5 Ways to Speak More Powerfully
Too often we done don’t realize just how impactful our words are—both on ourselves and others. If we did, we’d do far less complaining and far more encouraging. You would also hear a lot less of “It’s impossible to…,” “I’m totally hopeless at…” or “I had no choice…”—all phrases which undermine our power and limit our future.
Psychologists have found that our subconscious mind interprets what it hears very literally. The words that come out of our mouth create the reality we inhabit. Unfortunately, it’s often a negative reality because we unconsciously sabotage our success simply by using language that undermines our opinions, amplifies our problems and chips away at our confidence to handle them. Whatever direction your words lead, your mind, body and environment will inevitably follow. Tapping into your personal power starts with building self-awareness of where you are, using what psychologists call “out of power” language. To that end, below are five ways you can change how you speak in order to build your confidence, grow your influence and improve your ability to get more of what you want and change what you don’t.
1. Speak possibilities into life.
Orville and Wilbur Wright didn’t get an aircraft off the ground by focusing on what they couldn’t do, but by continually extending the boundaries of what they could. It’s the same for you. Focus on the things you want and you’ll spot opportunities you might have otherwise missed. Focus on the negative aspects of your situation, what you can’t or don’t want to do, and it will only amplify pessimism, triggering more negative emotions and channeling time and energy that might otherwise have been used more constructively.
2. Don’t “try” to do something.
If President Kennedy had said, “Let’s try to get a man on the moon,” we’d probably still be trying. There is real power in making a committed declaration about what you want to change, achieve or become. Saying “I’ll try” resonates with hesitation and ambivalence. Saying “I will” declares to yourself and anyone listening that you’re serious about changing the game and what you most want is already a done deal. It’s just waiting to be completed. Committing with a confident can-do spirit shifts the energy you bring to a challenge and rallies people around you in ways that trying, wishing and
“hoping for the best” never will. Try it!
3. Never say never.
Up until Roger Bannister ran a mile in under 4 minutes in 1954, it was collectively believed to be a physical impossibility. So few people bothered to try. But within six weeks of Bannister doing the “impossible,” John Landy broke the record by nearly a second. Most of us have no idea about what is actually possible. Likewise, when we use absolute terms as descriptors, we fall into what’s known as a “linguistic trap”—confining ourselves to the walls our words create. Hence, words like always, never and impossible can be very self-limiting and should be used cautiously.
4. Never apologize for having an opinion.
Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin coined the term “double voice discourse” to explain the phenomena where people prefaced their statements to minimize the chance of a negative reaction. For instance, “I know I might have this all wrong, but…” or “I apologize if anyone disagrees, but I was thinking, maybe,… ” It’s little surprise (to this woman at least) that women, who excel at forming
relationships but are loathe to disrupt them, are four times more likely to do this than men. But regardless of your gender, devaluing your opinion serves no one and deprives every one of the value your perspective brings.
5. Beware of labels. They limit.
When used on pantry containers, labels can be very helpful. But they can also hem you in because you subconsciously comply with them. For example, just because you are sometimes lazy doesn’t mean you can’t choose to be lazy. Just because you failed at something, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. And just because you’ve had a lousy fashion sense doesn’t mean you can’t improve it.
Although changing habitual ways of speaking isn’t done overnight, neuroscientists have found that with repeated practice, you can rewire your brain. That is, your innate neural plasticity enables you to replace negative patterns of thought and behavior with positive ones. How you speak included. Of course, when you slip back into default habits, as you inevitably will, don’t beat yourself up or label yourself as a lost cause. Rather, accept your fallibility and refocus on the positive changes you want to make.
You can kick-start your efforts by asking your favorite three people to call you out each time they hear you use “out of power” language. It could be the most powerful thing you do all year!