“Our words create our world.” ~Rich Litvin
I remember when I was about seven years old, shouting spitefully at my mum, ‘’I wish you were dead, I hate you!” Her jaw dropped in disbelief, and I knew my words had hurt her, which made my young heart heavy.
I remember being fourteen years old asking my first crush, “H-h-hey, do you fancy going to the cinema with me this weekend? To my surprise, she said yes, which taught me there’s never any harm in asking for what you want.
Later this year, I’ll be standing proudly next to my beautiful almost-wife saying the words, “I do.” With those two simple little words, I’ll convey my love and commitment to her.
Words are powerful.
They have the potential to hurt and destroy and to enhance and create.
Since embracing this truth a few years ago, I’ve become more mindful of the words I use. That is, the words I speak and the words I think.
Here are four ways I’ve changed my words and as a result changed my life.
1. Swapping “I’ll try” for “I can, and I will.”
Back when I felt stuck in life, I was always trying.
Trying to lose weight.
Trying to get out of debt.
Trying to get my life back together.
It struck me that, in all the areas of my life I was trying to change, I wasn’t having much success.
I then looked at an area of my life I felt fulfilled in: my social life.
Partying all weekend every weekend was the perfect escapism I needed.
Drinking and partying masked my anxiety, making me forget about my money woes temporarily, and gave me the self-confidence I lacked when sober.
Interestingly, when friends asked me if I would be out at the weekend, I never replied, “I’ll try and make it.”
No! It was always, “I’ll be there! See you in the club, the first round is on me!”
Upon recognizing this pattern, I made a new rule for myself: to swap “I’ll try” with “I can or “I will.”
To no surprise, I started seeing improvements in my life. By saying “I can, and I will,” I somehow felt stronger and in control of my destiny.
My confidence grew too. I used to say to my gym buddy, “I’ll try to get to the gym on Thursday,” only to cancel last minute (having never really intended to go), and then beat myself up for it.
Thinking in terms of “I can/I will” gently forced me to be more decisive. I would then say “I will see you there” or “I will let you know by Tuesday.” If Tuesday came around and another commitment was more of a priority, I could communicate this clearly and without feeling bad for cancelling last minute. Switching from “try” to “can/will” caused me to ask, “What do I want to be committed to?”
The word “try” does still have a place in my vocabulary. I can call a restaurant on a Friday afternoon to try to get a reservation for the evening.
My rule is simple: I’ll never try to do something that’s in my full control.
It’s possible I could call the restaurant and they’re fully booked. The outcome is not in my control.
For anything that is in my control—exercising, writing, waking up early—I now use “I can” or “I will.”
2. Ask better questions.
Why am I so stuck?
When my anxiety, debt, and drinking were at their worst and I finally felt it was time for a change, this question stuck in my head for several days.
The answers I got were less than helpful…
Because you’re a loser.
Because you’ve got no discipline.
Because life is hard.
After several days of soul-searching and fed up with my lousy answers, ironically, a better question came to me: What if I’m asking myself the wrong question?
I closed my eyes and asked my mind to give me a better one.
What can I do today to move forward a little?
For the next few months, this became my question of choice. And each day, I moved forward just a little more, focusing on progress over perfection and solutions rather than the problem.
As Tony Robbins says, “Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”
3. Saying “I get to” instead of “I have to.”
Two years ago, I was on a Skype call with a good friend from Canada.
We connect every now and again and share what we’ve been working on, and it’s always very high-energy and inspiring!
He shared with me the idea of “I have to” vs “I get to.”
“Anytime you wish to feel grateful, change your ‘I have to’ statements into ‘I get to’,” he said.
Like many new ideas I hear, it sounded good at the time but, to be honest, I soon forgot about it.
A few days passed and I was leaving the house to go meet a student. At the time, I was teaching English to non-native speakers, and every Monday evening I would travel across town to where this guy lived.
It was quite a hot day and leaving the house, I wasn’t looking forward to the sixty-minute walk. I became aware of the dialogue in my mind…
“Urgh, I have to walk across town to go teach English.”
Suddenly, the conversation with my friend came flooding back to me, so I decided to change my train of thought.
“I get to walk across town to go and teach English.”
Wow, gratitude hit me hard and in a way I’d never felt before.
For the first time in a very long time, I felt gratitude for my legs, for the fact that I’m fit and healthy enough to walk!
Not only that, I felt gratitude for my student, who I got to spend time with each week so I could help him improve his English—a privilege I had overlooked before.
It’s always important to me to honor how I feel, meaning if I am feeling tired or unmotivated that’s okay. Often, though, changing my “have to” statements to “I get to” is the switch I need to change my perspective and my mood.
4. Swapping the punisher for the cheerleader
Perhaps the biggest change I’ve made is shifting my internal voice from a punisher to a cheerleader.
Like a lot of people, I was painfully strict with myself and overly critical.
I’d speak to myself harshly whenever I failed.
When I felt weak I’d judge myself for feeling that way.
I would beat myself up for always beating myself up!
Self-compassion was at the heart of making this switch. Speaking to myself in a gentler, more supportive tone. Less dictator and more supportive grandparent.
With some practice, I began to respond to failure with words of encouragement.
When I felt weak, I’d offer myself understanding and empathy.
If I beat myself up, I’d forgive myself and move on.
I read somewhere that as important as what we say to ourselves inside our heads is how we speak to ourselves, the tone of voice we use. The author encouraged me to imagine the most understanding, compassionate, and gentle voice imaginable and talk to myself in this voice.
This has been a real game-changer.
Louise Hay said, “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
I’ve been amazed by what’s happened. Since approving of myself, I’ve relied less on approval from others, which has been liberating, and I’ve given myself full permission to live how I want to live, since approving of myself also means approving of my wants and choices.
Part of me wishes I had realized the power of my words long before I did.
Part of me knows I discovered that our words create our world at exactly the right time I was supposed to.
No matter what age we are or where we are on our journey, I believe, it’s never too late to change our words—and change our world.