**Author’s Note: This blog was previously released in a modified form as Episode 28: “Subtle Shifts” of my podcast, Crazy Day
I remember the day I discovered the hidden puppet master that was controlling my life.
I remember the shock of seeing him for the first time.
I remember the growth I felt as I learned his methods, his strengths and weaknesses, and the power I felt as I learned how to bring him more under my control than the other way around.
“Wait…WHAT?!”, I hear you saying right about now.
Ok, let me back up…
If you ever read any self help or pop psychology books, you will inevitably hear about the concept of the subconscious mind. There are entire books written on the topic, but if you aren’t familiar with it, here’s a brief summary:
The subconscious mind is like a computer running a program in the back of your brain without you even realizing it. It started creating the program early on, first by the things you took in when you were a child, and later, by the things you feed it as you grow older. But here’s the thing about the subconscious: it has no ability to tell the difference between a truth and a lie; it believes what you tell it whether it’s true or not, and acts as if it’s true.
When I learned this, I started to see a possible explanation for so many things I had struggled with, or even to explain, for my entire life. It dawned on me that I could have some powerful programs running in the background without being consciously aware of them, and so I started to pay attention to the words and phrases that I spoke to see if I could find some patterns in the data I was feeding that algorithm. I wanted to see what I was unintentionally programming my subconscious mind with.
It didn’t take long to spot some really dark, ugly patterns. Patterns I didn’t like at all. But as uncomfortable as it is to see our ugliness and shine a light on it, that’s the only way we can rob darkness of its power, right?
One ugly pattern was a lot of negative self talk whenever I made a mistake. I remember the shock at hearing myself say “ugh, I’ll NEVER figure this out!”, after I screwed something up while learning something new. Maybe you’re thinking that’s just an expression people say when they’re frustrated. Maybe you’re right, but when you hear something often enough, it starts to settle into your mind as a belief, doesn’t it?
Imagine you were trying something new, and, every time you made a mistake, someone screamed at you “YOU’LL NEVER FIGURE THAT OUT!!”.
Or maybe another of my old standbys, “God, you’re so STUPID!”
At first, maybe you could brush it off, but over time, and with repetition anyone might start to believe these lies if that kind of criticism never stopped, right?
We would never say these kinds of things to a random stranger on the street, let alone a family member or loved one, would we? Of course not!
…Yet so many of us say these words to ourselves without a second thought.
Noticing this pattern was one of many wake-up calls that helped explain so many of my self-esteem and self-confidence issues I had dealt with my entire life.
As I started to notice those words coming out of my own mouth, I also started to hear them everywhere I went. I realized how many hurting people I encountered at work, at the store, at the doctor’s office…everywhere.
And so, on my quest to reprogram my mind by changing the words I spoke to myself, I also decided to be more intentional with the words I used with those around me in an attempt to speak to the greatness and power that each of us have, and maybe subtly bring awareness to the power of our words.
Here are a few examples. Maybe some of them will resonate with you, or even inspire you to find your own subtle shifts.
Get To vs Have To
This first one is as much for you as for the people around you. Try this experiment: Read the following two sentences out loud. If you want, you can replace the example for a different activity you would enjoy doing.
“I GET to meet an old friend for coffee”
“I HAVE to meet an old friend for coffee”
Did you notice how you almost had to force yourself to not sound disgusted as you said the second sentence, even though you were describing the same activity?
Try it again with something more mundane.
“I HAVE to go buy groceries”
“I GET to go buy groceries”
Same action. Same expenditure of time and money, but can you almost feel a bounce in the second sentence?
That’s the power of words. “Have to” is loaded with obligation, dread, and almost an undertone of “but I don’t wanna!”, while “get to” sounds like something you are privileged to do, doesn’t it? It screams of something you’re excited to do.
It shifts your perspective. Because while we might think it’s a drag to go to the store and buy groceries, changing the way we speak about it helps us think about it differently. I mean, not everyone is in a place where they can go out for groceries, are they? But you are…
“Make it a great day!”
I have come to believe that telling someone to “have a great day” implies that someone else has the power over whether their day is good or not. From this perspective, a grumpy client, a dog with bladder control issues, or an aggressive driver can control their day and, in turn, how they may act towards their family, friends, or co-workers.
By making the subtle shift to “make it a great day”, we put the power where it belongs: On the person experiencing their day.
We ALL get to choose what kind of day we have, because it’s ultimately about our reaction to the events of our lives more than the events themselves.
This shift helps embody a quote that has been so meaningful to me: “It’s not the events of our lives that define us, but the meaning we apply to them”.
“I appreciate you”
We’ve all had someone help us out with an act of kindness before. When you think back on it, you probably think of the person, yet when we thank them, we call out the action, rather than the action-taker with “I appreciate that!”, don’t we?
In an effort to acknowledge the goodness of others, I chose to change my vocabulary to call THEM out and recognize their willingness to help or show kindness with “I appreciate YOU!”, even if it was something they did as part of their job like someone clearing your table at a restaurant, or helping you load your car at the hardware store. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed a difference in their reaction. A smile, or a relaxing of their muscles when someone acknowledges THEM and not the thing they did for me.
One is transactional, and the other is personal, and I want people to feel seen, you know?
All of these subtle shifts were designed to help empower and improve the lives of those I encounter, in small, tiny ways. Many times, it seems like my words passed by without any impact, but from time to time, people would stop for a moment as something I said tripped up the pattern of their lives and made them stop and think for a moment.
So how about you? Has something I said in this post inspired you to shift the way you talk to yourself or those around you? If not, that’s ok. It’s enough to simply start to pay attention the words you say to yourself without judging yourself for what you hear. Just notice, and then decide what your next step is going to be.