There is so much research, evidence, and innumerable studies on the impact of language on our mood and wellbeing. It is challenging to pick out and reference just a few of them as this area of research area has absolutely boomed since Martin Seligman threw down the challenge to the world of psychologists to look at how to promote positivity rather than simply stage interventions once situations were out of control. There is some great research available at Psychology Today
As a reminder, Martin Seligman is recognised as the founder of Positive Psychology in the late 90s. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning.
The impact of negative words
So, let’s look at language and how it generates positive or negative states of mind.
Negative words impact the way our brains work, they generate negative energy and attract negative outcomes. So, it’s unfortunate that some people, and even some professions, seem to be hardwired to think and express everything in negative ways. Negative language can be a reflex reaction and a way to let off steam, or cope with frustration It can also sabotage mindset, reduce potential, and erode happiness.
Research shows that negative words and attitudes affect our wellbeing by increased levels of stress hormones and anxiety that lead to a diminished ability to think, reason and form memories.
“Flash the word “NO” for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.
In fact, just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse, and the more you ruminate on them, the more you can actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions.” Dr Lafont at https://www.vidamind.com.au/the-destructive-power-of-negative-thoughts-and-words
The importance of language
For the past 5 years I’ve been actively working to eliminate and replace negative words from my vocabulary. This all started when my best friend introduced me to a book “How to have a bug free mind” by Andy Shaw and more recently I’ve been seeking out any study I can find on the power of language.
I’ve been consciously editing my spoken and written language and working even harder to remove or reframe negative thoughts…the word BUT still creeps in from time to time. The word JUST has been one of the hardest to remove.
Some words are obviously negative. Others seem neutral or positive, although when you dig a little deeper you realise how sabotaging they can be.
I’ve saved you lots of time by compiling a list of words that have negative or weak connotations. These are the ones that I am actively seeking to remove and replace in my thinking, speaking, and writing.
Negative words to actively eliminate…
Replace with these positive words…
Let go of SHOULD and WANT
In my experience, SHOULD and WANT both fall on the negative side of the positive language equation, mostly due to the insipid intentions conveyed by both words. Wanting to do something is not the same as being determined to do it, thinking that you should do something implies some form of guilt because you haven’t done it yet.
Far better alternative include WILL and I AM, in that you will do something, or you are doing something. These have great positive energy and commitment.
Last week I was reading an article in one of my favourite hardcopy subscriptions, the Australian monthly Wellbeing magazine, Issue 193, Letting go of should – don’t should yourself in the foot. It was all about letting go of the word SHOULD and replacing it instead with WANT. I had an immediate and vehemently negative reaction to the sentiment that was put forward by the psychotherapist who contributed the article. SHOULD is wishy washy and implies some sort of guilt because you haven’t done it yet. WANT is also negative and implies some form of need that arises from scarcity thinking.
What is LUCK anyway?
I also take issue with the notion of LUCK or being LUCKY. My daughter and her father (ex-husband) both say that I’m lucky and I say that I’ve –
- worked hard to obtain credentials and experience;
- been noticed due to those credentials and experience;
- been presented with opportunities; and
- been brave enough to say YES.
This has nothing to do with LUCK. It’s all about hard work and bravery. Thinking of someone as LUCKY both diminishes their achievements and indicates a form of jealousy. Perhaps we feel better when we believe someone else is LUCKY because it lets us off the hook for not achieving more ourselves?
I believe that my daughter thinks I’m lucky because she is young and naive, my ex-husband believes I’m lucky because it makes his feel better about the opportunities that he has missed in his life.
The power of YES and NO
You may notice that NO is missing from the list of negative words and YES is included in the list of positive words. This is not an oversight; it is a deliberate choice that I made. It might seem contradictory given the excerpt from Dr Lafont on the negative impacts on our brains from the word NO.
NO definitely gets a bad wrap when it is the first and automatic response to every question and when it is part of an overarching negative state of mind.
There is a definite upside to the word NO when it is used appropriately to express boundaries and to protect your time for your most important priorities.
There’s also a lot to be said, for the power of YES. Yes supports risk-taking, courage, and an open-hearted, positive approach to life.
“How do we stop using negative words? We cease our endless train of negative thoughts…easier said than done!”
Simple tips to switch your language
- Decide firmly to leave the negative behind
- Create awareness around language traps
- Identify the words, phrases and beliefs that don’t support your purpose
- Select positive replacements and swap them out every time you catch yourself
- Be kind to yourself as it takes a time and deliberate action
- Affirm yourself and allow yourself to feel happy
- Celebrate your progress!
Don’t beat yourself up if you notice the negative words scattered all through your thoughts and conversations. It’s natural, it’s the way we’ve been programmed over many decades.
I treat it as a fun game! I take note and many times I’m able to intervene and adjust my thoughts and language before it comes out or becomes embedded. Like anything, with practice you’ll achieve improvements and eventual mastery.