word game

Word games

I like to say that if you were to look at my CV, you’d think one of two thoughts:

  1. This woman is completely unemployable: what has she been doing with her life?
  2. This woman can do anything: what an interesting collection of skills and experiences!

Actually, in this day and age, my employment history is not that unusual for those of a slightly younger generation. What can I say—I’m a trendsetter?

My very first career was as a foreign language teacher, which seems really different from health coaching and yet shares a really fundamental goal: teaching others to speak a new language.

change your language, change your brain

There have been a lot of studies about how learning a foreign language causes changes in your brain, and I firmly believe that spending considerable time in a country where the language is spoken increases your ability to see the world from a different perspective.

These days, it feels as though peace, love, and understanding could be greatly increased by understanding “the other’s” worldview. If I ever run for office (not a chance), my platform might be, “Foreign language for all!”

Never learned a foreign language?

Not to worry: it turns out that changing the words we choose in our own language can also improve our brains.

what does it mean to “talk positive?”

In 2012, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, published Words Can Change Your Brain, in which they looked at changing the words in your own language to be more positive.

Your sleep, appetite, and even your ability to experience long-term happiness and satisfaction increase when you speak positively; even seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds can make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse and can actually damage key structures that regulate memory, feelings, and emotions.

In an odd twist of evolution, as humans, we are wired for negativity—it’s a survival thing!

Our brains are constantly scanning our environment for potential danger, living in a space of hyper-awareness. Being suspicious and negative keeps us from getting hurt.

But because our brains, as wonderful as they are, conflate physical danger with emotional, spiritual, and intellectual dangers, taken to the extreme, our negativity bias can also keep us from thriving.

And that’s where health coaching comes in.

but how is that like health coaching?

As a health coach, I spend a lot of time with clients on their food and lifestyle choices: which ones serve you best? How can we make sure you make the better choice 50% of the time, then 75%, then 80%, then 90% of the time. (That’s right, we never go about 90%—wine and chocolate are totally in.)

And a large part of this work is with the conversations that happen in our minds: health coaching is just as much about a mindset shift as it is about healthful food, meal planning, working out, developing a spiritual practice….

That shift usually involves changing our language:

  • Using “and” where we might use “but.” “I love you, and right now you’re driving me crazy” feels very different than “I love you, but you make me crazy with this habit.”
  • Using “choose” instead of “should.” “I choose to work out because it makes me stronger” feels very different from “I should work out because I’m weak.”
  • Using “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.” “I don’t eat dessert (except on Saturdays)” feels very different from “I can’t eat dessert because I’m fat.”
  • Using “get to” instead of “have to.” “I get to spend an hour listening to my favorite podcast in the car” feels very different from “I have to spend an hour commuting.”

These examples may sound forced and awkward, but and over time, they do make a difference!

ninja level

Once you start paying attention to your word choices, you’ll see opportunities to uplevel your language everywhere!

My newest discovery came from the Wellpreneur podcast in an episode with Eleanor Beaton, who says that when we wish for the confidence to do something, we’re setting our sights too low.

Radical conviction is an abiding belief, an abiding sense of faith, in the power and the rightness of your intentions and your goals. Confidence rules the comfort zone. Conviction rules the growth zone.

That feels like the graduate student level version of language shifting—and you can bet that I’ll be having the conversation with my clients about where in their lives they need some radical conviction to finally make the changes they’ve been trying to make on their own for years.

make the connection

New to the concept of positive language? Spend a week noting when you say “but” or “should” or “have to.” No need to make a change just yet—simply note how many times and when these words crop up.

The next week, when you catch yourself using one of these words, mentally rephrase the sentence.

Finally, try it out loud in your conversations—whether they’re with someone else or with those voices in your head (because we all have them.)

Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know, what are some other examples of “talking positive” you’ve encountered and/or adopted into your language?

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