by Bart Baggett
I remember my dad teaching me the power of language at a very young age. Not only did my dad understand that specific words affect our mental pictures, but he 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 climbing trees, poles, and literally hanging around upside down from the rafters of our lake house. So, it came as no surprise to 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 the tree could break or I could get hurt. I just thought it was fun to be up so high.
My older cousin, Tammy, was also in the same tree. She was hanging on the first big limb, about ten feet below me. Tammy’s mother also noticed us at the exact same time my dad did. About that time a huge gust of wind came over the tree. I could hear the leaves start to rattle and the tree begin to sway. I remember my dad’s voice over the wind yell, “Bart, Hold on tightly.” So I did.
The next thing I know, I heard Tammy screaming at the top of her lungs, laying flat on the ground. She had fallen out of the tree. I scampered down the tree to safety. My dad later told me why she fell and I did not. Apparently, Tammy’s mother was not as an astute student of language as my father. When Tammy’s mother felt the gust of wind, she yelled out, “Tammy, don’t fall!”
And Tammy did… fall.
My dad then explained to me that the mind has a very difficult time processing a negative image. In fact, people who rely on internal pictures cannot see a negative at all. In order for Tammy 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 is why people who try to stop smoking struggle with the ct of stopping smoking. They are running pictures all day of themselves smoking. Smokers are rarely taught to see themselves breathing fresh air and feeling great. The language itself becomes one barrier to success.
This concept is especially useful when you are attempting to break a habit or set a goal. You can’t visualize not doing something. The only way to properly visualize not doing something is to actually find a word for what you want to do and visualize that.
For example, 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. I wish my dad had coached me playing football instead of just climbing trees. I might have had a longer football career.
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, follow my instructions carefully. Say to them, “Okay, try to drop the pencil.” Observe what they do. Most people 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.” Most people then pick up the pencil and pretend 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. Either they will be at the party or they won’t. I’m brutal when people attempt to lie to me by using the word try. Do they think I don’t know they are really telegraphing to the world they have no intention of doing it but they want me to give them brownie points for pretended effort?
You will never hear the words “I’ll try” come out of my mouth unless I’m teaching this concept in a seminar. If you “try” and do something, your unconscious mind has permission not to succeed. If I truly can’t make a decision I will tell the truth. “Sorry John. I’m not sure if I will be at your party or not. I’ve got an outstanding commitment. If that falls through, I will be here. Otherwise, I will not. Thanks for the invite.” People respect honesty. So remove the word “try” from your vocabulary.
My dad also told me that psychologists claim it takes 17 positive statements to offset one negative statement. I have no idea if it is true, but the logic holds true. It might take up to 17 compliments to offset the emotional damage of one harsh criticism. These are concepts that are especially useful when raising children. Ask yourself how many compliments you give yourself daily versus how many criticisms.
Heck, 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 shortchanging yourself with toxic self-talk like, “I suck.0
I’m fat. Nobody will like me. I’ll try this diet. I’m not good enough. I’m so stupid. I’m broke, etc. etc.”
If our parents can set a lifetime of programming with one wrong statement, imagine the kind of programming you are doing on a daily basis with your own internal dialogue. Here is a list of Toxic Vocabulary words. Notice when you or other people use them.
|Would Have||Should Have|
But – negates any words that are stated before it.
If – presupposes that you may not.
Would have – past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen.
Should have – past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen (and implies guilt.)
Could have – past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen but the person tries to take credit as if it did happen.
Try – presupposes failure.
Might – It does nothing definite. It leaves options for your listener.
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 of this linguistic error.
Toxic phrase: “Don’t drop the ball!”
Likely result: Drops the ball
Better language: “Catch the ball!”
Toxic phrase: “You shouldn’t watch so much television.”
Likely result: Watches more television.
Better language: “I read too much television makes people stupid. You might find yourself turning that TV off and picking up one of those books more often!”