According to Answer.com:
“The average person, in an average lifetime, speaks 370,110,001.3 words on average, averagely speaking.”
What did you say?
Can you recall the last thing you said to anyone? If that was the last thing you ever say, would you like to be remembered for it?
Most of us cannot remember the very first word we ever said nor the last. We say so many things that it really is very difficult to keep track of what we say. But really we should keep track because words are powerful and they affect our daily lives far more than we would ever imagine.
A little on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Words and language are heavily associated with the logical side of the brain, so one might assume that words will have very little to do with our emotions and behaviour. But the truth is the memory of a word is stored not only on the logical side of the brain but also on all parts of the brain that are activated when the word is heard or spoken.
In the real world, words always happen within some context. We experience words while we are talking to friends, while we read, while we argue with someone, as someone is grilling us (or vice versa) or when we watch TV. And so as words happen, feelings, emotions, images and other things that come with the experience, are all associated with these words as they happen. This is how we are programmed neuro-linguistically. Depending on how often and how intense the experiences that link to a word, the stronger the program will be. Even more interestingly, since all of this happens while we are deeply engaged or focused on something else, most of the “programming” occur subconsciously.
The mere sight or sound of a word can trigger physiological and behavioural changes without your being aware of it. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, he discusses several studies done to see how words affect behaviour. They found out that exposure to certain words associated with old age, for example, would cause people to walk significantly slower, than their normal pace. When made to read or listen to words associated with aggression, people were inclined to be more assertive after reading or hearing those words than when they were not to exposed to the words. When asked after the experiment, if these people were conscious of the change in their behaviour, they would reply that they weren’t.
Another study wanted to know if test scores would be affected by bias statements made to people tested before the exam. When the group was told that women generally scored lower than men in that test (there is no real basis for this claim), women scored significantly lower than men. But when the group was not told anything, there was no significant difference in the scores of men and women. The bias statement became a self-fulling prophesy.
Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) harnesses this phenomenon for various purposes like training, psycho-therapy and even marketing. By creating, breaking or utilizing the natural associations that exist between words, images and emotions, NLP practitioners are able to direct behaviour towards those that are desired. Telemarketing scripts, sales-demos and adverts that make use of the principles of NLP can be very persuasive. I will discuss NLP in more depth future articles but for now, what you need to know is that words have a powerful effect on behaviour and whether or not you intend to, your words affect the world around you.
Why do words exist?
Humans as a species could not have advanced as it did, had it not been for our ability to communicate at a level that we do. Words can recreate an entire experience for someone who had never experienced it. Who can say what the first word was, if it was a sound or a symbol? Whatever it was, I think we can safely say that it’s purpose was to convey and idea from one mind to another. Once the first word was uttered, we have never stopped talking since.
Over time we have super-refined our systems of communication and our words have acquired the ability to conjure up complex scenarios that can be transmitted not only across distances but also across time. And words have become both the boon and the bane of our lives. Although consciously our minds are able to filter through and validate information, unconsciously, which is how vast amounts of information are processed, everything else is absorbed, stored literally and assumed to be true. And so goes our adventures and misadventures with words.
What do you say to yourself? What do other people say to you? What do you say to other people? Pay attention to the scripts in your life. It will unwittingly determine how your story unfolds.
Our problem with words comes from the very reason we use words in the first place. Words are spoken to create in the mind of a listener (or reader), a thought that wasn’t previously there. Words put thoughts into your head. Even if I say to you, “Don’t think of a purple tiger!” Your focus will inevitably jump to a purple tiger, the one that you are not supposed to think of. And the more you try not to think of something, the more it pervades your thinking. The only way you can stop thinking of the purple tiger is to think of a pink elephant or anything else as long as it isn’t a purple tiger.
This why when people tell you, “Please don’t panic.” you start to panic. Or when they tell you “I don’t want you think that I’m lying.” you begin to wonder if they are lying even if you wouldn’t normally think that. Whenever a person speaks from his fear, he transmits that same fear to his listener in part through his words. Since a great many people tend to speak mainly from their fear, it spreads like an epidemic.
Of Curses and Prophesies
I think I’ve made my point that words are powerful. Once they are said out loud or in your head, they have already changed the course of thought in someone’s mind. Now, the next thing you must seriously consider is what do you say to yourself and what you say to others, like your spouse, your children, your staff at work or the people you interact with.
When a person asks you “How are you?” do you start a litany of things gone wrong in your life or do you say life’s been great? When your child is running around do you tell him he will fall and break his neck or do you tell him to be careful? When your spouse eats a lot of pork fat do you tell him that he will get a heart attack or do you tell him you really want him to stay healthy. Do you tell your staff that your company is not making enough money, or do you tell them that your company’s goal is to achieve sustainable growth? The way you talk and the words you choose when you talk creates moods and tendencies around you.
Often, the intention is to make things better, but since the focus is on the problems and on the things that are feared, the scenarios created by saying them are all made real in the mind of both the speaker and the recipient. And if this is done habitually, the people who are the constantly receiving these messages are inadvertently programmed to accept them. These are the modern-day prophesies and curses. Without meaning to, these prophesies and curses are made by planting images in people’s minds through repeated hypnotic messages. A word when spoken cans set a chain of events in motion the impact of which you may never know.
Of Prayers, Affirmations and Blessings
How then can you protect yourself and your loved ones from curses and bad prophesies? For one thing, you can make positive prophesies. From all the possible outcomes, choose the best one and declare it out loud for all to hear. The greater the number people who hear it, the more minds to carry that thought. Make it a point to wish people well whenever possible. A kind word, a simple greeting or a sincere compliment can change the course of a person’s day in ways that can never be quantified.
Another to way to protect people (including yourself) with your words is through prayers, spoken out loud or silently in your mind. Of course, prayers spoken out loud are more powerful because they involve more people. When praying (as when speaking) let your prayers come from your hopes and aspiration, not from your fears. Your prayer should be more like, ‘Keep us safe.’ or ‘Grant us success’ rather that ‘Don’t let us die.’ or ‘Please keep us from failing.’ Stating your prayers in the positive, expresses your faith in Divine goodness and draws the mind towards better things.
Get into the habit of making positive affirmations. While a prophesy is a statement of things to come, an affirmation is a statement of what is. Bless yourself and others profusely with positive affirmations. Much of our self talk are affirmations of beliefs mostly unverified and assimilated unconsciously and whenever you make positive affirmations, you plant seeds of good in people’s minds.
Pay attention to what you tell yourself. This is often difficult because when you try to listen to your self talk, you stop talking. The best way to catch yourself in negative self talk is to try to catch the end trail of what you say to yourself when you are in a really bad mood. Try to find those sweeping statements that often contain words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘I am’. ‘He is’, ‘She is’ or ‘They are’. ‘I am such an idiot.’, ‘I always fall for that.’, ‘She never listens to me.’,’They are going to screw me, I just know it.’ Over time the person becomes so convinced that these are the only possible outcomes or conclusions that they become the default expectations. And because they expect it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Start consciously replacing these negative affirmations with positive ones. Negative self talk is a habit and in order to break that habit you need to replace it with a better one. You can train your self to habitually make positive affirmations by committing to do it everyday for a month (roughly the time needed to build a habit).
Also pay attention to your metaphors. They are often the paradigm you use in life. When you think of your life as a battle, you are always metaphorically fighting some war, and people are categorized as enemies or comrades. When you refer to people as work horses, you are always metaphorically cracking the whip, to get people in line. When you think of life as a rat race, you are always ‘running a maze’ to get ahead of the other ‘rats’. Anthony Robbins, a success coach, suggests that if you want to change your life, change your metaphors. Find the metaphors that are enabling not limiting or demeaning.
Of Forgiveness and Gratitude
Sometimes even with the utmost care and consideration, we still manage to hurt other people. When that happens, asking for forgiveness (sincerely) is a very effective way to heal the hurt. Apologies are like a soothing balm that allows people to heal faster. Always be quick to apologize when you realize that you have cause someone pain. Your relationships will be better for it.
Finally, there is gratitude. Gratitude is the multiplier of blessings. Whenever you say “Thank you!” for anything you send out a message to the giver and everyone else around that you have been blessed by their gift or their actions and for some reason that sets in motion a flow of blessings. Our gratitude bestows on the giver the grace of giving and manifests the grace in receiving. Gratitude makes the giver a more willing to contributor and the receiver a more worthy recipient .
Words are powerful. As with all power it comes with responsibility. Let us be generous with praise and mindful of that our words should do no harm. The best way to track your words is to think before saying them, because once spoken, words can never be taken back and whatever good or damage it can do, it will have already done. The world can be a better place if more people used the power of their speech to express kindness, create and uplift.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”–John 1:1