I love linguistics. I love how languages are open, alive, adaptive, expressive, influencing, rich, complex, fluid and tangible. I love how languages are easily affected by personal, psychological, social, political, economic, historic and environmental factors. I am even more amazed by how languages can affect those factors in return.
Further to that, I find it strikingly amazing how literally we take the spoken word, or rather, how selective we are in accepting the intended indirect meanings of words, how they are structured and the way they are uttered, and how idiotic we pretend to be at times, especially while arguing, when we take what we hear very literally. It seems that we had created such a smart and comprehensive communication tool (language) with an incredible ability to carry much meaning, yet we abandon the depth of this tool sometimes, perhaps out of laze or maybe out of fear of confronting the real intended meaning being sent our way.
Understanding that, over the past few years I began to watch what I say, what I hear and how I hear it. I noticed several phrases I was using that came out innocently but carried a somewhat negative meaning. What is also amazing about language is that what we say not only affects the listener, but also affects us, our own thoughts, feelings and experiences.
In an effort to be more positive, feel lighter and create more space for joy to manifest, I began replacing several phrases with improved ones. Here are the most commonly used five:
- “Don’t forget to”
- Replaced with: “Remember to”
The first one implies you are likely to forget and suggests avoiding a certain behaviour rather than offering a positive encouragement to do otherwise. Instead, “remember to” acts like a positive mental note to take action on something. I've got zero statistics here, but I bet you’d actually be able to remember more things if you begin using the positive phrase.
- “Why don’t you/we”
- Replaced with: “How about”
In this case also, the latter serves as a positive suggestion rather than a negative question. What annoys me is when the former is said with an insisting expectation to receive a real literal answer in response and when it is even followed by a list of complaints using “always” and “never”. E.g. “Why don’t we go to Dubai next month, you never want to travel with me, I always suggest we do things together and all you want to do is stay here with your PlayStation”. Imagine this, “How about we go to Dubai next month?”. Then stop talking, smile and wait for an answer.
- “I am”
- Replaced with: “I feel”
“I am” is such a strongly defining statement. In everyday conversations, it is often used to present solid facts like your age, name, nationality, social status, etc. However, when we use it to define our behaviour and feelings, e.g. “I am depressed”, “I am fat”, “I am old” or even, “I am a happy person”, it limits the mental and emotional space we need to allow ourselves to accept the possibility for change within our ever changing “personality”. Instead, “I feel” suggests whatever follows is temporary and is just a sensation that can change easily any time. It also helps us avoid identifying our whole being with (and limiting it to) a certain state or sentiment.
- “I love you too”
- Replaced with: “I love you”
I learned this one from my friend Natalie Harake and instantly love it. My personal rationale is that, “I love you too” feels quite conformist. It lacks spontaneity and individuality. Due to decades of Hollywood and Disney influence, it could make us feel sad when we don’t hear it, it could make us feel insecure because we think the other person is not loving us back. It suggests that when we love someone they owe it to us to love us back, when the fact of the matter is that they don’t. Love is free and open and no one owes us any love at any point, no matter how much they chose to give us. Thus, a simple, “I love you” is a positive reminder of expressing the genuinity of our feelings rather than the automatic responsiveness of our words.
- “Always” & “Never”
- Replaced with: Sometimes, in general, usually, often, tend to, etc..
This is something I picked in my Yoga Teacher Training. We were taught to “never say ‘never’”, because there are "always" exceptions (yes I do realize how contradictory this sounds). Like in the case of “I am”, we tend to use many superlatives and ultimately-defining phrases that limit the way we perceive ourselves, others and events around us. Everything changes, constantly, if there’s one ultimate fact, this is it. The more we let go of such limiting phrases, the more adaptive we can be to new changes, the lighter we can feel about them and the happier.
So next time you notice yourself saying one of those above, or any other from your phrase book, how about replacing it with an improved alternative. It may feel weird and foreign at first, like a new colour you’re not used to wearing. However, with time it will probably fall into place and it will probably affect your psyche, hopefully creating more space for love, light and peace.
Photo credits: http://www.celadoncelery.com/crown-muse-pmt/