Former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam on “Power of Language”
I remember my dad teaching me the power of language at a very young age. Not only did he understand that specific words affect our mental pictures, but he also understood words are a powerful programming factor in lifelong success.
One particularly interesting event occurred when I was eight. As a kid, I was always hyper-active - climbing trees, poles, and literally hanging around upside down.
So, it came to no surprise for my dad to find me at the top of a 30-foot tree swinging back and forth. My little eight-year-old brain didn't realize that the branch could break and I could get hurt. I just thought it was fun to be up so high.
My cousin was also hanging upside down from another branch of the same tree, at about ten feet below me. Her mother also noticed us at the same time my dad did.
About that time a strong gust of wind came over the tree. I could hear the leaves starting to rattle and the tree beginning to sway heavily. I remember my dad's voice over the wind yell, "Hey, hold on tightly." So I did. The next thing I know, I heard my cousin screaming at the top of her lungs, and the next moment lying flat on the ground. She had fallen out of the tree.
My dad later told me why she fell and I did not. Apparently, when her mother felt the gust of wind, she yelled out, "Tammy, don't fall!" And she did fall.
My dad then explained to me that the mind will have a very difficult time processing a negative image. In order for my cousin to process the command of not falling, her nine-year-old brain had to first imagine falling, then try to tell the brain not to do what it just imagined. Whereas, my eight-year-old brain instantly had an internal image of me hanging on tightly.
This concept is especially useful when you are attempting to break a habit or set a goal. You can't visualize not doing something.
When I was thirteen years old, I played for my junior high school football team. I tried so hard to be good, but I just couldn't get it together at that age. I remember hearing the words run through my head as I was running out for a pass, "Don't drop it!" Naturally, I dropped the ball.
My coaches were not skilled enough to teach us proper "self-talk." They just thought some kids could catch and others couldn't. I'll never make it pro, but I'm now a pretty good Sunday afternoon football player, because all my internal dialogue is positive and encourages me to win.
Here is a very easy demonstration to teach your kids and your friends the power of a toxic vocabulary. Ask them to hold a pen or pencil. Hand it to them. Now, say to them, "Okay, try to drop the pencil." Observe what they do.
Most would release their hands and watch the pencil hit the floor. You respond, "You weren't paying attention. I said “try” to drop the pencil. Now please do it again." Now they would pick up the pencil and seem to be in excruciating pain while their hand tries but fails to drop the pencil.
The point is made.
If you tell your brain you will "give it a try," you are actually telling your brain “to fail”. I have a "no try" rule in my house and with everyone I interact with. Either people will do it or they won't. You will never hear the words "I'll try" come out of my mouth unless I'm teaching this concept. So remove the word "try" from your vocabulary.
My dad also told me that psychologists claim it takes seventeen positive statements to offset one negative statement. I have no idea if it is true, but the logic holds true.
Ask yourself how many compliments you give yourself daily versus how many criticisms. I know you are talking to yourself all day long. We all have internal voices that give us direction. So, are you giving yourself the 17:1 ratio or are you short-charging yourself with toxic self-talk like, "I'm fat. Nobody likes me. I'll try this diet. I'm not good enough. I'm so stupid. I'm broke, etc. etc."
Here is a list of toxic vocabulary words. Watch out when you or other people use them.
But: Negates any words that are stated before it.
Try: Presupposes failure.
If: Presupposes that you may not.
Might: It does nothing definite. It leaves options for your listener.
Would have / Should have: Draws attention to things that didn't actually happen.
Could Have: Draws attention to things that didn't actually happen but the person tries to take credit as if it did happen.
Can't / Don't: These words force the listener to focus on exactly the opposite of what you want. This is a classic mistake that parents and coaches make without knowing the damage this linguistic error can cause.