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Episode 059: The Power of Language

How we talk to ourselves and others has power.  In this episode, I talk about 3 phrases that we use on a regular basis that we can tweak in order to give ourselves more compassion and expansiveness.

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Hi and welcome. You are listening to the Happiness Hacks Podcast. I’m your host, Nancy Jane Smith. I’m a licensed professional counselor. In this podcast, I share my stories, lessons, and the hacks I’ve learned, and I continue to learn on my quest to live happier.  This is Episode 59: The Power of Language.

I’m a little late this week. I promised I was going to do a podcast every Monday, and here it is Wednesday, but in the spirit of compassion, I’m trying to go easy on myself. I just had a hard time coming up with what I wanted to talk to you about this week, and I finally came to the realization that I wanted to talk about language. I remember when I first started my training and my practice, and that was a big theme. A lot of people talked about the power of language and how we talk to ourselves. I was like, “Yada, yada, yada. Whatever. I don’t see how I talk to myself makes a big difference. Like you’re just kinda splitting hairs when it comes to this stuff.”

In reality, I do think some of this stuff is a little ridiculous. But I do think there are some key things that we say to ourselves that really can make a difference in how we feel about ourselves and how we make changes and how we move through this, kind of the quest to live happier, as I talk about. One of the big ones is the idea of, and you’ve heard me say this one before, so this probably isn’t gonna be new to you, but it’s worth repeating, is the power of “and” versus “but.” And this one is really powerful for me because it has dramatically shifted how I see things.

I tend to be very black and white. I grew up in a very, “Things are right. Things are wrong. It’s set in stone.” The idea of using “and” really allows me to open things up to a broader perspective. I started doing this because someone had told me that anytime you say “but” it negates the first half of the sentence. “You’re a great friend, but I hate the fact that you never call me.” So you’re a great friend isn’t really true anymore because all the person hears is, “I hate that you never call me.” They only hear the second part of the sentence. They only hear the negative part of the sentence. That’s where it started for me, so I would start saying, “You know, you’re a great friend, and I hate the fact that you don’t call me.” Both are true. It isn’t that one is more powerful than the other. It’s that both statements are true.

That phrasing and language I think is powerful, and it happens a lot in my marriage that I use it. You know, “I appreciate that you do the dishes, and I wish you would put them away.” Both are true. When we throw in that “but,” it diminishes the first part, which is equally as true as the second part. We say it to ourselves, too, in how we can see possibilities. “I am feeling tired today, and I’ve got a lot to get done.” Both are true. “I’m feeling tired today, but I have a lot to get done,” means we diminish the fact that we’re tired and we just push right on through in getting stuff done. Owning both, giving both the same power I think is powerful. That’s one of mine, the “and” and the “but,” is the first one I want to talk about.

The second one I want to talk about is the idea of adding a “yet.” This has been powerful for me in the idea of, “I am not eating … I didn’t eat all my fruits and vegetables yet.” It’s an idea that if I want to eat more fruits and vegetables, I still have time to do that. I’ll come in and be like, “Oh, I didn’t do that, yet. I still can do it.” Maybe not in the day, but I can still do it in my lifetime. “I haven’t worked out, yet. I haven’t written that book, yet. I haven’t finished my podcast, yet.” The idea that there’s still room gives us a little more expansiveness. I think that’s what’s powerful.

Some phrase that I use a lot, my husband kind of makes fun of me for it, is I’ll say, “Oh, I’ve made a lot of progress.” Because I am a black and white thinker, because I have that right and wrong mentality, let’s say I’m trying to eat better and I’m trying to get more fruits and vegetables. I’ll say, “Oh, I haven’t done,” if I make a rule like, “Oh, I’m gonna eat four fruits and vegetables a day,” and I’ll be like, “Oh, I haven’t eaten my four, but I’m making really good progress because I’ve done two yesterday and three the day before.” To own kind of what’s been happening versus, “Oh, I haven’t done that, so, therefore, I’m a loser who hasn’t done it,” giving yourself some room. That’s a double whammy, adding “yet” to the end of the sentence and also doing the, “But I’m making a lot of progress.” “And I’m making a lot of progress.” Both are true.

Then this last one that I want to talk about is one that really, it took me a long time to see. Now that I’m paying attention to it, I can see kind of the damage that it’s doing. That is the idea of saying the word, “I deserve. I deserve this; I deserve that.” I remember probably a year ago, or two years ago, my brother and I were talking, and he’s very strict and kind of black-and-white thinker, more so than me, and not woo at all. He was saying, “It just drives me crazy when people say the phrase, ‘I deserve. I deserve.’ You know you don’t deserve anything. None of us deserve anything.” I was like, “Wow. That is a harsh way of looking at that.”

When I started thinking about it, I realized for myself that I tend to say that because when I say that, it takes away any responsibility. I’m not making a conscious decision whether this is a good choice or a bad choice for me or if this decision fits my values or if this decision is something that I think will support my life. I’m just saying, “Well I deserve it.” This week, I was getting my mammogram, and I ran into my doctor while I was in the waiting room. She said to me, “Oh I’m so glad to see you’re doing this, and it’s good for your health, and now you deserve a Starbucks, so make sure you go next door to the Starbucks and get a Starbucks because you deserve it.”

I was thinking, “Really? I deserve a Starbucks for taking care of myself?” Yes, mammograms suck, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t deserve a Starbucks because I did something good for myself. I might want a Starbucks. I might even need a Starbucks, but I don’t deserve it. Because if we deserve something good, then naturally we’re going to deserve something bad.  I think that’s where the word “deserve, ” and the subliminal messaging gets us confused. Because then if someone treats us poorly, we must have deserved it because “I deserved something good,” so therefore the counter to that is “I deserved something bad.”

To be paying attention to and we do that a lot when it comes to anything we want to do that’s good for ourselves or that feels good. We’ll say, “Well I deserve this.” We’ll use it as a justification. “I deserve.” You know, Mcdonalds: “You deserve a break today.” Or, “I deserve this ice cream sundae,” or, “I deserve dessert. I deserve a vacation.” No, do you want it? Do you need it? Take ownership, and I think that’s where “deserve” hurts us, is we stop taking ownership of our lives. That’s the whole point of living happier, is being intentional about what’s happening.

If I say to myself, “Well I deserve an ice cream cone, so I’m going to stop and get one,” then I’m just eating that ice cream cone out of a place of deserving rather than enjoying the fact that I made a decision to get an ice cream cone. So everything becomes kind of unconscious with that deserving. When my brother said he doesn’t deserve a new car, he either needs one, or he doesn’t is a very valid argument. You know, “I deserve a new car.” Okay, but do you want a new car? Can you afford a new car? Does it make sense for you to buy a new car right now? All of those conscious decisions, and when we lump in the “Well I deserve it,” we lose all that ability to be intentional about our lives.

Whenever I hear myself saying, “I deserve,” and largely for me, it’s around food or taking a break, or like I said, doing something good for myself, I’ll ask myself, “Oh you deserve that Starbucks?” And I did go to Starbucks after I got my mammogram because I wanted Starbucks, and I’ll be like, “I want Starbucks.” It’s not that I deserve this. It’s that it tastes good, and I want a coffee right now, and I got a muffin as well. The deserving I think keeps us from showing up for our lives and taking some real responsibility.

Okay, so those are my three and a half examples about the power of language.  In summary, I talked about using “and” instead of “but,” paying attention to saying the word, “yet,” and also owning, “I’m making some progress” on certain things that you’re trying to change. Then the last one is really paying attention to the idea of “deserve.” Do you deserve certain things; because I think that keeps us unintentional.

If there is another word that you can think of that you would love to share, please send me an email or send me a response on Instagram. I love to hear from you and what words, how language has played a role in your life because I think that it’s important to share these things. Then maybe I’ll have another episode of the power of language, part two.

You can send me an email:, and you can also go to my Instagram NancyJane_LiveHappier.

Okay, that’s the show. Thanks for listening. The Happiness Hacks Podcast comes out every week. If you have questions, please email me: NancyJane@Live-Happier.Com, or you can follow me on Instagram, and until next time, here’s to living happier.

Weekly Ritual Segment:

One thing that has really helped me Live Happier is adding regular ritual practices to my daily life so each week I am going to be sharing a ritual with you and challenge you to complete it

Take 2 Trips

My Monger strives to make me as efficient as possible.  Why take 2 trips when you can load yourself down with 1? This week the ritual is to slow down and take smaller trips. Need to carry the laundry upstairs? Take 2 trips. Need to bring in the groceries? Take multiple trips. Have a long list of things to do?  Slow down and break it into manageable (more pleasant) tasks.  This one is a challenge for me, and I am always amazed how much better it feels to take 2 trips 🙂
This week I am back on Instagram (YAY!), and I will be sharing my daily practice of the weekly ritual. It is a helpful way for both of us to stay accountable to the practice.

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