A daily practice of word awareness

I try to be mindful and aware everyday. Part of this attempt involves meditation and yoga, but another simple way I practice mindfulness is in the words I choose. The words I do not say are often as important as the ones I ultimately choose. Here are three words / phrases that I consciously avoid.

1. Problem

The word “problem” immediately implies something negative and demands a solution. This places the burden of solving said problem on myself — which often results in me acting unnecessarily or without thinking things through.

Instead, I try to use the word “situation”. It’s tone-neutral and does not require action to end up at a given outcome. This distancing of myself and emotions from the situation at hand allows me to think rationally and respond if deemed necessary.

2. I can’t

If I don’t want to do something, I often find myself saying “I can’t”. As in, “I can’t make your birthday dinner because I’m studying”. But unless I am physically unable to stand up and attend the meal, this statement is fundamentally dishonest. Instead, statements like “I choose not to” or “I won’t” are closer to the truth.

Often, just reminding myself that I am making these choices of my own free will is enough to alleviate regret later on. Rather than passing blame onto an upcoming final or professor, I can take full responsibility for missing a fun event. And the next time I have a test, being honest to myself now allows changes in behavior. Maybe I’ll choose to study earlier or not take on so many academic obligations.

3. Should

The word “should” implies two things: (1) that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to act, and (2) we have an obligation to strive to do things the “right” way. Used in conversation, the word “should” can be used to trigger guilt, shame, inadequacy, and a host of other negative reactions.

Example: “You should wash your plate and silverware after you eat.” Maybe we can try: “Can you wash your plate and silverware after you eat?”

Even attempting to use “can” or “may” removes blame and encourages dialogue, rather than assuming that a right way exists.

Using “can” or “may” also allows you or a conversation partner to retain decision-making power. You (or he / she) can choose to act if desired, rather than being forced into action via a threat of doing things the “wrong” way.

I find it curious how much of an impact words can have on me. Any other words that you find it best to avoid?