In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about language, including why we use it, how it impacts our emotions, how it shapes our realities, how to leverage it, how to transform language patterns and more.
Why We Use Language
Language is a tool that allows us to make sense of the world. The words we use act as a vehicle to express ourselves, share our experiences, opinions and ideas with others.
However, we may not always truly understand the impact of the words we choose.
The Power Of Language
Interestingly, “Abracadabra” comes from the Hebrew phrase that means “I create as I speak.”
Words have the power to build us up and tear us down. They have the power to create and the power to destroy ― the power to free us and to imprison us ― they can empower us or disempower us ― and they can make us laugh and make us cry. In fact, words can change the way we feel, in an instant.
Language can even impact our genetics. In Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman write: “…a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”
The authors go on to to say that positive words such as “peace” and “love” can strengthen areas in the brain associated with cognitive functioning, propelling the motivational centres of the brain into action and building resiliency while hostile language can disrupt specific genes that play a key part in the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress.
Many are aware of the power and impact that words have played to move others in famous speeches throughout history – think of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ or Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’. However, few are aware of their own power to use words to move themselves emotionally and increase the richness of life.
It follows then, that, if we want more control and agency in our lives, we must begin to cultivate a greater understanding of the power in what we say to ourselves and others.
Widen Your Word Bank
The English language contains over 600,000 words, the largest number of words in any language in the world. However, linguists suggest that the average person’s working vocabulary consists of only 2,000-10,000 words. We therefore use, on average, a maximum of 2% of the English language.
Out of the roughly 3,000 words related to human emotions, more than 2,000 describe negative emotions compared to approximately 1,000 that describe positive emotions. In other words, there are twice as many words to describe negatives emotions compared to positive emotions.
We are all born with the gift of language. So why, despite such an extraordinary array of words available, do we settle for the same habitual vocabulary to describe our emotions and experiences? The answer is efficiency.
Our brains are wired to conserve energy. Consequently, in the pursuit of efficiency, we resort to using the same words over and over again. Unfortunately, by depriving ourselves linguistically, we also deprive ourselves emotionally.
“When we expand our range of vocabulary, we expand our range of emotions.”
Language & Emotions
Our words not only describe our experiences, but they become our experiences.
Words have meaning and as we know, the meaning we give something determines how we feel ― our emotional state. Therefore, specific vocabulary can trigger specific biochemical reactions within our brain and nervous system.
However, not only does our vocabulary impact what emotional state we are in, but it impacts the intensity of it. There are subtle nuances in language that can totally change the sentiment at hand and in turn transform our reactions to them.
One of the easiest, yet most potent ways we can observe the impact words have is by seeing how we feel when other people speak to us.
For example, how would you feel if someone said to you “I think you’re mistaken” versus “I think you’re wrong” versus “I think you’re lying”? All three phrases are almost certain to generate a totally different emotional response.
The exact same process occurs with the dialogue we use to speak to ourselves, but unfortunately, we’re less conscious of this fact.
The solution is to be active architects in the domains of verbal expression. By developing and enhancing the scope and quality of our habitual vocabulary, we instantly expand our emotional experience of life itself.
“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.”
How Your Words Create Your World
We all have our favourite expressions and aphorisms, words that we use on a daily basis without really giving them a second thought. What many of us don’t realise however is how our words shape our beliefs, drive our behaviour and ultimately, create our world.
As previously mentioned, the words we use and the meaning they hold for us determine how we feel. We also know that how we feel determines what we do and what we do ultimately determines our destiny. We can say, then, that our words quite literally are the architect of our realities. So, by transforming our language and vocabulary, we can transform our realities and the quality of our lives.
Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman capture this in their book Words Can Change Your Brain when writing: “Language shapes our behaviour, and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words, spoken in the right way, can bring us love, money and respect, while the the wrong – or even the right words spoken in the wrong way – can lead to a country war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.”
Furthermore, we attract what we focus on. Consequently, the words we repeatedly use, whether internally when communicating with ourselves, or externally when communicating with others, will, ultimately, determine what we create in our realities.
If words define, shape and create our worlds, then understanding their power is as important as understanding the physical laws of nature.
“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your language.”
How To Leverage Language
The key to leveraging language is to consciously and intelligently use vocabulary that aligns with our goals and the life we desire as well as maximising the intensity of pleasurable emotional states and minimising the intensity of painful emotional states.
For example, someone who habitually uses vocabulary to describe a pleasurable experience such as “good” or “great” is going to create an entirely different level of emotional intensity than someone who uses the words “ecstatic” or “incredible” to describe the same experience.
Similarly, someone who habitually uses vocabulary to describe a painful experience such as “outraged” or “furious” is going to create an entirely different level of emotional intensity than someone who uses the words “irritated” or “annoyed” to describe the same experience.
How To Transform Language Patterns
We can harness the power of neuroplasticity to transform our language patterns and habitual vocabulary in order to immediately improve the quality of our lives. Below is a 3-step process:
- Identify & Break Disempowering Patterns ― Recognise your language patterns and identify vocabulary that is limiting your emotional states. The moment you catch yourself engaging in disempowering language, end it.
- Create New Empowering Alternatives ― Replace disempowering language patterns with empowering alternatives. Use vocabulary that maximises pleasurable emotional states and minimises painful emotional states.
- Condition New Empowering Alternatives ― The more you repeat your new empowering language patterns, the more you reinforce them into your brain and nervous system, the more habitual they will become.
It’s important to recognise that this is not about ignoring our feelings ― feelings are important, they provide us with feedback about how we are doing and what we need. Instead, this is about cultivating additional recourses so that we at least have the option, if we so chose, to transform our state.
In every moment of our existence we interact with ourselves, with others and with the world around us using words. The choices we make with the words we use sets the parameters for our lives.
The key to leveraging language is to use vocabulary that aligns with our goals and the life we desire, maximise the intensity of pleasurable emotional states and minimise the intensity of painful emotional states.
By becoming aware of our habitual language patterns, we can consciously and deliberately chose words that will maximise the emotional intensity of positive and pleasurable experiences and minimise the emotional intensity of negative and painful experiences. In doing so, we can instantly transform our thoughts, feelings and actions and, ultimately, our destiny.
Using the power of vocabulary, we can change the trajectory and quality of our lives, one word at a time.