A Stanford design and engineering professor says making simple changes to the words and phrases we use can empower us to achieve our goals. Professor Bernard Roth, academic director and cofounder of Stanford University’s d.school has collected some excellent achievement habits he has refined and taught for several decades, which he’s recently collected in a book called The Achievement Habit.
Here are five of the top words and phrases Roth recommends we swap out to get past the mental hurdles our everyday vocabulary choices put in our way.
Instead Of “But” Use “And”
Most of us know that “but” is a limiting word in our vocabulary. “Unfortunately it often has the effect of changing a neutral statement into a negative one,” writes Roth.
For example of someone who is afraid of flying and has just gotten an amazing internship overseas may say, “I want this internship, but I’m afraid of flying.”
The person both wants the internship and is also afraid of flying. The two aren’t connected. However, by mentally combining the two truths with a “but,” the resulting conflict blocks them from moving forwards. But it’s an easy change: Simply swap “but” for “and”.
Instead Of Saying “Have To” Say “Want To”
“Has/have to” makes us believe that a situation has been forced upon us instead of willingly chosen by us.
For example when we need to complete our homework, we say we “have to” do it. For example, Roth writes about an engineering student who isn’t happy he needs to take a certain math course to complete his degree. By saying to himself that he “has to” take it, he associates it as a burden, but Roth says that by simply swapping out “has/have to” with “want to,” his mind will more readily drop his dread of the course. This then brings him one step closer to becoming what he wants to be: an engineer.
It simply changes our attitudes – and therefore, motivation – towards something.
Instead Of “Can’t” Use “Won’t”
Roth says that when we say we “can’t” do something, it isn’t always true.
An example of this is someone who says they “can’t swim.” But this only enforces in their mind that it’s not possible for them, but people can learn to swim. By simply swapping “can’t” for “won’t,” the person will realise that it’s a choice on their part, not a physical impossibility.
Roth writes: “‘Can’t’ implies helplessness; ‘won’t’ signifies volition and choice.”
Instead Of Saying “I’m Afraid To” Say “I’d Like To”
“I’m afraid to” is about the most blocking phrase there is. It acknowledges the person’s fear instead of their desire. By saying to yourself, “I’m afraid to ask for advice,” you set your mind up to consider what could go wrong if you do.
But say “I’d like to ask for advice,” and you’re acknowledging your desire with positive thoughts. It could be an answer to a life choice, or a difficult decision. We can’t achieve our goals if we don’t take action.
Instead Of “Help” Use “Assist”
The word “help” is often associated with “helplessness” in our minds, implying that someone is incapable of achieving something without someone else helping them.
When we use the word “help,” we set our minds up to think we are helpless. But swap “help” with “assist,” and we suddenly see that we are an important and capable part of the solution.