Upgrade Your Language: Four Words That Make You Weak

upgrade your language
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If you listen closely to the words people say, you can learn a lot about what’s going on inside their heads. Your own words also tell a tale.  By listening to and analyzing the words you use on a regular basis, you can learn to stop unconsciously programming yourself to have limited performance.

As I upgraded my abilities to focus, pay attention, and think using biohacking, I gained the ability to pay attention to my words as I use them. I discovered that I often used self-limiting words before I even had a chance to think about them. My subconscious was choosing safe words that made unimportant things feel huge, and words that allowed me wiggle room to procrastinate safely. I call these “weasel words.” People who work with me know that I’ll call out someone in a meeting who uses weak language in a subconscious attempt to avoid responsibility. Clear speech means clear thinking and clear execution.

While some words that are programmed into your head can be beneficial, here are four words that make you weakest, yet you likely use many times a day without noticing it:

  • Need
  • Can’t
  • Bad
  • Try

Here is why those words make you weak, and what to do to upgrade your language.


Parents use the word “need” with kids all the time: “We need to go, so you need to wear a coat.”

The truth is, you didn’t need to go and you didn’t need to wear a coat. Your mother may have wanted to leave and you were simply going to be cold if you didn’t have a coat on, but “need” isn’t the right word. By telling the unintelligent animal inside your head that you need something when the reality is that you just want it, you end up turning a desire for something into a straight survival issue for your primitive brain to deal with.

Challenge yourself to go a week without using the word “need.” You will be tempted to use the word as long as you qualify it, but even in those cases it is unlikely to actually be true. For example, you might qualify it by saying “we need to leave now if we want to get to the store before it closes.” Even with this qualifier in place, this is still a limited way of thinking. What if you simply called the store and asked them to stay open a few minutes late?

By using the word “need,” you put an unconscious box around the solution set, limit your creativity, and fail to accomplish anything useful. I do my best to not use the word “need” very often because challenging myself to choose stronger language makes me a more creative and authentic person, and overall a better dad.


“Can’t” is perhaps the most destructive word you use every day. Using the word “can’t” means there is absolutely no possible way and you are robbing yourself of your power and crushing innovative thinking. When you say, “I can’t do that,” you are telling your nervous system that there is simply no possible way to do it and setting yourself up for learned helplessness. What you actually mean is one of three things: 1) You would like some help doing it, 2) You don’t have the tools to do it, or 3) You don’t know how to do it. Given enough resources, it’s highly unlikely that you actually can’t do it.

To your conscious brain, it is obvious that when you say “you can’t,” you really mean you need something else to make it happen. This isn’t so obvious to your unconscious brain because this part of your brain doesn’t understand context; yet, it is still listening to the words you are using. When you speak, other people’s unconscious brains are also listening. This miscommunication between the two parts of your brain creates confusion and subtle stress. Use words that mean the same thing to both your conscious brain and your unconscious brain, and you will be a calmer and more empowered person.

Unfortunately, “can’t” is a word that gets put in our heads in early childhood because parents typically say “you can’t do that.” What parents are actually trying to say is: “if you do that it’s probably going to hurt or make a big mess”, etc. As a parent, I’ve taught my four and six-year-olds that if they catch me saying the word can’t, I will give them a dollar. I was already very good at avoiding that word, but, with their help, I am now extremely conscious of when I use it, and I correct it. Instead of just saying “I can’t do that,” I will take a moment to articulate that “I can’t do that unless I have A, B, or C.” Even in that case, I am limiting my creativity because there may be other solutions to the problem that I am not thinking of in that moment. By telling my nervous system that it is only possible to do something under those particular circumstances, I am not doing myself any favors. A more truthful and Bulletproof way of speaking would be to say: “I don’t know how to do that unless I have A, B, or C.”

Try it yourself. Go one week without ever using the word “can’t.” Normally, I would say, “I bet you can’t do it,” but the Bulletproof way of stating that is: “I bet it will be very difficult until you have practiced it.” 😉


This is another one of those words that is put in our heads before we really have a chance to think about it. In reality, very few things are actually that “bad,” and declaring that they are “bad” is a judgmental viewpoint. By forcing yourself into a binary judgment, where something is either good or bad, you limit the scope of your thinking. For instance, you might say: “I was planning a picnic, and now it’s raining, and that’s bad.” By saying this, you automatically kept yourself from thinking about the fact that the rain was putting out a forest fire and ending a drought. It does little service to you to simply decide that something is just good or bad.

Take the Bulletproof® Diet, for example. Instead of saying that a food is either good or bad, I explain that some foods are more optimal or less optimal than others. Of course the truth of the matter is that even a gluten-filled, vegan burger is better than starving to death. Again, it is not simply a bad food, it is just not as good as it could be.


“Try” is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we want our children to learn something, practice it, and keep “trying.” This is a normal and healthy way to talk to children, but we can do better. This is word is not so Bulletproof because saying “try” presupposes a likelihood of failure. Think about it. If someone says they’re going to try to pick you up at the airport when you land, are you going to count on them doing it? No way. You know that there is a good chance they won’t do it. However, if someone says they are going to pick you up, you can believe it. If you tell yourself that you’re going to try staying on diet or try to read the book, you’ve subconsciously already planned to fail.

“Don’t try. Do.”

I think it was Yoda who said that. Whoever it was, it is some of the best advice to take.

This may seem like a mushy, feel good, inspirational post, but it’s not. Hacking your language is an important, and free, thing you can do to improve your performance, especially after you’ve gone through the efforts of biohacking your cellular energy and hormones. If you want your brain to do all the things it can do, you had better give it the right software. Language is a part of your software. Use it consciously and with precision, and you will achieve things you probably didn’t know you could do.

So, will you accept this challenge? For the next seven days, choose not to use the words “need”, “can’t”, “bad” or “try” without qualification. Better yet, *try to simply not use them at all. Oh wait… 🙂

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By Dave Asprey

  • Cullen Richardson

    It seems simple, but this is actually advanced psychological biohacking — advanced in the sense that the biggest winners do this. Very important. Thanks for the post.

  • Frederick Schurger

    I’ve been using this system for a while, but I like this thot in more detail. This is one of those that I’m going to read repeatedly to fully own as well!!

  • Damien Chavarria

    – Do. Or do not. There is no “try”.
    Is the correct Yoda quote 🙂

    Great stuff, I’m going to give it a try!

    • -JOB

      Seems like Yoda has hacked his speech here. I needed to double check the quote. Thought it would say
      “Do. Or do not. No try there is.”

      • Kalee

        You “needed” to check the quote? Don’t you mean that you “wanted” to check it? 😉

    • bernard

      Did you just said “Try”?

    • One of the best quotes of all time.

    • Tim Conway

      When Luke said, “I’ll try,” Yoda said, “Try not! DO. Or do not. There is no try.”

  • Rus Archer


  • Lee

    Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right. It’s the thinking that makes it so…

    • Joel Penner

      It’s not a matter of “can’t”, but rather that there are more viable alternatives providing a higher ROI to all invested parties which will increase your value to the important shareholders.

      Dang, that came out of me WAY too easy. I think I’ve read too much Dilbert.

  • Nazis and criminals are BAD.
    People NEED air, water and food to survive.
    CAN’T you learn by TRYING new things?

    • Joel Penner

      Here, fixed that for you::
      Nazis and criminals committed despicable acts.
      Peoples’ success relies on appropriate levels of critical air, water, and food supplies.
      Learning sometimes requires new and creative approaches.


      • Zorica Vuletic

        No, Nazis were ‘bad’. No way around it. But to say rain is ‘bad’ is more extreme. If the rain is a tsunami, and destroys countries, that is ‘bad’. Context is key here. 😛 🙂

        • Joel Penner

          People who commit despicable acts ARE bad. Context is definitely key, which is why I very carefully worded what I wrote.

    • Tracker

      Rosa Parks is bad then, being a criminal and all.

      • Garrett K

        Rosa Parks committed an act that was considered disfavourable in the eyes of some. Her act was also considered heroic in the eyes of others.

  • Jessica

    I personally believe “should” is worse than all of those. It’s used as shorthand for “I’m failing this imaginary standard that other people have shoved into my head all my life.”

    • abright

      I agree, “should” is a “bad” word. When I find myself using the word “should” I change it to prefer, and then check and see if it is actually true for me on two levels- ie I should make my bed- I prefer to make my bed? (not true); I prefer the results of a made bed (true). And then I get the freedom to chose what I want in that moment rather than, as Albert Ellis put it “I will not should all over myself today.”

      • I agree, should is very shaming. Brene Brown does a lot of good work about the subject. And T Robbins is big on not using ‘should.’

      • MWilliams

        I should not “should” all over myself today. Funny, …and true!

    • Jacques

      Words can have multiple meanings and different effects depending on the context. If you want to lose weight you should burn more calories than you are currently consuming. If you don’t want to get in trouble with the IRS you should pay your taxes on time. These aren’t “imaginary standards” — they’re real constraints.

      • Leanne

        Actually, ‘should’ in this context still leaves wiggle room. ‘Must’ is a better option. ie: If you don’t want to get in trouble with the IRS you must pay your taxes on time.

        • jayjayjamie

          Well i could also move to a different country and live in a community that supports each other if i don’t want to pay taxes to a government i don’t approve of. So really you dont have to pay taxes if you don’t want to. lol

    • Garrett K

      Indeed. As Anthony Robbins says, “Let’s not ‘Should’ on ourselves” 🙂

    • smokesmd

      also ‘wish’… i’d wish i did that, or i wish i would go there..
      just go and fk do it, and stop wishing 🙂

  • Craigp81

    Go to Thailand – when you haggle at the market, the seller will say “CAN” or “CANNOT”, a person is “GOOD” or “NO GOOD”, and there is no “NEED”, only “MUST”! Trying, isn’t it?!

  • I agree with the general idea, but there’s a place for all of these words. Well, “can’t” is perhaps the least useful.

    As a professional tech I’m often trying things, and even telling my clients that. It’s not the word per se, but the attitude. I’m almost certainly going to solve the problem, but due to the complex nature of everything I deal with there’s no telling how much trying is involved to get there. Much easier for Yoda, because his super mind powers are real in that universe.

    The reason we tell children that they need to do something is that they don’t have the understanding, and perhaps are just developing the capability to even understand anything at all. Even in your story you seems to explain the situation to the child, which is the important part, not the exact wording. I’m from “the winter can kill you” kind of a country, so you do indeed need to wear the damn coat from time to time.

  • Coyote

    Nike says “Just do it” 😉

  • Megan Conyers

    Dave, this is fantastic. It is so easy to be all-consumed with the diet and physical modifications, that we often forget that being Bulletproof isn’t just a diet. It’s a lifestyle. I love it when you delve into the principles of Bulletproofing-even outside of the kitchen. Thank you!

    • Jacques

      You needed Dave to tell you this? Seriously?

      • Isaac

        I don’t think she said the word “need” anywhere in her post. It was you who brought that word up. She simply said she appreciate him discussing the topic, and thought it was a valuable success-building technique to help many of us in our daily lives… And I agree with her.

  • Cathryn

    Yes! And while you’re at it, check yourself for all the times you use the word “like”, extraneously, as if a sentence cannot be understood without being relentlessly peppered with it. I have turned off podcasts featuring guests (often highly degreed in a subject I’m interested in) because of their overuse of the word. I appreciate that Dave does not do this and most of his guests seem to limit their use of it. I actually enjoyed the challenge of ridding myself of this silly habit and it was surprisingly easy. Thanks for all your insights, Dave.

    • MJ

      I agree, the frequent punctuation of sentences using the words “like” and “totally” is something that I am trying to counterbalance with my daughter. Always surprises me that public speakers or people that are often interviewed, don’t train themselves to speak with a bit more fluidity.

      • Elenor

        ouch — and “exactly” — drives me NUTS!!! If you agree say ‘I agree’; but I’m pretty sure you do NOT agree “exactly”!

  • Richie Rich

    give me a break with all of this crap…instead of NOT using words, why not think before you speak and learn how to use language…discarding it altogether seems kind of…oh…Nazi Germany (let’s erase the problem – or what we consider the problem – instead of dealing with it properly/humanely)?

    “…You should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
    “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.”
    “Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!'”

    -Alice in Wonderland

    • Ethan Stern

      Unless I missed something, this is a discussion thread about self-improvement, not genocide. I suggest that you invoke Nazi analogies when they are actually appropriate.

  • Jacques

    To take the advice in this article to an extreme would be akin to avoiding the reality of constraints by ducking your head in the sand of denial. People NEED water, air and food to survive. You CAN’T get to the moon without escaping earth’s gravitational pull by means of rocket technology. I’m all for improving oneself and breaking through false barriers, but completely avoiding these words would handicap your language as a reflection of reality.

    • Garrett K

      People require water, air and food for their survival.

      Our current technological advances show that we are unable to escape earth’s gravitational pull, without using rocket technology.

      Both of your statements were just made more Bulletproof.

      • Jacques

        Give me a break. Require = need. Unable = can’t.

        • Lynn

          You are a loving example of the point this article is making!! There are likely many alternative ways that we could move through the perceived gravitational pull if we didn’t believe that there was only one way to do it. These words create walls and inflexibility within our thinking and our acting. Your strong reaction is an indication that these limitations are active in your thoughts. What a gift to let them come down and live freely.

    • TheJeebus

      You’re making the exceptions the rule.

  • Trish

    Good replacement words for those are Require, Desire and Deserve.

  • He who won’t be named

    upon reading some replies, it’s a wonder you keep this business up.
    Jesus, do some people suck!
    I Know why some folks ,and more and more, disable comments.
    I strive to avoid them really.
    Cheers, turd nuggets.

    • Jacques

      Why? Because some people *disagree* with the sentiments of this article? Is turning your brain off and agreeing with everything Dave espouses “bulletproof”?

  • Marc Itzler

    excellent post thanks so much. I will definately be bringing these words into clearer focus for a week at least. I also am not a fan of ‘should’ and transpose it always to could. it somehow seems to leave the listener much less defensive and in a more receptive and responsible state

  • Alex

    “Should” is pretty vicious too. Negative self-judgement is like a straight offshoot of that one

  • Vic Williams

    We hear ourselves speak in a mantra like internal voice, sometimes I call it the “crafty little sucker”, and use a language that is self defeating – Why? Probably because our culture has trained us.

    For me, this running monolog is filled with, “I can’t do …”, “I need …”, etc. After telling yourself this kind of stuff 24/7 (yes, it’s definitely in my dream state too) it’s not wonder that it becomes programmed into my brain computer.

    Years ago I heard Buckminster Fuller speak. At one point in his life he decided that his learned language was so imprecise that he stopped talking for a year to re-engineer his language – get it right before he started talking again. His talk was an inspiration to me and was “electrified” with brilliant information.

    I am so glad to have read this piece – I benefit from reminders how our language creates, and un-creates who we are – and that we can do something about that.

  • Beto Ruiz

    Great article! Simple, yet very objective.

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  • Needy Tryer

    I’m the kind of person that needs useful information, but I can’t be expected to read such bad articles. I tried.

  • jedimarkus

    “Do or Do not. There is no try.” Yoda

  • Charles

    Dave, thanks for this post. Makes perfect sense to me. I enjoyed reading the comments–perhaps you might also say something about “always” and “never”.

  • Elaine

    The work Train (v) is more effective than try. I think it is what most people think they are saying when beginning a new endeavor. ” I am going to train myself to choose better lifestyle options”

  • philly

    love this…but you used the word TRY under the CAN’T topic

  • johngalt30

    Eliminate the word “Sorry.” I feel like it has become the replacement for “excuse me.” People that use it so freely A) annoy me B) make me question whether or not they can truly be apologetic.

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  • Feeling GR8

    I think by saying “lets give it a go” is kind of subjective. Its like your saying “I’ll TRY” which of course is going back to the double edge again.

    I like saying “I’m going to do that” or “I will achieve it” and affirming that with some goal you wish to achieve.

  • Feeling GR8

    In my life I get involved with a lot of different causes. And some people when discussing life’s problems end up saying to me “well what can I do about it?” Open question but its the tone people use, pretty much admitting defeat and conditioning one’s self in to submission. Finding excuses not to.

    I would like people to stop and think, that by not doing anything is never going to achieve.

    Maybe say things like “what am I not doing about” or “what will I do about it” THAT COULD ENGAGE some braincells into some plan of action. Getting informed and telling others is a good start, whatever the subject.

  • Laura

    In my opinion the word hate should be added to this list. For example, I hate winter because it is too cold or I hate eating cottage cheese. I do not hate winter I prefer other seasons. I do not hate cottage cheese I have just never acquired a taste for it. I would also like to say there are three words that seem to have disappeared and they are “you are welcome”. When you thank someone for something and they say “no problem”, well we know it didn’t cause a problem. You either performed the act because it was your job or just the right thing to do. On a side note after double checking this comment I first wrote “there are three words that NEED to be used more frequently.

  • Oliver

    Basically these are just words. Using different words and sentences doesn’t make you mean something different.
    And especially kids will know the meaning behind it, as they don’t use a dictionary to find out the meaning of words, they know what you meant, and that’s how they’ll treat it.

    And “Try” is quite important in my opinion, because it gives the option to fail, which is important, especially for kids, as they do fail more often. And it’s ok to fail, that’s why you need to keep trying.
    By saying “Don’t try. Do” you create pressure, which is completely unecessary.

    • Aaron

      Language is essentially one of the most powerful tools acquired by man. Even the bible makes this very clear. “In principio erat verbum… et verbum caro factum est”… In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh.

      Although it may not appear that using one word over another will make a huge difference, there is an implicit and subconscious difference as Dave pointed out in this article that has an effect.

      There are supplements for the word “try” including but not limited to “attempt”. What Dave is trying to get across here is that by “trying” to perform an action rather than doing the action, there is less certainty in the actual occurrence of the action itself. The word “try” subtly implies the possibility of failure. (There’s nothing wrong with failure, yet the implication stands.)

      • Mike Schlottig

        I like your post, Aaron–the word holds a lot of weight. I’ve only been incorporating this for a day and I’ve already noticed a marked difference in the accuracy and effectiveness of my statements–it forces me to not be lazy with my thoughts and articulation, (one of the main benefits Dave states).

  • Elisabeth Finn

    i hate that word the it sounds like duhhhh. I need to make the bed…needs to be said , I need to make my bed. saying it like that shows possition of that item.

  • Elisabeth Finn

    opps the is a word i hate

  • Really

    I don’t NEED to read this article, cause I CANT stand the BAD idea that it TRIES to make you believe. Pure nonsense!

  • Renee Danell

    I love hacking people out. It’s easy. when talking i always hear what they say but I’m controlling my thinking plain.

  • Aaron

    Thank you for posting this article. It really demonstrates the power that language has over us. I’ve always been trying to explain to people the difference between a necessity and a desire and there are many who are initially unable to distinguish between “need” and “want”.

  • chris


  • Farther

    I get that this guy is trying to be a good dad, and that’s great, but he has a very Capitalistic way of thinking that will probably damage his children. Monetary rewards to reinforce behaviors are as bad, if not worse, than telling your kid that they reasonably can’t do something (I like to add the word “yet.”) Yes, I used the word “bad.” Guess what, sometimes I like to use the word “evil,” even. Especially when talking about money. 😛
    Also, what a dickbag, asking the store to stay open a few minutes late? Either go tomorrow or use the word “need” and get there before it closes. That’s not creative, it’s entitled. Grocers and grocery store workers are so often disrespected. Why do you think they go on strike so often?

    Good lord, what an annoying father this man must be. Hahaha.

  • Keith

    The phrase “supposed to” is one that I avoid using in my daily language. Like “should” it is forcing people and things into an imaginary standard.

  • Shaman Durek

    When I started training at age 11. When I was chosen as a Shaman in my family. The first year was about not using words called in between. My elders said it would not allow me to learn all that of things I was set to learn in training. So now I teach this to in my lectures and one on ones. There is a whole meaning that dates back to the creation of said words.

  • MontanaIR

    Can’t is by far the worst, My stepfather always said “can’t never did do nothing”. If you used the word can’t anywhere within arms reach, a smack upside the head was inevitable. He would tolerate some swearing, but not the word can’t. It was by far the worst word in the English language.

  • One term people need to feel more comfortable saying is “I don’t know”. It is amazing what you can learn.

  • Zorica Vuletic

    I’m thinking about the word ‘try’ and I’m not sure if I see it as a problem. I think perhaps for something concrete like picking up someone from the airport, you want a more definitive response such as, I will pick you up when you land vs. I will try. For acquiring a new skill which takes some time, saying you ‘try (your best)’ seems good, since you are not setting up standards too high (of course you remember a lower limit too, but trying your best, includes a lower limit too if you think about it). Working towards a black belt for example, you can try your best every day, but some days your ‘best’ will be different. As long as you ‘try’, you will achieve your goal. Even during tournaments, I have had ones where I just felt ready and prepared and as a result I tried my best and did well. There was one tournament I didn’t seem to get my head into it, did not feel prepared, and while I tried my ‘best’ I did not do as well. I think with the word ‘try’ there might be some further discussion leading into limits/standards (upper and lower).

  • Zorica Vuletic

    Suggestion: this post is a nice reminder to some, but for me the biggest thing which helps is ‘context’. To remember context for things, will automatically predispose a person to selecting words which fit the context better. Rain can be good and it can be bad. If it’s a tsunami, I would think that’s ‘bad’. If it’s rain on a picnic date, well that’s an annoying inconvenience, to which you simply make up something else instead. If your heart is not into something, you say ‘try’ and most likely you will not be successful since you made too many excuses while ‘doing’ whatever it was by ‘trying’. You ‘tried’ the wrong things. If your heart is in something, you ‘try’ but you end up ‘doing’ things that make you successful. The ‘can’t’ one makes sense to me, since usually that does mean either you need help with something, need the tools, or you don’t know how to do it. Sooooo yes, always always it seems to go to context. 🙂 ** My favourite thing I like to pick about ‘everything in moderation’ is “O, so I can smoke crack in moderation?” I also don’t agree with those that tend to say ‘only healthy food is good or whatever’. LOL

  • MichaelHorn

    Did I really read this:

    To your conscious brain, it is obvious that when you say “you can’t,” you really mean you need something else to make it happen.

    …after you listed…need as a weak word? Okay, I can’t say it’s so bad but I suggest that you try another word. (I got the other ones in there, do I get a gold star?)!

  • MichaelHorn

    Did I really read this:

    To your conscious brain, it is obvious that when you say “you can’t,” you really mean you need something else to make it happen.

    …after you listed…need as weak word? Okay, I can’t say it’s so bad but I suggest that you try another word. (I got the other ones in there, do I get a gold star?)!

  • melanie_sakowski

    The only thing in life that we NEED to do, from a survival standpoint, is die. Death in life is our only certainty, all else is a beautiful choice. We write our desires, actions, feelings etc. This is powerful knowledge and awareness! Great article.

  • Artemis Gray

    It’s great that someone outside of the hypnosis niche is acknowledging this phenomenon exists, but…. at least pretend to be educated on the subject before advising people about it??? The correct term for “speech hacking” is neurolinguistic programming, or NLP for short, and it is not a new concept at all. Furthermore, the unconscious mind does not understand negatives, so “can’t” is irrelevant on that level.

  • roxy smith

    this sounds hard but im going to try

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  • Great list! Thanks for this.

  • Ron Lloyd

    I really should try to read a bad article like this, but I can’t.

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