“Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”
Ben is Tiffany’s husband, and he’s a well-meaning guy. He has a bit of a way with words.
The three of us are walking into a Godiva store to pick up a treat for Tiffany. Ben says “Tiff’s a chocolate whore.”
“Aficionado? Chocolate princess, maybe?” I offer.
Ben doesn’t care about word choices, it’s all the same to him, and he’s a person who chooses the wrong words anyway, so there’s no use. What difference does it make anyway?
“Well, one way Tiff’s a skillful, and elegant lover of fine foods. The other way you called your wife a prostitute.”
Facts about Word Choice
Tory Higgins, William Rholes, and Carl Jones wanted to see how impressionable people are.
They asked two groups of people to read about, then pass judgement on fictional test subjects. One group was subconsciously exposed to words designed to “prime,” or influence, their judgement. The researchers flashed words like “hostile” or “persistent” to the participants in the experimental group, then both groups read the description of the fictional subject.
The primed participants were very likely to characterize the subjects according to whatever word they had been exposed to. Perfectly lovely people were painted as hostile and reckless. Cads became persistent.
They published their results in 1997 in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
A year earlier The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had published a similar study in which some participants were shown the word “elderly.” They walked and performed their tasks more slowly than the control group who had not seen “elderly.”
These are just two examples of from a large body of psychological literature that all lend themselves to the same basic conclusion:
Words have power.
Choosing New Words
The point is that when we choose to describe our wives as whores, that affects us. And her. When we choose to call ourselves idiots when we make a mistake, that sinks in. Facts about idiots become facts about us.
This is the “L” in NLP: the language we choose triggers our brains to think in certain patterns, and cast our perceptions in certain light, rosy or shitty.
Choosing positive words will create a positive impact on you and those around you.
It’s just a simple choice to begin saying “princess” instead of “whore,” but you will fail at first. Don’t be discouraged, it’s just a habit, and you need to retrain your mind.
When you catch yourself speaking or thinking in a negative or derogatory way, just consciously choose a better word to replace it. At first you’ll think negatively, and have to constantly correct yourself. Within a few weeks, the positive words will flow naturally.
When it occurs to you after-the-fact that you transformed, you’ll try to think of a negative word or phrase and it’ll hit you like a cat puking. Dirty and wrong. You can barely think it, never mind say it.
Ben’s a good guy, and he can choose better words when he’s ready, with only an ounce of effort. It might make all the difference. Insightful.
(Thanks to Wes Tansey for the help with the psych literature!)