Words Create Worlds

As seniors begin to look at the world they are headed toward outside the classroom and ponder their next steps there is bound to be a time when they feel pieces of the puzzle are outside their control. I hear the twinge of uncertainty in their voices when we discuss their futures. I also hear the frustration and sense of defeat as they begin to feel the weight and pressure of the unknown future looming over them. I find that so much of this is connected to the language that they use. Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. says in her book You Majored in What: Mapping Your Career Path from Chaos to Career that changing vocabulary can change thinking (and I think most psychologists would agree!). In this season where we are examining our language, I challenge you to reflect and reframe as she says below.

“The language you use in any situation has the power to affect your perception of a situation. Imagine you are describing something as “a complete disaster.” What do you picture in your mind? Now, describe the same situation as “annoying.” Big difference, huh?

We often use language that inflates or exaggerates to make something more interesting than it really is. We describe everyday things as “amazing” or small events as “miracles.” While those words won’t likely hurt your everyday experiences, changing some words can help you clarify your feelings about a situation. For instance, the word should. How often do you use that word, particularly in relation to the job search-as in “I should go to medical school”?

Here’s an experiment: every time you would normally say “should,” change it to “want to.” So now you say, “I want to go to medical school.” That’s a very different sentence and much more powerful. It allows you to stop and think: do I really want to go to medical school? And if you do, you may feel more motivated now because it’s something you want, not something you have to do. Conversely, maybe when you word the sentence that way, you don’t actually want to go to medical school.

Here are some other changes to try:

  • Change can’t to won’t. Instead of saying, “I’d like to look for a job, but I can’t do it right now,” try saying, “I’d like to look for a job, but I won’t do it right now.” This may be a little harder to acknowledge, but it’s honest, and you can decide if you really are choosing to not do something.
  • Change but to and. Maybe you’ve said, “I’d like to look for a job, but I’m taking a really heavy course load right now.” This sounds reasonable, doesn’t it-after all, you’re very busy. It’s a good excuse. But let’s reframe the statement with one simple change: “I’d like to look for a job, and I’m taking a heavy course load right now.” Do you see how that simple use of the word and opens up the statement to possible solutions? The first statement closes off any chance of change or problem solving. It also draws into question whether it’s really true that you’d like to look for a job or if you’re looking for excuses. The second one accepts that you’d like to look for a job and you also have a challenge. You can then start thinking about ways to solve the problem.
  • Take a moment to use your reflective thinking skills and examine how often you have connected the words should, but, can’t and must to your job search.”

Excerpt taken directly from You Majored in What: Mapping Your Career Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. (2009, pg. 80-81).