The secret of change is to focus all of our energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. ~ Socrates
In our modern-day culture it seems that we’ve become remarkably skilled at describing, often with impressive levels of enthusiasm, what we don’t actually want. With considerable linguistic aplomb we can conjure up powerful word pictures of our ills, our woes, and our fears – all the while, it turns out, strengthening the wiring in our brain that is likely to deliver more of just those very things.
This might be described as a bit of a neurological oops.
We don’t intend this result, of course: we’ve just got rather good at creating it. For sure it’s important to have language for what’s wrong and needs our attention. But when it’s our habitual default to focus our language on what’s awry in our lives – on the things we don’t want – there are far-reaching consequences that can seriously undermine both health and happiness.
The brain, neuroscience confirms, loves to be helpful. The more we fire particular neural pathways, the stronger those pathways become and the more automatic the physiological changes that result. But, for all its helpful tendencies, the brain doesn't distinguish between what does and does not serve us. It simply responds to how we use it. And, given that our neural pathways make up the communication system that influences every system in our body, how we use our brains has dramatic and wide-ranging implications for both our health and the quality of our lives.
Let’s take stress, the most common of 21st century afflictions. We have endless language to describe what it’s like to feel stressed and the myriad ways life can be stressful. And we use these words freely and often, both in our self-talk and in our conversations with others. What we don’t realize is that our helpful brain will wire the word “stressed” with ever more efficiency to the feeling of being exactly that…stressed…the very feeling we’d most like to avoid. And this will happen even when we mean this language positively as in “I don’t want to feel stressed,” because the very word “stressed” has become so powerfully neurologically linked with the experience itself.
Happily, there’s an easy cure for this negative linguistic spiral. Just as the brain has been helpful in wiring negative words to negative states of being, it can be equally helpful in wiring positive words to those states that are most life affirming and health promoting. All we need to do is pay attention and commit to the task of retraining our helpful brains to do this.
Consciously choosing and cultivating the language of health and happiness is the simple antidote to old linguistic patterns. And it’s available to us at any time.
What are the words that are most empowering in your life? Most evocative of health, calm, vitality and joy?
What would it be like to use this language of health and vitality as frequently as possible, each time stimulating and strengthening the pathways in your brain that deliver exactly that?
What if commonly uttered phrases like these:
- I have too much to do and it’s so stressful
- I get so anxious when I think about doing…
- I don’t want to have that tired, dragged out feeling
became instead opportunities to fire off the brain pathways that would truly serve us, promoting what we actually most desire:
- I have a lot to do and need to be calm and focused to get it done
- I want to feel more confident and relaxed when I think about doing…
- I’d like to feel fully alive and energetic
It starts with noticing how much the old, negative language of what we don’t want has become our habitual pattern (and this can be an amusing game once we’re aware of it!).
From there, the more consistently we embrace the language of empowerment and possibility, the more we will activate a beautiful healing spiral of wellness and well-being.
It’s a transformational practice – making change one word at a time.