use your words to change your mind

a pen

I am not a self-help or self-improvement devotee.  I’ve certainly seen The Secret and read Think and Grow Rich and The Science of Getting Rich, but I don’t attend seminars or make a constant study of creative visualization and other areas of self-improvement. I dabble.  Over time I have picked up bits and pieces, and the bits that make sense to me stay in my life, and the bits that don’t go away.  Self-improvement is focused on SELF, after all, so if a particular approach doesn’t resonate with me I don’t spend much time on it.

One of the strongest ways I’ve found to create self-improvement in my own life recently has been using words. If you have kids, you’ve probably used this phrase on a toddler once or twice:  “use your words!”  I tell Little Buddy to use his words, and I’m sure I’ll tell Pumpkin soon enough, given her cute but never-ending babbling.  Why do we tell kids to use their words?  Because it focuses the mind on the desired outcome.  When Little Buddy gestures at a box of Cheerios and grunts “UH!” he is making a vague, unfocused request.  When he says “I want Cheerios” he is focusing his attention on the desired goal.

I have spent years telling people I’m an accountant (if they don’t understand auditing) or an auditor (if they don’t understand business process improvement) or a business process improvement consultant if I want to sound like a pompous ass. I always felt a little bit sick saying it.  I knew that telling people “I am an accountant” was not embarrassing or shameful – it’s a perfectly good profession, I’m good at it and I have had a good run with it.  But for years I have not felt it represented who I was … or am.  I knew that saying that didn’t make me feel good.

I read a book to my kids called “The Daddy Book.” It was my book when I was a boy, and my parents handed it off to me.  It talks about the different kinds of daddies, what clothes they wear, what kind of hair they have, how long their sideburns are and what kind of pipes they smoke (it’s a 70s book, after all).  One of the pages says “What does your daddy do?”  and contains a lot of pictures of daddies engaged in their professions – barbers, construction workers, you name it.  I was reading it to my son one day and he asked me what I did and I whispered – because it felt so weird – “Papa’s a writer.”  As soon as I said it, I felt an enormous sense of relief.  I knew that if I said something like that and felt happier – just for saying it – it must mean something.

I have tried these words on for size a few more times with other people, and I feel better for saying it every single time. Now that I’m not working as a consultant, I guess it is true – being a writer is, for the time being, my primary source of income.  But even if it wasn’t, it is more important that “writer” is the word I associate with my work.  Maybe I won’t be a writer five years from now.  Maybe I’ll be doing something unexpected.  But the important thing is that I’m not going to let words and phrases keep my mind trapped in a rut.

The Law of Attraction, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and probably a dozen other philosophies take a similar approach. But its universality doesn’t diminish the truth of it, and it applies to almost everything.  If you’re trying to lose weight, use strong words to focus your mind on losing weight, not feeling fat.  Say “I WAS overweight but now I’m losing weight,” or “I am getting healthier day by day.”  If you’re in debt, don’t say “I’m deeply in debt.”  Say “I’m getting out of debt.”  If you’re looking for ways to make more money, tell people you’re going to find new ways to make money.  Just talking the right way alters the way you’ll perceive the world, and the way the world perceives you – which cycles back to you and back to the world in an endless loop.  Apply it to money, health, relationships, yourself.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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12 comments

  • “I always felt a little bit sick saying it. I knew that telling people “I am an accountant” was not embarrassing or shameful – it’s a perfectly good profession, I’m good at it and I have had a good run with it. But for years I have not felt it represented who I was … or am.”

    You know Steve, I often feel the same way about telling people that I am an engineer. There is nothing shameful about it like you said and I am licensed, but sometimes I feel that certain people start to look at me a little differently when I say it to people that I meet for the first time. Maybe it is because I am female. Maybe it is because I look young. I am not sure what it is. But when I tell people that I am a paper pusher, that ends the discussion. But when I tell them that I am an engineer, I start getting all kinds of questions or sometimes complaints (because I work for a local government agency) that I just do not want.

    Lucky you, I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But I am generally happy at my job, so I am not in any rush to figure it out. It is great to discover my passion, but I am practical enough to know that sometimes having a passion for something and being good enough to make a living can be two different things.

    • I'll add myself to the list of people who don't feel represented by their job title. I don't have a title right now, but when I was a software developer, that was something I did, not something I was.

      Once we had this guy come to our office and talk about…oh, I don't know, I guess self-identity or something. He was from India, and he found it interesting how closely we identify with our jobs here. What's one of the first things you ask when you meet someone? “What do you do?” And we say “I am a _______,” but we are not the job. Now I wonder if this guy was trying to prepare us for layoffs.

  • Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet

    Lately I've been feeling like calling myself a writer too. But I feel like “real” writers will jump out of the bushes and laugh at me.

    I'm a writer.

    ha! There I said it.

    • Sounds like AA meeting here: “Hi, my name is ______, and I am a writer!Here, I admitted it”

  • You sir are most definitely a writer!

    I always have trouble with explaining my job. I just tell people “Remember what Chandler did on Friends? Yeah, something like that.”

    • @FFB: That's a kind thing to say… I truly appreciate that 🙂

      I love the Chandler thing. I'll use that soon.

  • That's a kick ace post, my friend. Nice work.

    I'm an auditor as well and can relate to what you're saying. I've recently used the “I'm a writer/web-entrepenuer” thing to introduce myself, and yes, I felt the sense of relief you are talking about.

    Good points on using the notion when it comes to weight and debt as well.

  • @FFB: That's a kind thing to say… I truly appreciate that 🙂

    I love the Chandler thing. I'll use that soon.

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