Experts Say These Magic Words Will Change Your Life
Small language tweaks may help you lose weight, beat stress, and strengthen your relationships. Use these tips to teach yourself a lifestyle-boosting vocabulary.
“When dieting, many people will adopt restrictive language that leaves the mind wanting what we cannot have,” says New York City neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez. “By saying ‘I can’t have donuts, I am dieting,’ we wire our mentality to yearn for that which we cannot have.” Saying this instead of “I can’t” may make all the difference when you’re trying to give up an unhealthy habit, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Authors found that people who were instructed to say “I don’t” in the face of temptation (“I don’t eat ice cream for dessert”) had more autonomy, self-control, and positive behavior changes compared to people who said “I can’t” (as in “I can’t eat ice cream for dessert”). Dr. Hafeez elaborates, “If you say ‘I don’t eat donuts, I’m learning to eat healthier,’ there is a decision being made by you to be healthier. When you say you can’t, the language guides you to abstain not from a need to improve but from a need to avoid getting worse.”
“Nothing’s going right! Everything is out of control!” Sound familiar? When you get stressed, it’s easy to slip into an all-or-nothing mentality. But that can just drag you down. A simple solution: Use the word “some.” In other words, “Some things are going right, some things aren’t.” Suddenly the glass is looking half-full. The same goes for absolutes like “always” and “never.” “Substitute these words with ‘sometimes’ and ‘occasionally,’” advises marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer. “This shows yourself more tolerance and leniency…you make it OK to be human and make mistakes.” Find out more great things naturally optimistic people do every day.
“I get to”
“Many of us begin our day with the phrase ‘I have to,’” says Catherine Grace O’Connell, a self-development expert and lifestyle blogger. “Changing this to ‘I get to’ has the ability to shift the way our day goes.” Even if you may not be thrilled about going to work or cooking dinner, saying that you “get to” do those things, rather than “have to,” pivots your focus to the positive aspects of those things. O’Connell puts it this way: “‘I have to’ creates resistance and negativity. Changing our words to ‘I get to’ instantly shifts a negative into a positive.”
Apologizing doesn’t come easy to many of us, and in some cases, copping to blame or fault can be downright awkward. But in most cases, the specific words you use to apologize are less important to the person you’ve upset than the act itself. In other words, if you’re not exactly sure what to say, a simple heartfelt “I’m sorry” can go a long way. But make it genuine: Not surprisingly, insincere apologies can be worse than none at all. Check out our best tips for creating the most sincere apology possible.
A lot of research has been done on why people—women in particular, sadly—tend not to accept compliments smoothly. Language in Society found that women only accepted compliments 40 percent of the time, and the Harvard Business Review found that almost 70 percent of people associated receiving compliments with mild shame or embarrassment. Does this scenario sound familiar? She says: “I love that dress.” You say: “Oh this? I’ve had it for years.” Or, “Thanks—I wish it weren’t so snug though.” Or, “You think? I’m not crazy about the color.” We tend to “deflect compliments,” qualifying and clarifying, often demeaning ourselves in the process. A better way to respond: Look the person in the eye and simply say, “Thank you.”
“No, I’m not going to make it”
You’re not bad for saying no because of too little time, money, or interest—saying yes to everything can quickly lead to spreading yourself too thin. But how you say no can make a big difference, and even make it easier since it’s so common to feel bad for saying no, even when you shouldn’t. “When we don’t want to go to an event, it’s easy to create a lie, or to say ‘Sorry, I can’t come’…even though we technically can,” says Lisa Philyaw, MS, a certified life coach. “This…makes it seem like it’s out of our control, but it isn’t.” Instead, she recommends saying “I won’t make it” or “I’m not going to make it,” which “allows you to take ownership over the choice.” Find out some more simple ways to boost your self-confidence.
Adding “yet” on the end of your statements, especially when talking about abilities and goals, is a small, effective tweak that can change your outlook. “Add the word ‘yet’ behind limiting comments,” suggests Kyndall Bennett, Personal Development Blogger over at Kyrabe Stories. “This exercise is helpful if we already have a deeply established habit of declaring ‘I can’t’ or ‘I don’t know’ a lot. [When we do this], we allow ourselves to accept the limiting thoughts as definite truths,” Bennett says. “Examples of this would be like, ‘I can’t speak a second language…yet’ and ‘I don’t know how to run my own business…yet.’” This works for everything from weight loss to relationships; it’s an instant way to add an instant dose of optimism to your statements.
“Can you help me?”
Admitting when you need a hand—and saying yes to an offer of help—can be transformative. Whether you’re reluctant to ask for support on a larger-than-you-can-chew work project or for some babysitting reinforcement during those bleary-eyed days of caring for a newborn, it’s natural to fear looking weak, needy, or incompetent. But not asking for help, or declining an offer of it, can sometimes let the problem spiral out of hand. Just make sure to show your gratitude: Say thanks immediately, then after you’ve gotten the help you need, and then when you next see the person. In addition to the use of certain words and phrases, here are 50 more little changes you can make to be a happier person.