It’s only words… Or is it?

I’m not particularly bothered about being “down with the kids” when it comes to the words I use,  although with my English graduate/teacher hat on, I’m always curious and interested in new words.  If you do want to keep up with those (assumes quavery voice) young people, you could check out the Urban DictionaryWarning: some words in there are explicit and also hilarious.

Words are important, though, as any life coach will tell you, especially the words you use to yourself in that inner dialogue we so often have.  There are also words you might catch yourself using out of habit – mindlessly – which, because you use them so often, you may not realise how harmful, poisonous or undermining they can be.

Repeat a word, phrase or way of communicating often enough, and it becomes second nature, normalised, both to communicator and recipient.  At one end of the spectrum, it’s how children learn to speak, become bi-lingual, why we tend to remember nursery rhymes or favourite songs so easily.  At the opposite end, it’s how abusive relationships can develop, insidiously, without either party realising what’s happening until it’s too late.

Lake Superior University publishes a list each year of 5 words it would like to see banished for overuse, misuse or uselessness.   As a life coach, I’ve been inspired to compile my own top 5 here:

1. Should
When your client uses the word should, it implies a task, goal, belief or value that they have had imposed on them either by someone else, or by themselves in a desire to please or conform, as opposed to something they have chosen because they genuinely want it.

Should can be quite dictatorial and negative, so try: it would be useful to, exciting to, interesting to,            helpful to, fun to, beneficial to…. the list goes on.

2.  But
When you use this word, it immediately negates whatever you’ve said before: “I’d love to join you, but…”.  You mark yourself out straight away that you’re about to deliver an excuse.  Try substituting and instead, and see how it changes the whole tone of what you say: “I’d love to join you, and…”  So much more positive, even if the answer is still a no.

3.  Ought
It’s as negative and dictatorial as should, isn’t it?  Think about shall we, how about, let’s or might want to… instead.

4.  Must
Ugh! I don’t know about you, but as soon as someone uses this word, I immediately want to do the opposite of what’s suggested.  Need, love to, want to, choose to:  all these give the decision-making and empowerment back to the speaker.

5.  Can’t
At the risk of sounding like my mum (“There’s no such word as…”), she had a point, actually, as it’s hard to prove a negative.  You can add the word yet to this one, which helps to make it more positive: “I can’t do this yet…”

Think about a spring-clean of  your personal word cupboard.  Which words would you find it useful to banish?

Finally, to misquote Lisa M Hayes:

Be mindful what you say to yourself, and to others, because you’re listening, and so are they …

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About Marianna Beckwith