We are always communicating, with ourselves or others, intentionally or unintentionally. We communicate with ourselves through our constant internal dialogue of thoughts, often called self-talk, and our own body language sends us signals. We communicate with others through words, our tone of voice and our physiology.
Much of our internal and external experience is described using words and what those words mean to us is influenced by our background, culture and life experiences to date.
When it comes to communication, the good news is that like any skill, with repetition and practice we can build our self-awareness, and by applying some intentional strategies we can begin to interrupt what psychologists call our 'automatic mind', and start training ourselves to choose words and phrases that can have a significant positive impact on our own life experience and enhance our relationships.
Becoming aware of some of our communication 'habits' and then experimenting with some new ideas can help us build our positive communication 'muscle':
1. Catch yourself starting sentences with 'Don't' or 'Stop'
Our brains are amazing. And they like to do what they are told.
If you are told 'Don't think of a blue tree', your brain first thinks of a blue tree before you can intentionally replace the tree with something else or change the colour of it.
If you are preparing for a meeting, and you start thinking, ‘I hope I don’t stuff this up’, I hope I don’t forget what to say’, or if you're about to receive an award or deliver a speech and you start saying to yourself, ‘Don’t trip up the stairs, don’t fall over’ ‘I better not fall’, your brain is hearing forget, stuff up, trip and fall. You have to think of falling first before you can then think of staying on your feet, which makes you more likely to trip!
This is a particularly helpful tip for those working with young people:
'Don't run' can become 'Walk in the hall'
'Don't interrupt' can become 'Wait until we're finished'
'Don't forget' becomes 'Remember to.....'
'Stop fighting with your sister' can become 'Be kind to each other.'
2. Describe what you DO want, not what you don't want.
With our built in negativity bias, we naturally give more weight and focus to negative experiences in our lives so we can easily identify what we don't want to experience. And it's true that identifying what we don't want is sometimes the most direct way to working out what we DO want.
The problem is, if we repeatedly think or speak about what we don't want to have in our experience, it keeps our focus pointed in that direction, so we will be less likely to notice what we do want even if we see glimpses of it.
As Tony Robbins says, energy flows where attention goes.
So if you find yourself repeatedly saying things to yourself or others like, 'I don't want to be broke', 'I don't want to be overweight', 'I'm sick of feeling overwhelmed' and so on, try flipping the description. What DO you want?
'I want to feel abundant.' 'I want to feel fit and healthy.' 'I want to feel light on my feet.' 'I want peace and relaxation.'
It can be a very helpful exercise and it might not seem comfortable at first, but the goal is to intentionally start to build great language around what we DO want!
What DO you want? You might want connected and loving relationships, freedom, joy, health, vitality and connection. Whatever you want more of, develop rich, detailed, articulate language around that, and talk about it more often.
3. Notice how much you 'should'
We all have that well-meaning friend or family member. 'You know what you should do........ ' They want to help but when you hear a sentence start that way, it's easy for your focus to shift to the opposite of what is being suggested after those words.
When we use this word with ourselves it can help us feel stuck. 'I should get fitter', 'I should start going to the gym,' 'I should start on that assignment.' It doesn't really add empowerment or drive or momentum.
If you start catching yourself when you 'should', consider changing it should to 'could', then choices start to open up and so does empowerment and maybe even motivation.
'I could get up and go to the gym. Will I?'
'You could consider XYZ. if I was in your situation, I might..........'
It can be helpful to understand the language of Necessity vs Possibility or choice:
Have to Can/Could
Need to Will/Won't
4. Play with the intensity level of your words
Words are incredibly powerful and can evoke powerful emotion and behaviours. Think of words like 'devastated', 'hopeless', or 'dangerous'.
These might be very apt for the situation, and we are all entitled to and made to feel and express the full range of emotions.
What often happens is we can exaggerate the intensity of our emotions with our words, and this can have a detrimental effect on our own emotional and mental wellbeing and on our relationships.
You might be in a work meeting and if you share how 'infuriating' a situation is or a person is, this might not support your goal or the team's.
Consider changing the intensity of some of the words you choose and see what happens to your emotional state, and your blood pressure.
Could 'infuriated' become 'unsettled'?
Could 'furious' become 'disappointed'?
On the other side of the equation, sometimes we find it easier to tone down or understate the positivity or excitement of a situation, particularly at work, and others find it a challenge to validate our feelings, which can leave us wishing we hadn't shared.
Even so, maybe an experience we describe as 'fun' or 'good' was really 'exciting' or 'fabulous'?
Play with the words you choose to describe your experience and you will influence your feeling around that experience and the meaning you give it.
5. The power of 'Yet'
'Can't' is another extremely limiting word we all use. We can tend to mix up our potential to be able to do something with the fact that we haven’t mastered it as yet. This can be closely related to our beliefs and past experiences.
If you want to do something and you have not gained a level of competency in that skill to date, then try adding the word ‘yet’ to your statement of ‘I can’t'.
The key is to decide if you want to learn or master that skill or if it is important to you to learn it.
If you say you 'can't' cook but you have no interest in cooking then maybe the sentence needs to be rephrased.
If you want to learn how to cook, then repetition and practice is key.
When you begin to change the way you put your language together, and start to catch yourself repeating old habits, and then you replay what you just said another way, then you are beginning to build new neural pathways through language, and it can change the way you see and experience life in such a newly positive and powerful way.
At PLS, we love exploring the concept of Communication. It's one of the 12 PLS Primary School Wellbeing topics supporting students in Years 3-6 and students are loving it too.
Until next time,
The PLS team