Words are magic.
Not, obviously, in the sense that you can actually change the vibrational frequencies of the universe with them (as claimed by idiots) or the sense that they can conjure up worlds that you otherwise can’t experience (though that’s true). Words are magic in the sense that they shape the way you think about the world, and can make you a better person.
There’s some controversy over the idea that the language you’re first taught to speak can affect your mindset (for instance, what parts of your environment get priority, or in the case of aboriginal communities, how you think about directions and spatial knowledge), so though it’s fascinating stuff, I’m not here to talk about that. More interesting anyway, at least for self-improvement purposes, is how changing the words you use to refer to your own life can change the way you think about it. I’ve made a few tweaks like this over the years, and spoilers: they all work. Here’s how I suggest you change your language, to change your life.
Not now, but later
What do we say to the God Of Cakes? Not today. I’ve stolen this idea from psychology researcher Nicole Mead, who calls it ‘Postponement Strategy’ and suggests it for helping to get over temptation, and it works. Fancy a pizza? Tell yourself you’ll have one on Friday. Need a beer? Saturday. That cupcake stand looking tempting? Next time you walk past it, honestly. Beat the craving for a moment – just a moment! – and then that moment is gone.
Just this once
The flipside to ‘Not today.’ Most people use ‘Just this once’ as a rationale for collapse: for skipping a training session or ordering churros con chocolate instead of coffee. The alternative way to use it is to talk yourself into good habits: maybe you can’t envision a future where you keep this up forever, maybe you really don’t want to drink the greens drink, maybe cooking everything you eat is too much hassle and…stop. Calm down. Don’t worry about forever. Do it just this once, and worry about the next time when it comes.
Do (or do not)
When I first heard Yoda say this, I thought it was philosophy-student nonsense. Now, I think it’s genius. Compare and contrast: the guy who says ‘Oh, I can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t/am trying not to/am not allowed to drink during the week,’ and the guy who says ‘I don’t drink during the week.’ Which one of those people feels more in control of their lives? Whose friends are more likely to push him into a bad decision? Conversely, the opposite also works: switch ‘I’m trying to go to the gym every Monday’ for ‘I go to the gym on Mondays’, and suddenly, there’s no discussion. It’s what you do. It’s part of your identity. You are a guy who goes to the gym on Mondays. Sort that out, and the rest will follow.
I get to…
This was a mini-revelation for me when I started using it in relation to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’ve been doing it for a decade, but sometimes I have slumps: it’s tough, brutal, and there are days where I worry that I’m not getting better. Then, after a mini-plateau of going ‘I should/have to train today’, I flipped the switch: ‘I get to train BJJ today’, and suddenly I was hitting the gym all smiles, every day. Training, eating right, almost any form of self-improvement is a privilege: you’ve got the money, free time and health to purse something that is making you better. You don’t have to do it, you get to do it. Act accordingly.
Homework: Make these switches wherever you can this week. Changing your language is the key to changing who you are. And changing who you are is the only way to change your life.