Why Words Matter


Tuesday night on Facebook I asked people to share a favorite quotation- funny or inspirational – that spoke to them in some way.  More than 190 comments later we had everything from Dr. Phil to Socrates.  We had people quoting their fathers and their grandmothers.  Some were the sort of quotes you see on  motivational posters that hang in the office of every guidance councillor in the country, and others were the sort of  quick-hit quotables people toss at the bottom of their email signatures.  Still – all of them were the words of someone who spoke  or wrote  with no idea their words would live on.

When Socrates wrote ‘The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” do you think he thought it would be read as the backbone of western philosophy all these years later?  Of course not!  You know why?  It’s because Socrates didn’t actually write that.  Those words are lifted from The Apology, Plato’s look at the trial of Socrates. The quote emerged simply because someone remembered what the stonecutter had to say.

Still though – we like quotes.  It’s a telling use of language. We hold on to these little snippets of literature and conversation. But why? It’s because words are powerful.  More powerful than we usually acknowledge.  The words you choose to communicate not only say a lot about you, but they’re at the centre of your ability to communicate effectively.  Why do we speak? Or write?  It’s to transfer a thought or feeling from one person to another.  It’s all transference.   Your ability to put the right words in the right order is ultimately what determines the success of that transfer.  We’re all familiar with the idea of things being lost in translation.  Well, things get lost in transference all the time.

That’s great Jay, but what does it have to do with living healthy and losing weight?

When I first started to live a healthy life I had no idea how to respond to people who commented on my weight loss.  They’d walk by and say, “Lookin’ good!” and I’d fumble for a response.  When I couldn’t find the right words I’d immediately turn on myself and say something like, “thanks, still have a long way to go!”

Those words told a story.  Was it the story I wanted to tell?  What thought or emotion was I transferring when I said something like that?  The response didn’t give me credit for the work I was doing or the progress I was making.  Talking to a friend at the gym one day I finally found the words I liked: “we’re getting there!”  For the last year and half that’s how I’ve responded every time someone has commented on my progress.

“Lookin’ good Jay!”
” Aw, ya know, we’re getting there!”

While “still have a long way to go” sounded like the cautionary words of a man unsure of the rest of the journey, “we’re getting there” was the hopeful sound of steady progress and purpose.  Not only did I feel better about my self every time I  said “we’re getting there,” it better captured the real thought I was trying to transfer – which was the feeling of a guy in control, making steady progress.

We know that people hold on to words – and even more than that they hold on to the emotional response they have to those words.

If you want people to share in the goals you have for yourself, and you want them to be supportive of you as you work toward those goals, then you have to speak of yourself and those goals in a positive way.  If your words are negative, or self-deprecating, or belittle your commitment or accomplishment – then they will walk away thinking that response reflects your reality.  And it doesn’t.  You just chose poor words.

How you talk about yourself matters.
It’s the difference between having people believe you, and having people believe in you.

The key to all great communication is focus.  Know what you want to say.  Say it clearly.  Say it often.  The message will transfer to everyone that hears it, including you.

Be positive and speak well of yourself and you’ll build a support network of people who do the same. Be negative and speak poorly of yourself and you’ll be surrounded by doubters and naysayers. The people in your life could be cast in either role, and the words you choose to talk about yourself and your journey will determine if their collective energy builds you up or tears you down.

Words have power.  Choose them wisely.

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