotions. There are volumes of works out there, all concerned with this very topic.

You see, I’ve been doing a lot of research on changing state (being in control of your feelings to the point of being able to change how you feel) and have read extensively about the power of language and how choosing your words carefully will impact your emotions. There are volumes of works out there, all concerned with this very topic.

Here is a great example. I coach lots of people who want to lose weight and improve their fitness levels. When they come to me initially, they can speak very fluently about what’s wrong with their bodies. They don’t like their thighs, or their arms, or their muffin top. When I ask them how they would like it to be, they reply with the same words. ‘I don’t want to have fat thighs, or arms or a muffin top.’ But unless you can language something, you’ll never be able to have it. So part of what I do is work with clients to develop empowering, positive language around what they do want, like a level of health and fitness that means they can play with their kids, look attractive for their partner and feel a sense of vitality.

Knowing how empowering and important language is, I was intrigued by what I was reading in the research I was doing; that a person’s emotional state is directly related to the language they use to describe it. Take someone who regularly feels nervous or anxious (as many of my clients do). When they describe these feelings to others or themselves using this habitual language, they are only compounding the feeling. Now, substitute the word nervous with the word energized and see immediately how different that sounds, and how an immediate shift in the intensity of the feeling could be. To take it one step further, substitute the word anxious for a ridiculous word like tinkled. Not only does this harmless word change the feeling, it might also provoke a smile or even laughter, effectively breaking state.

So I thought I’d road test this theory myself. I picked some words that I habitually use for negative feelings I habitually have and changed them.

Instead of feeling annoyed, I felt peeved. Instead of telling myself I was frustrated, I told myself I was fascinated. Instead of telling people I felt irritated, I told people I felt fuzzy. This last one especially provoked a giggle (from others and from me) which meant there was suddenly no room for me to feel irritated because I was too busy laughing. In the same way, I would much prefer to be fascinated than frustrated. And suddenly, I felt less annoyed when I used the word peeved to describe how I felt.

This week, I am going to try making my positive language even more positive to see how it effects my overall emotional state. When people ask me how I am, instead of saying ‘I’m good thanks’ I’m going to say ‘I couldn’t be better’. Or when people ask me how my week is going, I will reply with ‘fabulous thanks’ as opposed to ‘its OK thanks’. I’m going to choose to feel fantastic over just ‘alright’ and I’m going to be far more aware of my habitual language, because now I know that the language I use to describe how I feel has a direct impact on the intensity of the emotion I feel. Try it for yourself!

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