You’ve heard about the power of positive thinking, right? Everyone’s raving about it. If you simply think positively, rainstorms will turn into rainbows, red lights will turn green, and your in-laws will suddenly turn into human beings. Right? Right?!
I’ll tell you what you can control, though: your words. By making a few changes in your vocabulary, you can turn steaming piles of crap into 100% organic fertilizer. You can turn an inconvenient power outage into cuddle time with your sweetie. And you can turn obligations into opportunities. Words shape thoughts, and you’ll find that if you change your words for the better, your thoughts will change for the better too, and so will your life.
Have you heard the expression “Stop shoulding all over yourself”? Well, let’s clean that “should” off your pants and replace it with some organic fertilizer, because every obligation can be rephrased as a desire. Instead of “I should go to the store,” how about “I want to go to the store because I’m hungry and I want to buy some food”?
“I ought to get this work done before I go to the party.” What do you want to do? Weigh your preferences. How good or bad would you feel about getting the work done first? How good or bad would you feel about leaving it undone? Figure out what you most want, and then do it. In any case, let go of the obligation. “I want to get this work done before I go to the party, because I’ll feel a lot better once it’s finished.”
“I need to walk the dog.” How about instead, “I want our dog to be happy and healthy, and I want to have a nice, clean, poop-free house, so I’m going to walk the dog.”
4. Have to
“I have to go to work.” Well, no. You don’t have to. It’s just that your actions have consequences. Even if you don’t enjoy the process of getting there, you might really want the end result. So maybe a more positive way to phrase it would be, “I want to make money, so I’m going to go to work.” Keeping your goal in mind can make the process of getting there better for you.”
“I must go to bed now or else I’ll be tired and groggy all day tomorrow.” Okay, you got me, nobody actually talks like this. But you get the idea, right? “Must”, another obligation word, and again you can rephrase it positively as a desire. “I’ll go to bed now because I want to feel alert and awake tomorrow.” Doesn’t that take a weight off your shoulders and make you feel better about it?
Enough of obligation words, limiting words are even more dangerous. How many times do we say “I can’t” when it’s not really true? “I can’t write well.” Maybe you don’t write well right now, but you can if you put your mind to it. If you wanted to, you could practice and learn and gain new skills. So how about “I’m not that great at writing yet?” “Can’t” closes a door. You can stick your foot in that door and prop it open by choosing other words.
“It’s impossible for me to be a professional athlete; I’m just naturally clumsy.” You know what? I’ve seen a one-legged man compete in a Dance Dance tournament — and win. Nothing is impossible, it just takes time, practice, and dedication. Talent is completely irrelevant in the face of determination. How about “It’s possible for me to be a professional athlete if I want to put in the time and effort.”
“I could never sing as well as her.” Again, you probably could. Even if today, the sound of you singing in the shower sends birds spiraling disoriented into the ground, that’s just today. You can improve, you can get better, and you can keep getting better for as long as you want to. She probably took hours and hours of voice lessons, so you’re not being fair to yourself. “I could sing as well as her or better if I put my mind to it.”
In addition to limiting words, violent words can bring unnecessary negativity into your life. “I’m gonna smack you if you don’t shut up right now!” If that’s really true, then that’s cool, you’re speaking authentically. But I found myself saying this when what I really meant was, “I’m feeling upset and frustrated because I can’t concentrate with a lot of noise around. Could you please be quiet? I’d really appreciate it.” When I rephrased my vocabulary this way, the people around me felt a lot more considered and respected.
Now this one I hope you’re not saying with authenticity. “I’m going to kill you if you leave the toilet seat up one more time!” That’s one way to express anger and frustration, but how about expressing it directly instead? “I feel angry and hurt when you leave the toilet seat up, because it seems inconsiderate to me, like you don’t care about my comfort or our shared space.” The “kill” phrasing is likely to lead to an argument, but the “I feel” phrasing is likely to lead to a conversation that might make things better.
These are just 10 of the many words you can rephrase to improve your life. It’s even easier and more fun with a partner. Pick a word that you’d like to rephrase, and ask your partner to let you know whenever you use that word. It can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding!