The Power Of Language: 5 Wicked Words That Are Sabotaging Your Success

Ditch those self-defeating phrases with these action-spurring replacements.
September 16, 2011

Would you believe that the words you use actually determine whether you succeed or not? Language shapes how we experience the world. Take a few minutes and just listen to the conversations around you. Count how often you hear the following words: but, want, should, hope, try.

I did this experiment and got startling results. It wasn’t just the frequency at which these words came up, it was the context of the words created and the mindset that they put me in that literally determined whether I took any action—and what action I took. Here are some of the actual phrases I said during the day, and the outcomes of those phrases.

  • “I’d love to hire a writer, but I just can’t afford it.”
  • “I want to increase my sales.”
  • “I should call John today.”
  • “I hope they sign the contract.”
  • “I’ll try to schedule that meeting.”

Notice that every one of these phrases is passive. These statements are self-defeating. They take the responsibility out of your hands and fling it into the stratosphere. Also, notice that these are all potential actions that go undone and hence, have no positive impact on the success of your business.

Here's how to transform passive words into powerful actions.

Replace “but” with “and”

You won’t believe how often “but” comes up in your conversations. All you need to do is notice how you are using it. Are you using “but” to limit your options or are you using “but” to clarify something. In my example, I was using “but” as an excuse to not go forward. When you change the sentence to, “I’d love to hire a writer AND I can’t afford it,” it doesn’t dismiss the action, instead, it begs the question: “How can I afford to hire a writer?” This sentence gives you control and it doesn’t make the need for a writer go away.

Replace “want” with “am”

“Want” tends to be a passive word. Wanting doesn’t make anything happen. Consider using a verb. Instead of saying, “I want to increase sales,” you can say, “I am increasing sales.” Simply changing “want” to “am” puts you more in control of the outcome.

Replace “try” with “will”

The word “try” is another weak and slippery word. To say that you will “try to schedule a meeting” gets you off the hook. Saying “I will schedule a meeting” leaves no wiggle room about what is going to happen or who is going to make it happen.

Replace “should” with “will”

Just like “try,” “should” is a weasel word and is best countered with a strong action word like “will.”

Replace “hope” with “intend"

Hope can go either way. It’s one thing to be hopeful or have hope, but hope without action will leave you empty handed. When you find yourself hoping without an action plan in place, it triggers you to substitute the word “hope” with a word like “intend.” Instead of hoping to sign a contract, intend to sign in.

Semantics or serious stuff

The words you use can change your outlook and perspective on a situation. For example, if you ask the question, “How do you increase sales?”, your mind will go searching for a single solution or answer to the question. When you ask, “In what ways can you increase sales?”, your brain starts looking for more than one solution to increasing sales.

Even though you may not be paying too much attention to what you are saying, your brain is paying very close attention; to the point that it will influence how you feel about a specific situation.

When you use words that are passive and weak, you will perceive your situation more negatively. When you use active, powerful and dynamic words, you will perceive yourself as more powerful over your situation.

Here's how to become a more powerful speaker.

Becoming a more powerful speaker isn’t just about giving great presentations, it’s about using powerful words that keep you and your mind focused on being actively engaged in growing your business.

Pay attention to what you are saying

The first step is to notice when these words come up and catch yourself saying them. Make a list of these five words and tell your friends, family and team members that you are on a mission to catch yourself using these five words and enroll them into telling you when you’ve used them.

Ask yourself what you are committed to

Once you’ve caught yourself using any of these five words, take a moment to ask yourself what you are committed to. The sentence “I should call John today,” doesn’t say that I’m committed to John or what he needs from me. If John is a customer and my commitment is to service my customer then I would say “I will call John today.”

Say it again using active, powerful language

This might seem cumbersome at first, but it makes a big difference. Simply stop yourself if you’ve made a weak statement and restate your thoughts using more powerful language. When you do, you’ll find that your whole perspective and demeanor will change.

How powerful is your language? Start counting how often these words come up in your conversations and transform them into active words that generate opportunity. You'll soon see the positive difference it makes in your business, your life and your relationships.