Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉
Have you ever noticed how certain word choices can play a role in how you feel?
For example, if you’re having a bad day and you say “today is very challenging,” you might feel significantly lighter and more empowered than if you said “today nothing is going right for me and I can’t catch a break.” Even if both statements feel true, by speaking the second one out loud, you solidify the idea that you’re a victim to this day, making you feel disempowered, stuck, unmotivated, and probably pretty sorry for yourself.
It turns out that our linguistic choices actually do signal certain things to our brains, creating particular psychological and emotional responses.
Just like with body language, our brain is constantly responding to our words, both the ones we speak out loud to others and the ones we use in our own minds during self-talk.
This is why the words we choose matter so deeply, and why examining and altering the words you use to communicate can have such a positive impact on your life. For example, super-common phrases like “I can’t,” “I have to,” and “I need to,” (as in “I need to go to the gym tomorrow”) tells our brains something specific. It says that if we don’t go to the gym tomorrow something very bad will happen; it implies that there is a sense of urgency and danger to the outcome of this decision.
Ever feel guilty for skipping the gym? Most likely, you used one of the above terms for yourself about going.
Using language that comes with a built-in (and somewhat arbitrary) sense of urgency and danger automatically leads to more guilt and anxiety. Plus, it’s far from accurate. I mean, do you really HAVE to go to the gym? Certainly not. Would you prefer to? Sure. Do you think you’ll feel better if you do? Maybe. But you don’t have to. Life will go on if you don’t. You’re an adult making a decision about how to spend her time, and it’s completely inaccurate to say you have to go to the gym.
But what about more important examples, like “I have to get up and take care of my kids every day.” Well, ok. Admittedly this one comes with a lot more urgency and pressure, but still. You really don’t have to. If it was super important to you not to do it, you could shift your life in such a way that kept you from doing it. You do not literally have to get up and make your kids breakfast every day. You could honestly refuse to get up at all, or to take care of them ever. Would child services come? Probably. But you could do it. You are an adult making a decision about how to spend your time.
Now let’s talk about the horrible epidemic of using super- limiting “I am” statements.
The verb “to be” is easily the most common way we announce our self-created limitations, pigeonholing ourselves and solidifying our self-identity as someone who is or isn’t something. People say things like “I’m fat,” “I’m bad at math,” “I’m an introvert,” and “I’m not graceful.” How objectively true are all these things? Not at all, each quality is relative, and is something that could be addressed and improved if the person wanted to change them.
But once a self-identified label like “I’m a rule-follower” becomes a frequently repeated part of your story about yourself, it becomes true to you. When this happens, it becomes extremely difficult to break out of it, because your brain wants to be consistent with your sense of self. The pattern is set and repeated, causing this limitation to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
We so often identify ourselves by our limitations, and our brains are paying attention to the language we choose. If we say “I am fat” for example, that signals to your brain that there is a connection between fatness and your ability to be; to exist. Therefore your brain is going to try it’s hardest to keep you from losing that fat, because losing fat is now unconsciously tied to ceasing to exist.
This isn’t just woo-woo conjecture, either. There was actually a study done in which people lost weight by changing nothing except their language use: they weren’t allowed to use any form of the verb “to be.” They could say things like “my body is carrying extra fat,” but they couldn’t say “I am fat.” This linguistic change alone caused weight loss, which is some mind-blowing shit right there.
I see this all the time with clients as well. They use disempowering language about themselves, with tons of “I have to” and “I should,” as well as a lot of “I can’t” and endless limiting versions of “I am.” In our work together, I aim to bring their attention to these labels, to elevate their awareness of the habit, and then to have them challenge the label’s actual truth.
Once you start paying attention to how frequently people use disempowering and limiting language, it’s kind of shocking.
We constantly say stuff that just… isn’t… true.
None of these limitations are real, but having them all is understandably somehow comforting. Most people feel more comfortable thinking they know exactly who they are and who they’re not, rather than dealing with the fact that they could be and do anything at any moment.
It can be terrifying to realize that your whole personality is just a series of reinforced patterns and habits, instead of the set-in-stone and predestined version of “who I am” that we usually think of.
We are creatures of free will, and we really do have freedom of choice. That includes what we do, what we practice, how we show up, and more. There are consequences to our actions, certainly. But we still get to choose, and we get to constantly grow and expand and re-invent ourselves. We are NOT held hostage by our lives; we are constantly in creation of them. And the language we use helps us to either open or close the doors of expansion, growth, and empowerment.
What kind of language will you use today? How will you describe yourself and your experience? How will you talk about others?
Come on over to Women Who Empower Other Women, Unite! And share your experience or questions on this topic with a community of women who are all striving to step into their own power and support their fellow womankind on the journey!
<3 Jessi Kneeland Get strong. Feel confident. Look amazing.
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