Words are powerful.
Yeah, yeah. Who rolled their eyes a that opening statement or decided to check out of this post?
Go ahead, it’s okay to be honest. I prefer it. Hit the delete key if you want, but this issue is bigger than many of us — okay, you can insert my name there — want to admit. We (I) have a tough time getting some things through our (my) thick skull.
In my book Igniting Embers, the heroine is worried about the incoming hurricane. She repeats phrases from Scripture to remind herself Who she belongs to: The Lord is my Shepherd, my Rock and my Fortress.
Other than a quick pick-me-up or feel good moment, does this practice of positive self-talk really do any good? How do the words you choose affect your behavior?
The Building Consensus
A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words…the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt. ~ Mark Twain
Various pastors over the last several years have made a big deal out of God’s spoken word. God spoke — not thought — the world into existence, they say. And they’re right. Often, this leads them to encourage us to pray out loud, to speak our prayers rather than just think them.
In my own life, I’ve found speaking to God to be more concrete than merely thinking. I must choose words and phrases that communicate rather than just general feelings about whatever topic is circling in my head. When I just think my prayers, I don’t always get around to actually asking anything. And I tend to allow my thoughts to ramble into a monologue, never stopping long enough to give God time to say anything back to me.
Self Talk’s Growing Acceptance
Ever heard of Zig Ziglar? I first heard him speak in the mid 1990’s and was captivated. Entertaining and lively, he had a way of communicating that grabbed hold of people and spoke undeniable truth. He promoted positive self talk, believing that what you think molds who you are.
(If you want to read what I wrote about self talk, click here.)
Research is not only proving him right, it’s taking it a step further: what we say affects what we believe.
The Most Powerful Words
I recently learned about a study done by Vanessa Patrick, professor of marketing at the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business. I had to look it up, of course, because I wanted to see if what I was hearing lined up with the study. You can read the full report for yourself here.
1. The words “I can’t” are effective.
Most of us have tried to limit unhealthy habits at some point in our lives. It turns out that when our focus is related to an external cause, say losing a couple ofpounds for an upcoming wedding, using the words “I can’t” is pretty effective. As the study notes, those words signal “commitment and accountability to the cause and emphasizes the value of the goal, which one simply must not forsake.”
So you can temporarily curb a sugar addiction to lose a couple pounds and fit into that new dress. But that’s not the longterm effects most of us want to see.
2. Simple willpower and accountability can be three times more powerful.
In a very small study based on her other research, Professor Patrick found that control subjects (those who weren’t coached to say anything to themselves) were three times more successful than those who said, “I can’t.”
Just knowing they were supposed to report to someone, admitting what they’ve done and how successful they’ve been carried great mental power. It’s the success behind many great programs to lose weight or alter bad habits.
But that technique still limits longterm success rates because many people become dependent on the support rather than the changes.
3. The words “I don’t” reign supreme.
When it comes to making internal changes that affect our thought processes and behaviors, the words we need to use are “I don’t.”
The study authors state that these words suggest “a stable and unchanging stance that invokes the self (‘this is who I am’).” Scientific American quotes Professor Patrick: “Saying ‘I can’t’ connotes deprivation, while saying ‘I don’t’ makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”
For example, if health or financial choices lead us to say, “I don’t eat fast food,” that statement becomes part of who we are. It ingrains itself into our thought processes, stiffens our resolve, and changes our behavior. It doesn’t matter why any more than it matters why we go to church or why we thank our waitress. We do this because it is who we are.
What we say with our mouth, our mind takes as fact whether we believe it or not. ~Havilah Cunnington
Most of my life, I’ve been taught to be careful with my words. Often, the adult admonishing the reminder meant to protect those around me that could be hurt with my thoughtless words, but it turns out that what I say also matters for my own health and well-being.
Self talk matters, as do the words we each choose to use about our beliefs and actions.
Deputy Fire Marshal Cassandra McCarthy thought her life would settle down once the teenagers who had been starting nuisance fires were caught. But a hurricane heading to Silver Heights threatens to destroy both property and lives, and another unexplained fire evokes fears of a serial arsonist. Can she prepare the town for the looming emergency and protect them from the danger living in their midst?