How to Choose Language that Matters
Reframe your challenges with empowering language.
Let’s go back to High School, particularly to that Physics class. You might remember two important concepts we learned: potential energy (stored energy) and kinetic energy (energy in motion). A glass of water on a kitchen counter top has potential energy because it took energy to move it up. If it were to fall, that energy would (re)turn into kinetic energy and make it shatter. Language is no different, words display these properties. Words store potential energy at their core and they trigger emotions as kinetic energy. You can choose either disabling language or empowering language.
Have you ever gone berry picking? I enjoy going to farms to U-pick during summer because I like how it feels to eat what I gathered—something our ancestors did, and we’re now far too removed from that process. But the question is: what can we possibly learn from berry picking? We know food has stored energy, and that it gets broken down by our digestive system into energy for our bodies. Likewise, our brain transforms the words we choose into energy in the form of emotions. So if you can pick your own berries, you can go hunting for your own words.
When trying to understand our brain’s structure and how it functions, you might recall that studies often allude to the role that evolution played in its development. For example, a universal trait is that we are born afraid of snakes. What could the evolutionary advantage of that and other traits be? The intent was to survive. It makes sense that language, in an evolutionary fashion, developed as a similar advantage. If we were able to express the potential dangers, threats, precautions, and overall risks then we could survival. So words captured the energy needed to trigger an emotion, just like empowering language.
But we no longer need to be dealing with mammoth hunting dangers. We need to rethink the way we use language. The challenge is that there are far more ways to express something negatively than constructively. How we choose to pick words can impact our grit—our ability to move past obstacles. If you make a mistake at work or a project fails, what words would you choose to describe the situation? Was it painful or was it driving? Is there a word that could express the experience of pain in a positive way? Learning is what happens at the interception of a suffering experience and action. The words we choose can either build attitude and character, or reinforce helplessness.
We live in a century of abundance and opportunity. Being able to transform our ideas into projects/startups has never been this possible. But we must remember to start picking the right words. We must choose words that enable our attitudes and our feelings—so we have the kind of energy that is required to move past the setbacks. This isn’t to say there aren’t economic risks involved; but evolutionarily speaking we’re out of the savanna. So what is the to-do here? Spend a couple of minutes thinking about your last challenging experience.
- Which words come up?
- What key emotions do they hold?
- How can you reframe it into a positive experience?
Pain plus positive attitude might be drive. Anxiousness plus positive attitude might be excitement or anticipation. Loss plus positive attitude might be learning. You have the power to choose and to turn, like our digestive system, the stored energy in words to your advantage. It’s time you fuel your experiences with the language it deserves. It doesn’t mean all experiences are positive, no. It just means you’ll give every experience the chance to teach you something, a chance for you to get something out of it, and to choose yourself first. Choosing language that matter is about empowering language. How will you describe your challenges differently the next time you talk or think about them?
Juan F. Diaz
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