Imagine there’s no language. Tough one, eh? Even John Lennon didn’t get you to try to think of that.
Words are the bricks and mortar that we construct the world from. They don’t just describe our reality, they create it. A person who talks about their ‘biggest problem’ is telling you that they have not one, but several and that one of them is taking more of their attention. But does their assertion of such make that problem smaller, more manageable?
As I’ve said before, the stories we tell about our lives have the power to shape them. Language is one of the ways we create meaning – a crucial way. We say, this happened because of that. I didn’t get that job because I’m not smart enough. I failed because I don’t have what it takes. The meaning we create can empower us and urge us forward or it can cut us down and cripple us.
As a cognitive hypnotherapist, words are the tools of my trade and the tools of change. I strive to use them with the utmost care, to listen attentively to how they are used. And abused. So when twice this week I notice red flags waving furiously at me around the use of language, I stopped and took notice.
‘Grumpy Old Woman’
My mum inspires me. She was an accountant and retired early to take up a second career as a counsellor. At 75, when she’s not dancing or taking an exercise class of some sort, she’s creating art or playing majhong or backgammon. I aspire to her vibrancy, her positivity, her compassion and her love of life.
So when she describes herself as a ‘grumpy old woman,’ it jars. It’s true, she had been describing something that annoyed her – the local coffee house blocking the side walk with their tables and chairs – and in that moment was not her usual sunny self. To extrapolate from that moment of venting frustration to describe herself in terms of this identity of ‘grumpy old woman’ was first of all, not true, and secondly, doing her a disservice.
I get it – in that moment Mum was hearing her complaints and saying, in effect, ‘it’s not me, it’s my alter-ego, the grumpy old woman.’ No matter how we strive not to complain, we all vent our frustrations sometimes. And, to my mind, that’s okay. It can be the first step in finding a solution or to taking action – in Mum’s case, speaking to the manager of the coffee house. But to say that’s who we are, to identify with this complainant in such a way that we ‘become’ this character, doesn’t serve. The label is not something to aspire to and it is self-denigration.
‘Hold your feet to the fire’
The second thing that I heard, even though it has been said in my presence a number of times, was spoken in my mastermind group. I have the privilege and honour of being a member of a wonderful group of business women who meet twice a month to share with each other the progress we are making at moving our businesses forward. We provide support for each other, cheer-leading and a hive-mind for problem solving. And one of our main functions is to provide accountability and this has been described by my sister members as ‘holding each other’s feet to the fire.’
Now I have a vivid imagination. And having been a chef, I know a lot about burns. (At one point in my career, I had so many burns on my right forearm – from reaching into the oven – that I apparently looked like a self-harmer.) So you won’t be surprised to hear that I recoil at this phrase. What is it saying? That building a business is so hard that one needs the threat of torture to follow through on the things we have undertaken to do?
I appreciate being accountable to the other members – it keeps me on a timetable when I might otherwise put things off. But it doesn’t need to come with the threat of a pyro pedicure. Of course, running your own business can be tough, as anyone who is set off down the road of self-employment knows. But if we are focused on the struggle and the difficulty, if that is where we have put our attention, would we even notice an opportunity that was easy and painless?
Being mindful of our language, of the way we talk about our lives, particularly when things aren’t going as smoothly as we would like, can make a huge difference to how quickly and easily we are able to manage life’s curve balls. And, you know, if talking yourself down has become a habit to the point you’re feeling stuck, hypnotherapy can help. Get in touch.