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Fragments and Shrapnel: Getting Rid of Words

Self talk. We all do it. We tell ourselves we’re dumb for losing an important document and we smile and thank a friend or co-worker for the compliment while thinking about our failings, heavy thighs or less than perfect lives. My husband retired from the military after 18 years of service and when people thank him for his service he tries to minimize his time and deflect the compliment by talking about The Mercantile Act. (Inside joke about the Mercantile Act, folks, he doesn’t do that. Much). It annoys me because he served his country with pride and he worked really hard. We all do it. It’s a very American response. And quite frankly, I don’t like it.

For the past five weeks I’ve been reading The Life Organizer by Jennifer Louden. This fabulous book helps people sort through all the clutter in their brains and walk on a more mindful path. Each week I write out my intentions in my journal of what I can do, what I can let go of and what I could do. Last week my rhythms at work changed and I was constantly on the go. I chose to sleep rather than write in my journal and, like most perfectionists, chastised myself for not keeping up or taking the time to write. Thinking about my choices, my self talk immediately started in on the should have’s and need to’s. I found myself bristling and not wanting to make any changes.

I mentioned my reaction to a good friend and she nodded and pointed out the words I was using to make changes: Need, should, have to, etc. She told me as long as we have the basic needs like food shelter and clothing covered we don’t NEED to do anything. She encouraged me and the others who were listening to change the way we thought. Think of it more like getting to do something. I get to wake up at 5:30 and go work when many have difficulties even getting out of bed. I get to enjoy my walk to work and watch the ducks and geese when others are stuck in traffic. I get to train six days a week for a triathlon. See where I’m going there?

The conversation evolved into the concept of getting rid of words. I used to throw around the word hate to describe things I didn’t like. Like Brussels sprouts and liver. Hate is a very strong word and while those little green cabbages are good for me, using hate to describe them like I would my feelings toward Nazis or really heinous people is counter-productive. So I stopped doing it.

Taking my friend’s advice I plan to minimize the shoulds and needs from my self-talk and see what happens. I want to replace it with, to use a phrase from Martha Stewart, gentle reminders. I will be much more productive if I GET to buy groceries or GET go for a four-mile run.

So, gentle readers, what words or phrase do YOU frequently use in your self talk? Do you put yourself down? Tell yourself you NEED or HAVE to do this or that? Take a mental inventory. Write it down in journal and report back. I’m curious to see your results.


About Anna Alexander

I get ideas. I write things. I sometimes follow through with those ideas. I also run long distances and live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband cat who lets us pay the mortgage on his house.

One response »

  1. I find it easy to dismiss articles like this as merely trying to use branding in a social context. Yet words are symbols and have meaning. Language is powerful and while suddenly changing something from ‘out-sourcing’ to ‘right-sourcing’ isn’t going to change my view, changing from having to do something and getting to do something involves a definite change in perspective.

    Semantics matter. Civilians by the Articles of War are not supposed to be targeted by “Economic Production Units” sounds like an assembly line right? Bombs away! Again semantics matter. It is easy to lie about ‘collateral damage’ instead of facing the cameras and saying “We bombed the wrong place and innocents died”.


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