Stop Misusing Words of Power

5 years ago


The women who read and post on BlogHer don’t have to be told that words have power. We know that already, with every fiber of our beings. We know that words have the power to break our hearts or make us cry with joy. That they can call out every emotion that we have and intensify them. That they can make us feel unattractive, shy, weak, incapable, and fearful, or beautiful, confident, competent, courageous and engaged.

We see what words can do to our children – that they can turn them in on themselves, and make them small and withdrawn, or make them stand tall, eager for new experiences and challenges. We see the effect that words have on people around us, from the people on the street or in the media, to the people in our lives and homes. 

You know that language has power, and that – whether you care to admit it or not – the things you say get internalized. They crawl into your ears, echo in your head, and fall from your lips most waking moments of every day.

All of these things are evidence of the power language has, the power the words we speak and think have to change the fabric of our lives. And yet, for all that knowledge, we still make the same mistake over and over again.

Please give me a dollar for every time I’ve heard a woman say that she wasn’t good at something. And before I sound a bit holier-than-thou, I’m guilty of this myself.

“I’m terrible with numbers.” “I’m just no good with tools.” “I can’t spell to save my life.”

We must all stop. There are a hundred reasons why, I’m sure, but today, you’ll read three.

First, would you let a stranger talk to you that way?

If someone you didn’t know walked up to you and started spouting off about your incompetence, you’d either vehemently defend yourself or ignore them entirely. Why? They don’t know you. They don’t know anything about you, and they certainly have no right to treat you so disrespectfully.

So if you won’t tolerate it from other people, why on earth would you tolerate it from yourself?

Treat yourself the way you insist on being treated by other people.

And while you’re at it, think about this: people perceive us how we present ourselves. Every day, we’re telling people with every word and every action, “What you see is what you get.” Present yourself as incompetent in some category, and guess what? People will believe you, and they’ll treat you exactly how you train them to treat you. Tell them you’re bad with numbers, and they’ll believe you and start saying the same things you do. How does this help you improve?

The answer is, it doesn’t.

Second, you can’t say one thing yet accomplish another.

Do you want to be better at math? Stop saying, “I’m no good at math.” Want to be a better writer? Stop saying, “I’m bad at spelling.”

By continuing to slam your own skillset even as you try to improve it, you’re creating some cognitive dissonance in your brain. So which position wins? The one you think the most.

Now ask yourself this. If you tell yourself you’re incapable of something, how does that drive you to get better at it?

I got an email last week from a very capable and intelligent woman who told me she was “pathetic” at something. How can you expect to get past that if you speak to yourself that way?

Get yourself in alignment with your own goals. Stop acting out that incongruity and watch how your progress dramatically increases.

Lastly, if you change your language, you change your thinking. 


About seventeen years ago, I bought a new VCR. Its manual was full of what I considered at the time to be techno-jargon and in small print, and the process of programming the clock might as well have been explained in Greek. For three years, that thing blinked “12:00” at me, like a bright blue reminder of my ineptitude. And people I knew happily co-signed this: “Yeah, I can’t program one of those things either.”

A couple of years (yes, embarrassingly enough, actual years) later, I was studying for my CNE, which stands for Certified Novell Engineer. (This was back in the days when Novell ruled enterprise networking, and I was an ambitious technical support specialist.) I spent hours every day that summer trawling through internet protocol tables and learning technical processes and methodologies inside and out. I passed six tests in about ten weeks, all on the first try.I could set up a completely functional computer network – computers, printers, routers, cables, et al. - in an afternoon.

Then one day, I took a break from my studies and decided that I was going to watch a movie.  There, staring out from my VCR like some specter of incompetence, was the blinking “12:00”.

Then, I actually thought to myself, “I can configure a server from scratch. Why can’t I program a VCR?”

I fixed the problem in less than ten minutes.

Here’s the thing. I was *always* capable of programming the VCR. I just didn’t believe it. I chose to believe instead that I was incapable, and I told myself over and over that I couldn’t do it. In less than a quarter of an hour, I changed my thinking and solved the problem.

You can do the same thing.

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” – Henry Ford

To change your thinking about something, change the words you use to describe it.  Want to be better at anything? Stop saying you’re bad at it! And use the most positive and supportive language as possible for yourself. Use your own words to help reprogram your mind.

Yes, words have power. Take that power and make it your own.



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