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As good as your word


Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron

I recently attended an excellent drumming masterclass with Chic drummer, Ralph Rolle. I only went along to pick up some rudiments so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Rolle also works as a motivational speaker.

At 57 years of age, the Bronx-born drummer, and all-around good guy, has plenty of wisdom to impart - musical and otherwise.

During the class, he talked about the attitudes of the students he has taught over the years and, crucially, the difference between those who approach a new groove with a can-do attitude, and those who don't.

Rolle has noticed a pattern in this regard: Without fail, the students who tell him that they "can't" do a technique before they've even tried are those who are least able to cope with the chops and changes of life.

"Remove the words 'I can't' from your vocabulary right now," he concluded.

This isn't positive thinking claptrap. It's well-substantiated, well-supported science. As Dr. Andrew Newberg explains in Words Can Change Your Brain, "Language shapes our behaviour and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words - or even the right words spoken in the wrong way - can lead a country to war."

Here's a few more words to consider removing from your vocabulary.

HAVE TO: 'I have to go to the gym.' / 'I have to do an assignment.' / 'I have to go to my niece's christening.' You don't have to do any of these things. You choose to do them. When we say 'have to', we are locked in a futile battle with ourselves. Give the illusory taskmaster his marching orders and say 'I am' instead. Likewise, change 'need to' to 'want to' and 'should' to 'could'.

ALWAYS/NEVER: If there's a piece of advice that unites relationship counsellors the world over, it's the always/never rule. Think 'You're always late / 'You never stack the dishwasher.' Experts suggest that couples remove these words from their vocabulary because they convey accusation and close down communication. Or as psychologist Wendell Johnson wrote: "Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use."

GAVE UP: When we overcome a vice like smoking or excessive drinking, the tendency is to tell people that we 'gave up'. The trouble with this phrase is that it implies a battle - a tug-of-war - that you haven't entirely won. It also poses a question: at what point do you transition from someone who gave up to someone who simply doesn't smoke/drink, etc.? Try saying 'I stopped' instead. It's a simple linguistic tweak that puts you back in the driving seat.

HONESTLY: Framing your sentences with the qualifier 'honestly' suggests duplicity of character and fundamentally undermines your integrity and credibility. Why would you be anything other than honest, at all times? You'll also notice that the most straightforward people you know - those who are honest to the core - have no use for the word in their vocabulary.

BROKE: For the most part, we tell people that we're 'broke', or worse, 'so broke' when we have to opt out of a dinner or a weekend away. That's not broke. That's not even close to broke. Describing yourself as broke also means that you're not appreciating the shoes on your feet or the food on your plate. If you can't afford to do something, say it as it is. 'I can't afford that right now, but I will be able to next month.'

SORRY: Sorry is perhaps the most powerful word of all if it's said sincerely, and in its truest sense. Unfortunately many of us - women especially - use it as a verbal tic to apologise for our very existence. Assert yourself by removing it from your vocabulary.

JUST: 'I was just wondering' / 'It's just the two of us' / I'm just the secretary.' 'Just' is a word that we use to undermine our status, relinquish our power and sugar-coat our requests. And again, women are frequent offenders in this regard. Remove it from your email exchanges and notice how it reasserts your position.

BORED: As Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way, "Boredom is just 'What's the use?' in disguise. And 'What's the use?' is fear, and fear means you are secretly in despair." So the next time you're moved to declare, 'I'm sooooo bored', take a moment to consider what it is that you're really saying.

IMPOSSIBLE: I'll spare you the fridge magnet wisdom about nothing being impossible and instead say that if you use the word 'impossible' to describe a person or a situation, you are admitting defeat. Swap it for 'challenging', or even 'very challenging', and notice how the subtle shift of vocabulary empowers you to try a new tack.

WHATEVER: Apathetic at best, downright rude at worst, 'whatever' is the most hated word in the English language for a reason. If you're using this word to accommodate - and not to provoke a reaction, - remember that it dissolves your personal boundaries and relinquishes all control.

SUFFER: Suffer is a particularly loaded word, imbued with pain and sorrow and deep discomfort. It also smacks of victimhood. Do you really 'suffer' from indigestion or psoriasis or whatever else you're having? Swap suffer with the word 'have' and you'll notice that it's an almost instant antidote.

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