Words Create (Y)Our World
Words bear enormous power. They have the capacity to build up or break down. To persuade or dissuade. Connect or disconnect. Words can form wonderful pathways of understanding in our souls, giving us the capacity to change. They can open us up to new truths. They can impact our moods, and sometimes the direction of our lives.
Yes, words matter. The words we have running through our minds – and out our mouths – determine how we see ourselves and our world and how the world sees us.
It pays to be mindful not only about what we think and do, but also about what we say. There is a connection.
The Research Says…
In their jointly written book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, say that a single word has the power to shape our behavior, and impact physical and emotional stress levels, good or bad.
“By holding a positive and optimistic word in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity,” the authors write. “This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain.”
So exercising positive thoughts can quite literally change one’s reality. Over time, sustained positive thoughts impacts not only the perception of ourselves, but those around us.
And that comes through in our choice of words, though the authors say we aren’t great when it comes to that.
Brawl at the Mall
My wife and I are known as “the movie couple.” We see at least a movie a week, and this past week when she was traveling, I went to three. I have always loved motion pictures, and the five years I spent as an entertainment reporter flying nearly every weekend to New York and Los Angeles to interview the actors and directors of upcoming features was awesome. And so was doing hundreds of live shots on the red carpet at the Oscars.
A few months ago we went to the multiplex at our local mall to see the Bradley Cooper film Nightmare Alley. Little did we know how that movie title might come to describe our own experience.
It was a small theatre, and a dark film, both in actual tone and subject matter. A film noir psychological thriller set in the 1940’s, it has lots of twists and turns and no explosions or car chases. It’s the kind of film you have to pay attention to.
That was difficult due to the guys a couple of rows back who talked non-stop. And not in movie theatre voices, but normal conversation volume. They talked from the first trailer all the way through the first part of the film.
Guy 1: “Hey there’s Bradley Cooper. He’s the main star. I almost didn’t recognize him.” Guy 2: “Wait, I think I saw him in something else. What was that movie with that singer?” Guy 1: “You mean A Star Is Born?” Guy 2: “Yeah, that’s the one. He was also in that movie about all the pills.” Guy 1: “I think that was called Limitless.” Guy 2: “Good memory. Yep!” And on and on ad nauseum.
My wife politely shushed them, I turned around and politely shushed them, other people asked them to be quiet, and nothing stopped their non-stop commentary speaking every thought they had out loud.
My next move should have been to inform the theatre manager. It wasn’t. What I did do instead was walk back to where they were seating and ask them to please be respectful to the rest of us trying to pay attention to the movie and keep the chatter down.
The response? “Sit down and shut the &*#@ up before I make you!” Seriously? No escalation, no back and forth, no other exchange? We go from whispering please keep it down to a threat?
At this point I’m a little taken aback and not sure what to do, as I stood there for a second in a pitch black movie theatre thinking this could go sideways.
So the guy stands up and grabs me and says “I am going to #$@* you up!” Fortunately, I had six or seven inches, 40 or 50 pounds and about 100 IQ points on the guy, so I’ll skip over what happened next. By that time my wife was there, they had turned the lights on and the manager was also between us intervening.
We went out to the lobby to both tell our sides of the story to the manager as the guys called the police, to say what I’m not exactly sure.
My wife had a little less adrenaline going than me so she did the talking and told the manager (the police never came), “This man threatened my husband with physical violence after asking him politely to refrain from talking so loud.”
Guy 1’s response? “Ha lady! Those are just words. They don’t mean anything.”
I don’t think about that night very often, but every once in a while that last statement that guy made comes back to mind. “Those are just words. They don’t mean anything.” Oh, but they do carry weight. Legally and in a myriad of other ways.
“Language shapes our behavior, and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning,” continue Newberg and Waldman. “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 right way – can lead a country to war.” Or at least lead to a brawl at the mall.
You Don’t Have Time to Bury the Lede!
Even when we do choose our words carefully – and well – we are still running into attention-deficit syndrome, with nearly everyone. When we are subject to between 6,000 and 9,000 marketing messages every single day, it’s hard to cut through the clutter and earn someone’ time and attention.
In fact, research shows 90% of what someone thinks about us is determined in just the first three seconds of an engagement. We have to make good use of that time if we want to earn someone’s attention, and eventually, their business.
Do you speak with purpose? Or to hear yourself talk? Do your words take a prospect or customer through the funnel, or pull them off the path to a dead end?
Knowing the impact and clarity of language adds strength and credibility to who you are and what you do. Honor that.
Become your own language coach and create the vision you want for the world, and for how you want the world to see you.