Change Your Language, Change Your Life – Guest Post by Joy Tanksley

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

So. Not. True.

Words are powerful. And the words that have the most power over your life are the words that come out of your very own mouth. If you change the way you talk (both to yourself and to others), you will influence your thoughts, your belief systems, and even your identity. Here are three language traps that I invite you to ditch:

1. Have Tos, Shoulds, and Musts

When you say you “have to exercise” or you “should clean your house” or you “must not rob a bank”, you instantly put yourself in a position of weakness by giving away your freedom to choose and take ownership of your actions. You also create a sense of resistance with this language. The implication is one of force: I have to do this means there isn’t an option.

The truth is, you don’t have to do anything except die, and hopefully that won’t happen for a while. Instead, say “I want to” or “I choose to.” Or try this little twist: “I don’t have to ______ (be a vegetarian, get married, spend time with my pet lizard, etc.). Do I want to?”

2. I Wish

This one seems so innocent. But when we say, “I wish”, what we are really saying is, “I want that, but I’m too scared to go after it.” Think about it. If you say, “I wish I could play guitar” what does that really mean? It means you think it would be cool to play guitar, but you are just going to sit around, feel sorry for yourself, and be envious of those who can play. It also probably means you are afraid to try because you think you will fail.

There are no magic lamps, people. If you really want something, just say it. Put it out to the world: “I can’t play guitar, but I would like to learn.” It’s okay to speak your desires. And it’s okay to speak them without acting on them. If the desire is strong, you will eventually get busy making it happen. If not, it’ll fade and you’ll quit talking about it.

3. Hard

Writing is hard. Weight loss is hard. Being a parent is hard. People even say that life itself is hard. I propose that the more you say something is hard, the harder that something becomes. We often attach the language of struggle to things that we feel insecure or uncertain about. If we stick a label on it that says “HARD,” then we don’t have to feel guilty about not living our best lives. It’s not our fault, right? Stuff’s just hard.

Instead of saying things are hard (or a struggle), get precise and just state the facts. Say, “Sometimes I get angry with my children and I’m not sure how to control it” or “I am addicted to cigarettes”. Honesty and specificity will empower you to move forward rather than sinking in the quicksand of “life is hard.”

The next time you find yourself saying, “I wish I was strong like Josh Hanagarne. I should buy a kettlebell. But it’s so hard to stick to a training program” stop yourself, take a deep breath, and choose more empowering language: “I desire strength. I want a kettlebell! In the past, I didn’t stick with a training program, but I exist in the present.” Change your language, and you just might change your life.

About The Author:

Joy Tanksley is a middle school English teacher, the wife of a philosopher, and a coach for women who want to smash limiting belief systems and lead more abundant lives. She blogs about living a joy-filled life at Being Joy (