One of the courses I offer is for people who want to get their sparkle back and learn techniques for maintaining good mental health. In one of the sessions, we talk about the Power of Words.
Imagine for a moment you have been working really hard on a document which needed a lot of your time and attention. As you lean over to get something, you spill coffee all over the freshly prepared piece. Think about what you would say to yourself in that situation, or what you said to yourself the last time you made a mistake. It probably wasn’t “oh dear, that was an accident!”, but might have been something like “I’m such an idiot!” Or worse.
This is the Power of Words.
Effective communication is powerful in any situation, and getting across the right message can be key to your success. But if you’re talking to yourself in a negative, self-deprecating way it will only reinforce any beliefs you have about your sense of worth – your self-esteem – and that affects how you feel. We know through all the research behind models like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that there is a direct link between what we think, how we feel and how we behave. So it stands to reason if you’re talking to yourself negatively, you’re not going to feel better about yourself any time soon. But there is good news – we now know the brain has something called Neuroplasticity (essentially the ability to re-learn or adapt to your environment): even in later life, you can learn new techniques to make positive changes.
Then there is the way we talk to other people and how they talk to us. There are a number of different communication styles we discuss on the course; we explore why people say things which are unhelpful or unkind and learn how we can confront this in a healthy, constructive and effective way. Although it’s been said that words (verbal communication) only constitute for 7% of how we communicate (the remainder being non-verbal communication like body language), words still have the power to hurt or heal. And, like a lot of people, you say sorry a lot (even when you don’t mean it), it can dilute the message you’re trying to make.
Sally Kohn explains Emotional Correctness – that it’s not just what we say but how we say it – in this Ted Talk.
We all have times when we don’t think about what we say, especially if it’s a “stock phrase” that’s been used over and again throughout time. An example is when someone is under the weather, what’s the first thing we say? It’s usually “I hope you get well soon“. What we are literally saying is “I hope you get well at some point in the near future”. But what we really want is for them to get well straight away. This is why when people tell me they’re ill, I always say “I hope you feel better immediately”. Because my genuine aspiration is that they heal right now.
Here’s a top tip: Next time you’re having a conversation either with yourself or someone else, pay attention to the words you use. Think about their meaning and what you’re really trying to say. When you become aware of the power of words, you’ll realise that the “right” words are important for keeping you healthy. Be aware not to over analyse what someone else is saying, but learn to feel confident in asking them what they meant if you’re not sure. In particular try speaking to yourself as you would a dear friend.
Being aware of what you say and how you say it is communicating mindfully; mindfulness has many benefits including improvements in both physical and mental health. Mindful Communication is a good technique for developing positive mental health and wellbeing, and looks at ways to address conflict healthily while making sure your message is heard.
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Copyright Delphi Ellis 2017