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W is for words

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

What is the definition of a ‘word’?

The definition of a word is ‘a letter or group of letters that has meaning when spoken or written’ but words are more than things that are useful, words have energy and power.

Their power arises from our emotional responses when we read, speak, or hear them. Words can have different emotional responses according to context and also who the speaker is. If you take a simple word like ‘rain’ for example, it will produce a different emotional response from someone who desperately needs it for their crops to grow compared with someone who wanted to enjoy a picnic on their day off or someone whose house is on the brink of being flooded. If the speaker was a weather forecaster you might be more inclined to believe them more than someone who spends most of their time underground or indoors or on night-shifts or all three!

Words are important to communicate generally, but the way that words are spoken or written provide a whole different level of communication.

The word ‘word’ itself can be used as a promise or sign of intent e.g. “I give you my word”

What is the importance of words?

“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind” Charles Capps

I think that the old adage ‘Sticks and Stones’ is wrong on so many levels. The words we speak, read or write (or even think) can leave a huge impact and have a lasting effect – positive or detrimental, so it is important to choose the words we use wisely. Words not only have an effect on others and the relationships we have with them but our words to ourselves (self-talk) can also affect us too.

We already accept that the brain is powerful but think about the following sentence for a few moments as it opens up so much potential and possibilities:

“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain”.

Santiago Ramon Y Cajal

Now read it again slowly and consider the implications of that sentence

The way that we talk to ourselves is so important; negative self-talk can have a long-lasting detrimental effect whereas positive affirmations will have a more beneficial effect.

When we have the habit of using negative words repeatedly or talking to ourselves negatively it can have a negative physical effect on our health and our confidence. The more we speak negative phrases, the more power it has over us because the brain uses repetition to learn, looking for patterns and consistency as a way to make sense of the world around us. This is why most of us (of a certain age) are likely to remember our multiplication tables, or a song that we sang day-in-day-out in our youth because repetition is the most powerful tool to imprint something into our minds and keep it there.

For this very reason, it is worth reflecting on how many times you habitually call yourself stupid, useless, fat, ugly or anything else when you make a simple mistake or are having a feeling of awkwardness. Do not let your habitual propaganda (self talk) create a false self-image which then has an effect on your confidence and your responses to life and others.

“As you go through life, your brain undergoes extraordinary development. Your brain is the most adaptable, modifiable organ in your body, and it can change both positively and negatively by how you use it each day.” Sondra Bond Chapman

Essentially, what we practise or the thoughts we entertain we will cultivate. The way we think and feel determines the wiring and amount of chemicals that course through our brains but fortunately by simply responding to our thoughts differently, by re-framing/defusing them we can change the neuronal circuitry of our brain.

e.g. "I’m so stupid" versus "I was careless; I’ll be more careful in future"/ "I didn’t succeed this time but now I am one step closer"

Defusion is relating to your thoughts in a new way, so they have much less impact and influence over you. As you learn to defuse painful and unpleasant thoughts, they will lose their ability to frighten, disturb, worry, stress or depress you. And as you learn to defuse unhelpful thoughts, such as self-limiting beliefs and harsh self-criticisms, they will have much less influence over your behaviour.” Russ Harris

How should we use words?

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Yehuda Berg

In theory, I think that there are certain guidelines that should be employed in our communications with others. Leaving aside the whole subject of ‘being impeccable with our word’ i.e.not wasting our words with each other on gossip or other non-productive negativity, etc basically I believe that you always have the right to say what you think but your choice of words, the way you express yourself and the timing/environment can produce different consequences and will help or hinder the person on the receiving end of your words to understand their intention.

When we speak to ourselves or others it is likely to produce a better response if we do so in a way that is kind, conveys respect and comes from a place of empathy. Whilst telling any ‘truth’ as we understand it, it is important to align our words, inflection and tone of voice, eye expression, body language and other actions with our inner awareness. Any communication should be based on speaking the truth, (avoiding exaggerations and being consistent in what we are saying), not using double standards or words to manipulate others, and most importantly not using words to insult or belittle anyone. It is equally important to listen carefully to any responses from the other person ; seeking to understand not just to reply.

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” Benjamin Franklin

There may also be times that we choose to remain silent if we don’t think that we are capable of expressing ourselves calmly or clearly or we genuinely believe that the other person wouldn’t ‘hear’ what we are trying to say ( as opposed to we can’t be bothered because it takes too much time and patience).

“He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good”. Confucius

Words can be ‘bullets or seeds’ (Gary Chapman) If we use our words as bullets with a feeling of superiority or condemnation, we can’t build good relationships. If we use our words as seeds to support others though, we can build positive and life-affirming connections.

By changing the words we use, we can change our perception of the world. Using positive language and discussing uplifting things, instead of negative language and dwelling on the negative, uplifts our mood and the mood of the people who you are talking to.

Positive words have a positive effect on our brains. They can make you feel more confident and make you more likeable and trustworthy to others. Positive language gives you better and faster results because it doesn’t cause others to go on the defensive so by choosing your words more carefully you can avoid unnecessary confrontations

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Words are stronger than guns and bullets as they make it possible to spread ideas and concepts that can contribute to the destruction of a country or help it to transform itself. Words crystallize perceptions, shape our beliefs, drive our behaviour and ultimately create the world we live in. Repetition is the most powerful tool to imprint something into our minds and retain it. This is of particular concern when we consider a phenomenon called the Illusion of Truth Effect. It basically proves that any statement we read, see, or speak regularly is seen as more valid than one we’re exposed to only occasionally which is why it is so important to actively question what we read in the papers, on the internet etc

Your words will influence how others see you and can alter how you see the world. Your words can also literally change how your brain and body functions. The words we think about and use shape our feelings, actions, personality and can touch almost all aspects of our life. We can have thousands of thoughts every day, therefore it seems obvious that if our thoughts and words are negative we will see the world differently to those who use positive words and language more.

There are loads one can say about words but instead I just want to leave you with a short story I have just discovered called ‘Two Words’ by Isabel Allende, (translated to English from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden)

The story is about Belisa Crepusculario who grew up in poverty, but learned to read and write, and gained the skills to be a renowned “seller of words”. In the story we get to look at the impact of words. Belisa sees that words have innate value, and as she travels across the country through towns and cities and villages, she allows others to see that same innate value that words hold. The story makes us reflect on the way we see words 'sold' in real life. Belisa is a speechwriter, a novelist, a journalist, a teacher, and more. Although there is a sense of magic around the selling of words, Belisa never really does anything magical but she does impact the lives of individuals and the politics of larger communities solely through the words she shares. It is a thought provoking story and well worth a read! Two Words

Questions to think about:

What are your words achieving in the lives of the people, who have been listening you?

Are your words creating a better or worse environment for yourself, your relationships, the wider world i.e. what am I contributing?

How often do you refer to yourself in a negative way e.g. when you make a mistake, drop something etc

If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
Jan 17, 2021

By Abdullah Shoaib

Read from top to bottom then from bottom to top. Which way will you talk to yourself?

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