Words matter. Especially for a verbal person like me, the words I choose to describe things shape my perspective of them, for better or worse. In the past few months I’ve started paying more attention to my phrasing, and tweaking it to reflect a more accurate vision of the world. Here are the phrases I’m committing to say more this year:
1. “I want” instead of “I need.” Whenever I talk about a nonessential item with the phrase “I need,” it subconsciously makes me feel like it is essential. (I’ve talked about this before.) The effect on my contentment level after changing this phrase has been powerful. Every time I correct myself— which I often do— it draws attention to the fact that I already have everything I need. Obviously I still buy things that I want but don’t need, but it’s important that I understand which category they fall into.
2. “We’re low-income” instead of “We’re poor.” I’ve noticed myself uttering the latter phrase lately, usually when I’ve been envious about what other people have. This is a habit I want to stop cold: we are not poor, not by any stretch of the imagination, not even by America’s high standards. We fall onto the lower side of the income scale, but that is a static measure of money; it doesn’t take into account our abundant resources, our low living expenses, or a host of other factors. Calling myself “poor” is a sign of dangerous ingratitude and twisted reality, and I’m going to stop it.
3. “I’m upset that xyz happened this way” instead of “I should’ve...” The phrase “I should’ve” is a futile attempt to control the past and put off responsibility for the present. It’s okay to acknowledge that things aren’t turning out the way I want, but should’ve is a destructive word, and I’m trying to ban it from my vocabulary except in cases of true analysis (“What can I do next time to avoid that?”).
4. “Thank you” instead of “Sorry.” As in, “Thank you for waiting so patiently” instead of “Sorry I was late.” Obviously I should apologize when I’m at fault, and I’ll still be saying sorry a lot, but for minor infractions, I like this turn of phrase because is acknowledges both what you have to be sorry about and the other person’s graciousness in dealing with it.
5. “I’m not making that a priority right now” instead of “I’ve been too busy.” This is a matter of self-honesty more than anything else. No one is too busy to do basically anything— we can squeeze minutes out of the day if we really want to. So instead of shuffling off responsibility by pretending that an outside force— busyness— has kept me from something, I should be honest about my priorities and choices. And if it sounds really wrong to make that swap (“I haven’t taken care of my health lately because I’m not making that a priority right now”), then that’s a sign I need to reexamine my priorities.
Small changes in phrasing can make a big difference. Are there any phrases you’re giving up or changing this year?