The Atomic Power of Words: Learn to Harness It Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the atomic power of words to elicit feelings.  Feelings, in turn lead to behavior.  It is the connection between words feelings and actions which give words their power.

The downside of this relationship between words and actions is that the words we use can be misunderstood by others. Misunderstandings can elicit behavior we may not want.  Consequently, it is critical that we use words that are less likely to be misunderstood and, therefore, are more likely to generate the responses (behavior) we would like.

In this post, I want to address what I call “stop” words and replacing them with “go” words.

Stop words are words which when used tend to leave others feeling deflated, unmotivated and stuck. The same end result occurs when we use these words and direct them toward ourselves.

Go words are motivating.

It is important to note that the specific word you use is less important than how that word is interpreted on a feeling level.

Specific stop words are: “can’t” as in “I can’t…”, “problem” as in “We’ve got a problem.”, “should” as in “You (or I) should …” and so forth.

Let’s take the word “can’t”.  What we mean when we say we “can’t do something” is usually that we may see obstacles in the way of our accomplishing the task.  While there may be obstacles, the issue with the word “can’t” is that your brain may interpret the word as “impossible”.  If you say “I can’t do this.”, what you may feel is that it is impossible for you to do it.  If you truly were facing an impossible task that you felt compelled to overcome, you might get depressed, feel overwhelmed, stop trying, lose motivation and so forth.  When you tell yourself you “can’t” do something, you react as if the task facing you is, indeed impossible.

Another way around the word “can’t” which both acknowledges the difficulties the event you are facing represents and elicits a feeling of motivation is to say, “This situation is admittedly difficult but it is doable.”  “Doable” is a go word. Emotionally, your brain is satisfied that the situation has been correctly labelled as requiring great effort and you remain motivated because you believe you have the ability to persevere and overcome.

If you tell someone else they “can’t” do something or you are told that “you can’t do something”, the reaction you may get is defiance or resistance.  In this case, the word “can’t” is perceived as an unfair imposition of power and might elicit the emotion of anger.  The message of anger is that a threat is perceived that can be overpowered.  In trying to deal with a threat you view as “unfair”, you, or someone else such as your kid, may be motivated to rebel, look for ways to get around the imposition and so forth.

In both cases, the word “can’t” is a stop word because it impedes forward progress and weakens motivation.

I am not saying you can never use the word “can’t”.

I am saying that if you do use it, explain what you mean by looking at the obstacles that exist or the issues which prohibit another from taking a specific action.  You might say, “You can’t do this because…”

You get a similar reaction when you use the stop word “should” as in “I should go on a diet.” or “You should be more….”.  The initial reaction is resistance as in “Why?”, “Who is gonna make me?”, or “Who says.”  Think about your own reaction when someone like your doctor or your spouse tells you that you “should” do something like lose weight, stop smoking or exercise more you tell yourself that you should do something like your New Year’s Resolutions.

Another stop word is “problem” as in “We have a problem.”

I don’t know if you remember the movie Apollo 13 but it is a true story about an American crew whose space ship explodes.  While the crew is alright, their ship is severely disabled and there is a real possibility that they might not be able to get back to earth.  The captain of the mission, played by Tom Hanks, radios the command center back on earth and says,
“Houston, we have a problem.” In this case, the problem was a life threatening, potential disaster with no immediately obvious solution. The word “problem” implied potential catastrophe.

It is the emotional connotation of catastrophe that makes the word “problem” a  potential stop word.  Someone tells you that they have a “problem” or you tell yourself you “have a problem” and the emotional reaction is anxiety, disbelief, or, possibly, inadequacy.  The message of anxiety is that the situation you are facing might be a threat that might “kill” you.  The emotional behavior elicited by anxiety is stress or withdrawal.

Instead of labeling an event as a “problem”, you can call it a challenge or even a very difficult challenge. The word “challenge” is a go word. When facing a challenge, the emotion elicited might be excitement or enthusiasm, or motivated.  The ensuing behavior is solution focused activity designed to meet and beat the challenge.

When you are aware of the strong emotional impact that words can have on the behavior of others and on your own actions, you can begin to master the atomic power of words to motivate yourself and others. Stop words can result in inhibition, withdrawal, or resistance. You might want to avoid using stop words, replace them with go words or, when you do use them, provide a context in which the word you use makes sense and doesn’t elicit emotions and reactions you do not want.

I welcome your comments

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