Upgrade Your Language: Four Words That Make You Weak
By: Dave Asprey
October 9, 2013
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:
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… 🙂