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The Power of Positive Speech

Part 1: Change your speech, change your mindset. It's so simple.

With everything going on in our country right now, I have decided to share a series on “Positive Speech.” People need more positivity right now. There is a slew of words people use in their everyday lives that are dis-empowering. My goal, with this series, is to get you to shift toward empowering speech.

One of my favorite quotes is by Henry Ford: Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. Repeat the saying to yourself and think about it for a minute. If you “believe you can,” you are optimistically looking at something, whatever it may be in that moment and, by simply saying “you can,” you will shift an “impossibility” to a possibility. However, if you “believe you can’t,” then, sadly, you just closed the door to the possibility of being able to or, at the very least, you have put up a formidable barrier to being able to accomplish whatever it is you are saying “you can’t” do. Either way, you are right. It’s that simple.

I have shared Henry Ford’s sage words with students on the firearms range, during therapy sessions, and with colleagues and friends when they have all been experiencing doubt. I tell them that by saying you “can’t” do something, you are already doubting yourself, throwing up the white flag, closing the door, and locking it. Why would you do this? Ugh. I get frustrated sometimes about this. It’s not that you can't. Even if you really and truly “can’t” do something (e.g. fly an AH-64 Apache Helicopter), there is always a different and more positive way to express that.

Confession. I have a visceral reaction when I hear someone utter, “I can’t” in any context. It literally makes me cringe or, more often, I close my eyes, shake my head, and or scrunch up my face. The word can’t is ugly, it’s disempowering, it’s defeating, and it’s not part of my vocabulary—at least, not since I recognized how negative it is.

And, it’s not just in situations when people are doubting themselves. People use “can’t” in response to everyday questions, such as:

  • Hey, do you want to hang out Friday night? No, I can’t.
  • Would you mind taking me to the airport tomorrow? Sorry, I can’t.
  • Can you float me some cash until my next paycheck? Um, I can’t.

It’s not that you can't; you actually can do all of those things. However, instead of being honest, you choose the icky “I can’t” as your default answer. There are so many ways these questions can be answered in a more positive and/or honest way:

  • Hey, do you want to hang out Friday night?
    No thanks. I have other plans. Maybe another night.
  • Would you mind taking me to the airport tomorrow?
    I’m working tomorrow. If you change your ticket, or there’s a delay, I could leave work as early as 4 PM.
  • Can you float me some cash until my next paycheck?
    Oh gosh, I am short on cash this month and don’t want to stress myself out.

There is another perspective as well. Maybe you are just not up for the task or you are not willing to do the thing(s) being asked of you. It’s better to be honest about whatever is being asked vs. saying, “I can’t”.

  • Hey, do you want to hang out Friday night?
    I am just not up for hanging out this weekend. Maybe another day/week (this is an honest answer).
  • Would you mind taking me to the airport tomorrow?
    I am slammed at work and me leaving to do something personal is too stressful right now (this is essentially saying you don’t want to do this in an honest way that 100 percent supports your answer).
  • Can you float me some cash until my next paycheck?
    I have a personal rule of not lending money to friends (here, you are saying you aren’t willing to lend this person money. By sharing your “personal rule,” although maybe a bit awkward, you lay a foundation. That person will, hopefully, never ask to borrow money again).

Responding honestly, in a positive way, is not just empowering, it is freeing. Okay, so it might be uncomfortable at first for some of you but I promise it gets easier and it feels great.

The moral: Words reinforce your thinking. Positive thinking is reinforced by positive speech and vice versa. Your words create your destiny.

Today, remove the word “can't” from your speech. I am confident you can do this. Let me know how it goes.

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