Language is Everything - Part 4

Language is Everything. The one about "No."

So, once you get used to seeing the impacts of language, both subtle and overt, all over the place - life gets really interesting. Then, you have kids...or you are one.

I noticed when my kids were really little that the potential for negativity is really high. I mean, they're born not knowing anything, and then they want to explore it all. They're completely unaware of the value of things within their reach, or the dangers of things within their reach. Both of these aspects of their experiences are often met with a resounding, "NO!" or a, "eh eh eh! doooooon't..."

So, when I teach these workshops, I usually start talking about this at some point, and that's the idea that communicating in negatives is quite ineffective. For example, I can tell my kid to not go in the road. The problem with that is the bulk of that statement is "Do go in the road," and then add the tiny little word NOT. It does totally change the meaning, to a fully cognizant and mentally functioning adult. But to a child, it's safe to assume half their brain is working at any given moment, and what they in fact heard was this, "road."

It would be immensely easier to tell the child, "Stay on the sidewalk when you play." This gives them a positive command. It gives them something they can execute. It gives them something to feel good about, and allows them to know that they've accomplished it when they do it correctly. The mind is a weird thing, but it matters HOW something is said. The ultimate communication is similar, in the end. Don't go in the road vs Play on the sidewalk. But one of them has a far greater chance of actually being done.

Then their attention turns toward the road. So, we've effectively placed it within their realm of attention. Ok, so that's a bit facetious. But what about teenagers. How often have you been explaining something to a friend, or have seen someone explaining something to a friend who is a teenager and they start with something like, "Ok, so for starters we're not going to put the tip in the opening. We're going to ..." ? It's like they heard nothing else and a major explosion is about to happen in chemistry class. Like, you know that what the teacher said not to do is about to be the first thing that happens. The teacher could just explain what you're supposed to do, and then follow-up with, "are there any questions?" If someone's mind went there to the thing they're not supposed to do, they can ask and get an answer.

There's a lot of back and forth when it comes to research and how the brain processes negatives. Sometimes they say the brain can't process negatives, and sometimes they say that it can, but it depends on the construction of the sentence. In my experience raising kids and in my own self-talk as well as much coaching of others, I have noticed that the results rate of negatives is unreliably low. When I want results, it's truly best for me to think of a way to formulate what I'm saying in a way that can be clearly understand and cleanly accomplished.

Isn't that the goal? Clear understanding and effective action as follow-up?

This concept is really important when we get down to self talk or talking with a friend and trying to talk them out of something. It's critical to phrase things in positive, easy to understand and do. The reason for this is that it paints a picture for the mind and casts a vision. Biblically, one of the proverbs tells us that without vision my people perish. This is a truth about the way we're made. When we can see it clearly, we're far more likely to understand it and able to act on it.

In keeping with that, it's important to phrase self talk or self coaching in positives, too. Ever wonder why it's hard to quit smoking? or to quit drinking? It's not just the addictive nature of these substances. It's the reality that executing a negative command is actually quite complicated. The most successful treatments for these involve something called mindfulness. Where someone continues to engage in the activity while describing everything that they're doing out loud so that they realize what they're doing. The key to the change is in replacing the behavior, not just stopping it.

In order to swap something out, we need something clear and actionable. So, from childhood through troublesome teenage years into adulthood, it's important to harness the power of language, especially in noticing the lack of power that negatives have in good communication.



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