Words are powerful and can have a dramatic effect on our feelings, energy and attitude.

To illustrate this, have a look at the introduction to Charles Dickens’ classic book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ :

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”



So according to Charles Dickens what kind of time was it? Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention. There are literally  a million or so thoughts that run through our minds, but we alone get to choose which ones we focus on and take to heart. In turn it seems to be a principle at work that whatever you choose to focus on in your mind, that is what will eventually become more of a reality in your life.

I have to confess I have not read the rest of A Tale of Two Cities, but the introduction for me shows something of the power of the words we use.

In a similar way we live in one of the most amazing times in history with opportunities and resources that only a few decades earlier would have seemed unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. And yet at the same time there seems to be more uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety inducing  possibilities  out there than ever before.

That is why a change of vocabulary and reframing our circumstances can be so powerful. There is power in the words we choose to use or choose not to use. And no where is that more powerful than in the way we talk to ourselves about our circumstances.

Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view…….

So for example, I have caught myself saying things like “I have to go to work” or “I have to go to the gym” or “I have to go to that meeting.” More recently I have consciously changed my self-talk to “I get to go to work” or “I get to go to the gym” or “I get to go to that meeting.”

The first expression (that is saying, I have to do something) is the language of duty. In one sense there is nothing wrong with duty. It is good to take our responsibilities seriously. But too often we say such things with a heavy heart and resignation. We are using the language of being a victim. It can easily become pessimistic, and nothing will kill your creativity, job performance, or relationships like  feeling as through you are a victim with all the negative associations that brings up.

The second expression (that is saying, I get to do something) is the language of privilege. It’s as if someone has given us a gift, and we are excited about the opportunity.

This subtle shift may seem small, but it has had a big impact on my attitude. For this reason I am choosing the language of privilege every chance I get. So here are some examples of reframing:

I don’t have to workout this morning; I get to workout. What a privilege to be healthy and be able to care for my body.
I don’t have to write a new blog post. I get to write one. What a privilege to have readers that actually care about and look forward to what I have to say.
I don’t have to go to church; I get to go to church. What a privilege to belong to a church where I can worship God and where I have such good friends.
I don’t have to stop by the supermarket on my way home; I get to stop by the supermarket. What a privilege to live in a place and at a time where we don’t have to hunt for food.

In many ways using the “I get to” phrase reminds me I do ultimately have a choice. I choose to live my life focusing on gratitude rather than entitlement.

For more on attitude see here.

Do you have other examples of how a change of words can have a dramatic effect on you?