For Learning and Change, Listen to Your Language

Words mean so much — the words we say to each other and the words we say to ourselves. Most of us are aware that there is a constant ongoing dialogue in our heads. Many of us do not realize the effect this dialogue has on us and that we can change it.

As a coach, I listen to how people speak – to the words that come out of their mouths. These words tell me a lot. And when I reflect the words back to my clients, they are often surprised. “I said that?”

One common word I hear clients use is “hard,” as in, “I tried to do it but it was too hard.” Or, “I want to do it, but it is too hard.” When I ask them what they mean, often they say, “I don’t feel like I can do it” or “It will take too much energy.” Then we do an experiment. I will ask them, “What happens if you use a different word, other than ‘hard?’” Often the word they choose is the word, “challenging.” When they try out this new word, many people notice that the word, “hard” means I am a victim of the circumstances, that there is little or nothing I can do to change it, that someone or something else has made it hard and I have to power through it. But the word, “challenging” means I chose this and I can work with it if I choose to. It may take a lot of energy, but I will figure out how to work through it. It starts to feel more like a game, like whitewater rafting – something that is big and exciting. Just this word change can change a lot.whitewater rafting

And if they are willing to take up the challenge and eliminate the word “hard,” they learn a lot. They learn to meet their circumstances with energy and excitement. For example, after years of spin class, I decided to change gyms. I went to a new spin class and I came home and said, “Wow, that was hard.” My teenage son said, “Well then obviously you have to keep doing it.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because it is a challenge for you and you love a challenge.” And I thought, “Hmmmm, I do love a challenge.” And with just this change, I wanted to work harder and get better and stronger and use it to propel myself forward. “Hard” felt like I just had to somehow make it through the class. I realized a challenge is of my own making. And if it was really hard for me, chances are good I would not keep doing it.

Try it. You may find, like so many of my clients, that “hard” feels like someone else is doing it to you. “Challenging” becomes your choice. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out.