”They’ve made me feel like a prisoner
They’ve made me feel set free
They’ve made me feel like a criminal
Made me feel like a king
They’ve lifted my heart
To places I’d never been
And they’ve dragged me down
Back to where I began
Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out” – Hawk Nelson
We have all experienced the power of words – those that are spoken to us and those that we choose to speak. I have always felt like the power of words was just an emotional one. When others are upset with us and say strict or hurtful things they obviously affect our emotional state. This is also true for saying kind and uplifting things. We feel happy and that life is a better place because someone said something nice to us. Both the speaker and receiver feel better for positive words shared. But does the power of words go beyond just our emotional well-being?
Yes. I just read a couple blogs based on a book by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman called “Words Can Change Your Brain.” This book explains how words not only affect emotions, but they can change our brains. Words have the power to shape the reality we perceive.
If a lot of our communication is negative like saying angry or mean things or frequently complaining then our brains change to focus more on negative things. Negativity breeds negativity. When I first read about how negative words make our brains think more negatively I thought of the times I was given the advice to “vent” my frustrations and complaints. It’s supposed to be healthy to release these negative pent-up feelings right? Wrong.
When we participate in complaining or criticizing it actually makes us feel worse and all those around us listening to our “venting” feel worse too. A psychologist named Jeffrey Lohr said this about complaining and venting our angry words, “People don’t break wind in elevators more than they have to. Venting anger is...similar to emotional farting in a closed area. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s dead wrong.”
When we are exposed to frequent use of negative words by ourselves or others, we are training our brain to make a path of negativity in our thought processes and outlook – just like a well-traveled path in the forest.
Inversely, our brains do the same thing with positive words. The more positive words we hear, say or are exposed to the more positive our thinking becomes. Positivity breeds positivity. Our brains forge neural pathways that are positive that change our outlook on life to a more optimistic one.
Imagine for a moment you are presented with a looming deadline to complete a task. The more you worry and complain about it the less productive you become and the poorer your judgment and results because your negative words have altered your perception of reality.
What if you respond positively? Say positive things like, “I can do this,” or “It will all be okay,” etc. Science has shown that you will work more effectively, efficiently and produce a higher quality of work. The situation did not change, but the results did.
What words do you choose to focus your energy on? How can you change your words and thoughts to be more positive? Here are a few ideas:
1) Be more grateful. Expressing positive words of thanks and appreciation bring a lot of peace and power into your life and can rewire your brain to think more positively.
2) Each night before you go to sleep write down three things that went well for you that day and why. Using words to positively describe the good in your life reinforces optimistic thinking and has even been shown to improve depression and anxiety.
3) Share your happy life events with others and be an outlet for their happy experiences too. Remember positivity breeds positivity. Express cheerfulness and allow others to do the same around you.
4) Surround yourself with happy, positive people. The detractors, complainers, and haters can rub off on us so just change your company to more upbeat individuals.
5) When the chance to say something bad about someone else arises, bite your tongue. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to just shut up.
Words can change the world one person at a time – so let the negative go unspoken and choose to be positive. Let our words breathe life into others and ourselves. Let’s choose to be more kind and charitable in our words and thoughts.