I love listening in on other people’s conversations. Because I’m rude and inappropriate like that. I do it covertly in coffee shops where I write, eeking out a large Americano, allowing myself to be distracted by all the chat. Office gossip, family feuds, medical mysteries and whispered arguments between couples. But more than the subject matter, I notice the language. I don’t mean swearing, I’m talking about hyperbole. We live in a fucking mind blowing chasm of hyperbole! (See what I did there?)
A quick sample of social media to illustrate…
‘Corgetti is my absolute worst nightmare!! #savespaghetti’
‘Obessed with this new album!’
‘I literally can’t breath with excitement for season 3! #thegoodplace’
‘SOOO frickin happy, my head is going to explode! Strawberries and cream!! #summer’
Don’t get me wrong. I do it too and by the way ‘The Good Place’ is actually the best thing that ever happened to me! (Okay stop.)
While overstated positivity can be annoying, it is basically coming from a good place. Overstated negative language can actually be really harmful.
Lift your mood with some simple word swaps.
I once heard someone describe a business negotiation as ‘going to war’. Another said he was ‘under siege’ from local planners . If something is less than satisfactory in your life do you call it what it is: inconvenient, annoying? Or is it a ‘crisis’ and a ‘disaster’? If you take a closer look at the people who speak in this catastrophising manner you will see that they often become overwhelmed by their problems. They have succumbed to their own brain washing language and are now fighting a monster of their own making. No wonder they feel stressed if they keep telling themselves they are at war.
Buddha said ‘Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.’
How are you? What’s your stock response to this question?
‘Good thanks’ or ‘I’m really well.’
Or are you one of those people who says things like…
‘Not too bad’, ‘Could be worse’ or ‘Getting by.’
Why?! The unconscious mind doesn’t know grammar. If you say something is bad then you are programming your brain that something is wrong. If you’re not bad then you’re ‘good’! If it could be worse then you’re ‘doing well’. You are literally hypnotising yourself with your language. Make the most of this brain training by using language that serves you better. ‘I’m really good thanks.’ Or even if things are bad, how about ‘Life is interesting right now,’ or even, ‘To be honest, life life sucks but it’ll pass. Things will be good again.’
Swapping out the over dramatic and negative with honest and positive words will not only be nicer on the ear of your listener but it will lift your mood and change your experience of every day events.
Overcoming addiction by changing your language.
Mark Twain once said, ‘Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I have done it thousands of times.’
The last time I gave up smoking was the last time I will ever give up smoking again. I know this because I changed something vital in my thinking. I changed the way I worded my thoughts. I used to see someone smoking and I would think,
‘Oh god I’d love a fag! Why are they allowed to smoke and I’m not? It reminds me of a summers evening with a glass of wine. I want one now. But I can’t.’
I was literally hypnotising myself to desire cigarettes. The trigger, whether it was getting in the car, taking a phone call or having a glass of wine, would last a second but I would draw out the agony with the story I told myself about my love for cigarettes. The vocabulary was ‘love’, ‘want’, ‘allowed’, ‘summer’. I never got over the feeling of loss and deprivation. So time and time again I would start up again and bloody hate myself for it!
I realised one day that I had a choice. I could continue like this or I could make a conscious effort to alter my internal language.
‘I’d love a fag’ became ‘I’d hate a fag because I know it would make me feel sick.’
‘Why is she allowed one and I’m not?’ changed to ‘She probably hates herself for smoking.’
‘Cigarettes are wine, summer and fun!’ became ‘Cigarettes are shame, regret and stink!’
It was the biggest change in my thinking about smoking for years and it’s worked a treat. I would hate to smoke now. Really hate it! And yet I have considered myself a non-smoking-smoker for about 2 decades! It’s incredibly liberating.
Overcoming illness by removing emotional language.
8 years ago a friend was diagnosed with a life changing condition: a rare degenerative illness with little hope of cure outside of a risky surgery as yet unsuccessful in the UK. He would likely become gradually more disabled over the coming years and could face complete immobility. At first he was devastated. His symptoms were debilitating and scary. When asked how he was, he would understandably say,
‘I feel horrific. I would rather die than live with this.’
He spoke like a broken and defeated man. I knew that his discomfort was very real and there was no room for positivity. I couldn’t realistically recommend adopting cheerful language to ease the weight of his condition…
‘My head feels like it’s made of lead and I want to vomit constantly. It’s bloody awesome!’
So I came up with a symptom scale. We split his symptoms into 3 categories: nausea, pain and bones. Then assigned numbers from 1 to 10 to each symptom. 1 was good and 10 bad. If he said,
‘Nausea 3, pain 4, bones 2’, was an okay day.
‘Nausea 8, pain 7, bones 9,’ meant that he wanted to knock himself out to avoid the agony.
Crucially by changing the words to numbers he didn’t give shape to his suffering. The numbers evoked no emotion and left his mind free to focus on managing his days. He stopped hypnotising himself that it was bad, bad, bad and instead fed himself only numbers which have no depth of meaning.
Along with the help of meditation and visualisation he started to cope better with his condition and eventually opted for the surgery. He is now doing really well and almost symptom free.
I don’t think he would have had the strength to persevere had he remained in his emotional funk which had rendered him suicical. But with a head clear of the negative feed he was consuming daily he was able to visualise a way out.
He really watches his language now!
Think about your long suffering partner.
In a coffee shop recently I listened to a middle aged woman moaning to her husband about their daughter in law. Stuff like: She’s a bad mother; not good enough for Kevin; looks like a right state most of the time; never calls…. (I wonder why she never calls!)
The husband sat dutifully nursing his cup of tea, nodding at the right points, shaking his head when required but mostly he looked resigned. Resigned to the negativity and the droaning. Now, I don’t know this woman at all and I might be completely wrong (except I’m probably not) but she looked to me like a human exhaust: full of hot air and polluting the air around her with negativity, making those in her vicinity feel bad and totally … exhausting! When she went to the toilet at one point I wanted to lean across to hubby and say ‘Run! While you still can!’
He would relate to a London cabdriver I once met.
‘I haven’t spoken to my wife in years,’ he told me.
‘Oh really?’ I said. ‘Are you divorced then?’
‘No! I just didn’t like to interrupt!!’
He almost came off the road laughing.