AS GOOD AS YOUR WORD

US­ING MORE POS­I­TIVE LAN­GUAGE CAN MAKE A BIG DIF­FER­ENCE TO YOUR LIFE, REAWAK­EN­ING YOUR CON­FI­DENCE AND BOOST­ING YOUR HAP­PI­NESS

The Simple Things - - THINK -

How do you feel right now? Think for a sec­ond and ob­serve the words that come to mind. If you replied along the lines of “Fan­tas­tic thanks, ev­ery­thing’s go­ing great,” then well done – you are likely to have lower stress lev­els, bet­ter health and more suc­cess in life, love and just about ev­ery­thing than many of us more pes­simistic souls. If, on the other hand, your re­ply was more in the “Al­right I sup­pose/can’t com­plain/mustn’t grum­ble” camp, it might be time to start re­fram­ing some of those re­sponses. As in­con­se­quen­tial as they might seem, neg­a­tive thoughts and words can have a huge im­pact on al­most ev­ery as­pect of our lives.

These are the find­ings of neu­ro­sci­en­tists Dr An­drew New­berg and Mark Wald­man, whose book, Words Can

Change Your Brain (Pen­guin) ex­pounds the power of the words we use and how they can shape our lives – for bet­ter or worse. “A sin­gle word… such as ‘peace’ or ‘love’… has the power to reg­u­late phys­i­cal and emo­tional stress,” they write. Con­versely, neg­a­tive words such as “No”, “I can’t”, “I’m use­less”, “ter­ror­ism” and “drought” stim­u­late the amyg­dala, our brain’s fearcentre ( hard-wired to re­act as if faced with a phys­i­cal or ex­is­ten­tial threat) to re­lease stress hor­mones. “These chem­i­cals im­me­di­ately im­pair logic, rea­son, lan­guage pro­cess­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” they write.

It’s not just the words we say out loud that af­fect us, ei­ther. The voices in­side our heads that cheer us on or – more likely – crit­i­cise our ev­ery move, can be in­cred­i­bly po­tent. And while the odd neg­a­tive thought or phrase might not do much harm, they have an alarm­ing propen­sity to breed. Con­sider how many of the fol­low­ing ap­ply to you: have you moaned about the weather, or the traf­fic, or your boss to­day? Have you checked in on In­sta­gram or Face­book, and felt that you weren’t pretty/thin/ happy/clever/suc­cess­ful enough? How many sen­tences have you started with “sorry”? Chances are you will have done at least one, if not all, of these things – and therein lies the prob­lem. The more house­room we give to neg­a­tiv­ity, the stronger its ef­fect and the harder it be­comes to es­cape its in­flu­ence.

But if we can si­lence our in­ner doom-mon­ger and think and speak more pos­i­tively, the ben­e­fits are man­i­fold. A re­cent study by Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health found that peo­ple who look on the bright side have fewer heart prob­lems and lower choles­terol lev­els. Re­search from Duke Univer­sity found that MBA grad­u­ates for whom the glass was half full were more likely to find jobs than those who be­lieved it was half empty. The same study also found that op­ti­mists tend to earn higher start­ing salaries than pes­simists and are also pro­moted more fre­quently.

In part, this is be­cause if we sound happy and con­fi­dent, oth­ers re­spond more pos­i­tively to­wards us, some­thing it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant for women to re­mem­ber. How of­ten have you sat in a meet­ing and no­ticed your­self, or a fe­male col­league, say­ing some­thing along the lines of “I don’t know much about this, but…”, or “This is just my opin­ion, but…” Ac­cord­ing to Dr Ju­dith Bax­ter, lin­guis­tics ex­pert and au­thor of The Lan­guage of Fe­male Lead­er­ship (Pal­grave

Macmil­lan), these are typ­i­cal ex­am­ples of Dou­ble Voice Discourse and Out-of-Power Lan­guage – lan­guage that self-dep­re­cates to avoid ap­pear­ing ar­ro­gant or ar­gu­men­ta­tive. But they give the im­pres­sion of be­ing less pow­er­ful, con­fi­dent or de­ci­sive and de­value our opin­ion. And why would we want to do that? BREAK­ING THE PAT­TERN So how can we break the pat­tern of neg­a­tiv­ity? Hap­pily, it’s easy to do. The trick is sim­ply to re­place those neg­a­tive words with more pos­i­tive ones. So stop say­ing “fine” – and start think­ing “great”. Re­place “should” with “could”. Don’t just try to do some­thing, do it. And cease la­belling your­self as too any­thing and start cel­e­brat­ing your strengths and achieve­ments. Do it now to see how sim­ple it is. Read the words on the op­po­site page aloud. Now try those above on this page – which should make you feel bet­ter…

For the more re­served among us, such whole­sale pos­i­tiv­ity seems at best un­founded and naïve and, at worst, like cheat­ing or even ly­ing. If this is how you feel, some of the tac­tics used by cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy (CBT) prac­ti­tion­ers can help. First, for ev­ery neg­a­tive thought you have about your­self, ask your­self if it’s true? Are you re­ally a “fail­ure”? Think about all the times you have suc­ceeded in life. Are you re­ally “un­qual­i­fied” for your job, or do you in fact have a lot of rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence? Then try to turn your neg­a­tive thoughts into pos­i­tives, so ‘I’m too quiet’ be­comes ‘I’m a good lis­tener’. ‘I’m too loud’ be­comes ‘I’m gre­gar­i­ous and en­thu­si­as­tic’. Soon you’ll start to see that ev­ery­thing de­pends on the lens through which it is viewed. The only peo­ple we’re cheat­ing by main­tain­ing re­lent­less neg­a­tiv­ity are our­selves. TALK­ING YOUR­SELF UP The joy is that it doesn’t even mat­ter if the pos­i­tive things you tell your­self are true or not – the mere act of say­ing them lifts your mood. You might con­sider your­self the world’s worst singer or dancer, but tell your­self you’re good – or bet­ter, great – and not only will you start to be­lieve it, but oth­ers will re­spect you, too. It’s not so much about pre­tend­ing, more about ac­knowl­edg­ing that all value judg­ments, yours in­cluded, are ul­ti­mately no more than opin­ions.

“The longer you con­cen­trate on pos­i­tive words, the more you be­gin to af­fect other ar­eas of the brain [chang­ing] your per­cep­tion of your­self and the peo­ple you in­ter­act with,” write New­berg and Wald­man. “A pos­i­tive view of your­self will bias you to­wards see­ing the good in oth­ers, whereas a neg­a­tive self-im­age will in­cline you to­ward sus­pi­cion and doubt.”

“The lim­its of my lan­guage are the lim­its of my world,” said philoso­pher Lud­wig Wittgen­stein. Or, as Amer­i­can busi­ness­woman Mary Kay Ash once said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” The truth we be­lieve is that which we tell our­selves, so go on, tell your­self – and the world – a happy story, and watch as it comes true.

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