One word can change how we feel.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when a well-meaning friend, loved one, boss, colleague or whoever is giving you advice, you are left feeling tense, anxious or even angry? Not the intended outcome at all.

I recently had this experience when someone I love very dearly was trying to help me with something. As he spoke I could feel my heart beginning to beat faster and I began to feel overwhelmed and in the end I just asked him to stop talking!

Being NLP trained, I understand language patterns. In fact it’s what I listen for in my coaching sessions and I use specific language to question and challenge limiting beliefs to help people to move forward.

So, although I didn’t respond to my ‘adviser’ in a measured, ‘coachy’ way (it’s not so easy when you love ’em:), I was able to understand how the advice I was being given was having such a negative impact on me. The one word being used over and over again was ‘should’. When we tell someone what they should or shouldn’t do, we’re not really giving advice at all. We’re giving judgement, giving orders, giving criticism and telling someone else what we would do in their shoes. The problem is, we can only wear our own shoes, no-one else’s really fit.

Another unhelpful phrase that seems to be appearing more frequently, particularly online is ‘need to’. It was a phrase used endlessly in emails from solicitors in our recent house move. ‘Need to’ has a bullying tone and when it’s used in the process of buying and selling a house, it just ramps up the stress levels!

So what can we use instead? One simple word changes the whole meaning. and therefore the feeling. That word is ‘could’. It gives us choice, power and allows us time to ponder before action. It allows our brain to use different neural pathways and consider possibilities, as the one we’re being offered may not be right for us. When we replace ‘should’, ‘need to’, ‘ought to’ and ‘must’ with ‘could’ we are giving guidance and support, suggestions and possibilities. When it’s a request, it’s also good manners. ‘Could you please complete the form…’ Instead of ‘You need to…’ is far less aggressive and much more conducive to any relationship.

Of course, it may be that it’s not someone else that is using this language. Much of the time we are using it in our own self-talk. Take notice of the voice in your head, listen to the language you are using. Is it full of ‘should’s’? We are often more critical of ourselves than we ever would be with someone else. And if we choose to use any one of these stress-inducing words or phrases repeatedly, we are putting pressure on ourselves, judging, condemning and even self-bullying. And when we do, we release a cocktail of stress hormones that might be useful on a temporary basis if we’re about to do a skydive or run away from someone wielding a knife but if we are continually in a state of stress, we are down-grading our immune system, a precursor to dis-ease.

Noticing the language we use in our heads and changing ‘should’ to ‘could’ is just one simple way we can begin to reduce stress and anxiety. So, next time someone else tells you that ‘you should apply for this job, it’s made for you!’, try replying with ‘I could do, or I could look elsewhere, stick with what I’m doing now or something else…the possibilities are endless’ and see how good it feels!

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