Words can be tremendously powerful. Very subtle changes in choice of words, voice inflection, etc. can totally change the impact our words have on others. Importantly, our words cannot control others, only influence them. Other people could choose to ignore what we say altogether. However, to a great extent, the words we choose can have a significant impact on others.
Consider a man telling his wife, “You look pretty in that dress.” Throw in a tiny little “don’t” and we have, “You don’t look pretty in that dress.” The first example would typically get a warm response (excluding negative reactions based on interpretations such as, “What, are you saying I don’t look pretty otherwise?”). If said like example #2, the man is sleeping alone on the couch (I promise, this is not autobiographical).
Have you ever had one of those experiences in which you mishear or misinterpret what someone says, have a very negative reaction, only to later find out the truth of your error? Those can be either painful, embarrassing, or funny…or all of them at once.
Now, if we can agree that our words can have a powerful influence on others, consider our self-talk. The little chatterbox inside our heads often bombards us with negative statements such as,
- You are an idiot.
- No one likes you.
- What if you bomb this presentation?
- You are not good enough for him/her.
Interestingly, we often tell ourselves negative things that we would rarely, if ever, tell someone else. Think of what kind of negative impact this could be having on our mood and self-confidence! This kind of negative self-talk can occur daily over a period of years. The results can be catastrophic.
So, it is critical to become aware of the content of our thinking. Often these thoughts are just below the conscious level. As we become aware of these thoughts, we can change the content such that we don’t beat ourselves down. I’ll talk more about this in my next blog.