The words we use have a lot of power. Not only do they allow us to convey ideas and opinions to other people, they can also influence the way we think.
Now I'm no expert in psychology, or linguistics, or the psychology of linguistics (if that even exists), but I'll tell you, you can test this idea out on your own. Here's what I mean:
A couple of years ago I decided to eradicate the word “like” from my vocabulary. I used it, like, way too much. I used it as a filler, or when I wasn't sure of what I was saying, and I just didn't like the way it sounded. I searched online for ideas that would help me, and I read that if I wanted to, like, stop saying like so much, then I had to stop using the word in all of its forms. For example, I didn't like a movie, I enjoyed it. I didn't think that one band sounded like another, I thought they sounded similar to them, or as though they were influenced by them. It was tough at first, and I often caught myself using “like” when I didn't want to, but eventually I got a lot better. The reason it worked was that I had to become aware of what I was saying, which had the side-effect of making the things I said more thoughtful overall.
Around the same time I had decided to do something about my issues with procrastination. Thinking about these two things at the same time lead me to a fairly major revelation; how often I used the word “should.” Whether talking about major things such as “I should start saving for my retirement” or “I should start eating more fresh vegetables” or “I should really do the laundry,” I came to realize that when I used the word “should” I hadn't really said anything useful. Of course I should save for retirement, we all should. Saying it does exactly nothing.
Well, that's not true. Saying it makes me feel as though I've done something wrong by putting it off. It gives me a feeling of guilt that does nothing to help me reach my goals.
In fact, you can think of that kind of sentence as being half-done, with an implicit “...but” that isn't often said. “I should start eating more fresh vegetables (...but pizza tastes so damn good).” “I should really do the laundry (...but then I'd have to get off the couch).” That's where the problem is. You can say that you should do something with absolutely no commitment, and with no intention of actually doing anything about it.
So what would be better?
Instead of saying what you should do, say what you will do, and be realistic. In this way, you can turn this:
“I should start working out (...but the next two weeks are crazy and I don't know how to get started).”
“I'm going to start working out. The next two weeks are crazy, but I can contact Real Trainers and renew my gym membership. I'll be ready to start February 1st.”
Huge difference. The first statement is empty. The person saying it sounds lost, and the person hearing it can't offer anything in the way of support or accountability. The second statement shows intent, and the person saying it is being firm but fair with themselves.
Talking about your goals is a great way to get started on the path to achieving them, but it's important to make sure that when you talk about them that you are doing so in a helpful and meaningful way. Be clear, be realistic, and say what you will do, rather than what you should do.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!