The power of language on wellbeing

Life coach Jane Milne explores how we can harness the communication possibilities that words and phrases offer in our everyday lives, to benefit our wellbeing

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

It’s more important now than ever that we talk to ourselves, and others, with compassion and kindness; the more we can learn to do that, the more likely we are to take positive actions to improve our wellbeing, and the happier we’re going to be. Of course, it takes practice – but the results make the effort more than worthwhile. Here are some tips on how to get started.

Notice what you say and how you say it

Becoming aware of the words and phrases you’re regularly using is an important first step. Start to really tune-in, not just to what you’re saying, but also your tone of voice – especially when you’re being critical of yourself or others. It’s a good idea to keep track by making notes in a journal as this really helps to shine a light on the words and phrases that repeatedly crop up when you’re being hard on yourself, and also gives you a list to work with.

Nobody’s list of words and phrases will be exactly the same, but there are some which appear time and again, such as ‘should’, ‘failed’, ‘wasn’t good enough’, ‘hopeless’, ‘can’t’. Think about how you would speak to someone you care about; would you use this sort of language? Or would you be more positive and encouraging?

Say ‘Shh!’ to ‘should’

“I should exercise more,” “I should work harder,” “I should visit my mother more often.”

‘Should’ is one of the most critical words in your everyday vocabulary. It’s basically a shortcut for many underlying negative feelings – frustration, shame, guilt, or regret – and saying it can leave you feeling demoralised and undermined.

It’s difficult to wipe out ‘should’ completely – all those years of that, seemingly innocuous, little word being such an integral part of your internal and external dialogue make doing this quite a challenge – but you can reduce its power by being more aware of when and why you use it, and practise using alternatives instead.

See obstacles as the path

Changing our language so that obstacles in our lives become our path can be really helpful. My mother recently moved into a nursing home and I’m going through the emotional process of clearing out her house ready for sale. To begin with, I was struggling to get going. “I don’t want to go through Mum’s things. It’s going to be too painful. I just can’t do it!”

I noticed the negative language cropping up in my journal. How could I reframe it? I started to think about what I would discover while I was working my way through her things, what joyful memories would be sparked, and acknowledged that feeling sad at times would be inevitable. As soon as I changed the words I was using from, “I hate this; it’s not fair, it’s too hard,” to, “I have to do this; there are going to be some happy memories and it’s natural that I’ll sometimes also feel sad,” I felt empowered, and ready to meet the challenge of the task in hand.

Keep on experimenting

This process is ongoing. Being aware of the negative or critical language you’re habitually using, and switching to more compassionate and positive words and phrases, does take a bit of practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

And it’s right there for the taking – for all of us.

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