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Power Strategy #3: Rewire Your Tongue

I hope you’re going through the exercises in the Slippery Slope report and starting to feel more confident and empowered.

Today’s lesson focuses on the third Power Strategy contained in the report, and in many ways it’s the most powerful of all: your use of language.

As I say in the report, “Our words are public proof of the thoughts that we choose to believe.” (I should get a job writing fortune cookies or making Facebook memes, huh? 😉

While this topic may seem to be semantic and pedantic, it’s really about our mindset. And mindset, more than skills, more than environment, more than motivation, determines the results we get in life. (At least in places where we aren’t suffering from debilitating poverty and rampant violence.)

I’ve included three distinct linguistic suggestions in the report (pages 8-10):

  1. Use empowering metaphors
  2. Make friends with -ER
  3. Use your crystal ball for good, not ill

I want to talk for a minute about this last one, because it’s kind of the low-hanging fruit of mindset change.

And it’s very easy to get wrong.

Use Your Crystal Ball For Good, Not Ill

The crystal ball concept is that we often use language that overtly or subtly predicts the future. “I just don’t like exercising” may seem like a simple statement of fact, but it carries a strong implication that nothing’s gonna change here; the future will be just like the past.

This is not about mindlessly repeating BS Affirmations

I was coaching a new Big Change Program student (let’s call her Karen) to rewrite her story recently. This is part of her first draft:

I never seem to find time to exercise on a regular basis…. I’m a coffee addict… I lack energy… My snacks are pure addictive junk.

I responded with a gentle nudge to rewrite those concepts so they don’t bleed into the future, by putting them in the past tense.

Karen’s rewritten description included the following sentence:

My energy level is high and I sleep better as a result of improved diet, eliminating coffee, drinking more water and incorporating more aerobic and strengthening exercise into my daily routine!

The Big Change Program changed my thinking. I identified actual blocks and excuses to change, worked out small steps and built healthy habits. I no longer feel overwhelmed.

You might think, this is terrific! Karen is optimistic and empowered! Good coaching, Howie!

But Karen had the courage to be honest. Here’s how she continued:

Writing this, I thought, wouldn't this be nice but it's a pipe dream. I've tried these things so many times before.

If your internal bullshit detector is screaming in your ear when you put things in the past tense, you know you’ve gone in for a different type of prediction, one that you just don’t believe.

Here’s how I responded:

Great job, Karen!

I need to clarify one part of my instructions. The past tense factor isn't meant to have you writing things that feel completely untrue. The goal instead is to write things that are at least as true as what you had written before.

So if you haven't totally changed your thinking because of this program, don't pretend that you have. If you still feel overwhelm, acknowledge it.

The point of the past tense is to stop negatively predicting the future. So for example:

“I never find time to exercise on a regular basis”

Tells your brain that's just the way things are. And that's how they're going to continue, because “never” is a long time.

Instead, try:

“In the past, I didn't choose to prioritize exercise on a regular basis.”

Now look at both sentences. Is the new one just as true or truer than the old one? That's your litmus test.

Karen replied:

Thanks for the clarification. The way you phrase it leaves the future open, while remaining true to the present. “I have been a coffee addict” is true, it doesn't mean I'm not one today or that I'm resigned to drinking coffee for the rest of my life.

Bingo! Now we’ve got a statement that’s as true or truer than the original one, but that no longer predetermines a hopeless future.

Get Out Your Crystal Ball

Now it’s your turn. Choose a habit or behavior or identity that you want to shift.

Listen for how you talk about that to yourself. Hear if your language predicts the future, either obviously or semi-secretly.

Then reword your description so the past doesn’t bleed into the future. Use your language like an axe, cutting time into two discrete chunks: the past and from now on.

Feel into your new statement: does it feel as true or truer than your original?

If so, breathe and experience the freedom and confidence that comes from deciding to create a new and different future.

Deciding usually isn’t enough all by itself. You still need skills and practice.

But without deciding (which comes from the Latin root de caedere (“to cut off”), the same place we get scissors and incision), you won’t cut the past loose so you can move toward that positive future.

Take your time on this homework. When you're ready, post your old and rewritten story to comments below.