Several years ago I read a book that changed my life. The book, titled The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, consisted of four pacts to be made with oneself, based on the ancient Toltec wisdom. These agreements, once made, had the potential of bringing freedom, empowerment, harmony and wisdom. While all four agreements were powerful life lessons, there were two that resonated with me deeply: one agreement asked that I ‘don’t make assumptions’ and the other was to ‘Be impeccable with your word’.
As I slowly became aware of the indiscriminate words that I spoke every waking moment [and preceding that, the thoughts I contemplated in my head] I realised how much power each individual is blessed with. My words were literally shaping my life and until now, I’d never paid much attention to them. The second agreement ‘Don’t make assumptions’ tied in perfectly with the first. After that, I stopped assuming what people were implying when they spoke to me. What they said is what I heard and took to be true. This relieved me of a lot of internal chatter. Also, I stopped assuming that my words were being interpreted differently by others. I just dropped all assumptions.
Almost immediately life became simpler, more liberating and peaceful. I realised most of the noise wasn’t coming from outside but from my own busy, assuming, judging, misinterpreting mind.
Frank Outlaw said: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Words shape reality: present and future. Unfortunately, we’ve picked up our vocabulary from caregivers who didn’t know any better: parents, relatives, teachers and priests, who were limited by their own fears, judgements and self-limiting beliefs. When we hear the same words repeatedly— “You’re stupid”, “You’re always sick”, “Your artwork is awful”, “Girls can’t do that”, “Men don’t cry”—we end up internalising them such that these words become our core beliefs. These beliefs then shape every decision we make in our personal and professional lives.
The good news [there’s always good news!] is that it doesn’t take much to turn our life around and revamp our vocabulary to one that aligns with our authentic self. All it takes is a little self-awareness and lot of self-love and we’re as good as new!
Here are some words and phrases that, once released, can bring joy, vitality and goodness in our lives:
A Zen teacher and dear friend once told me, “You shouldn’t should anything!” Since then, ‘should’ has almost completely evaporated from my vocabulary. ‘Should’ seems to be a package deal that comes with feelings of guilt, obligation and fear. ‘Should’ feels like a heavy burden we lug around and releasing it from our vocabulary relieves us of a lot of unnecessary heaviness.
‘Buts’ are a huge problem in our world today. They paralyse us into believing that we are powerless and choiceless. ‘But’ often gets in the way of our personal greatness. “I’d like to try that workout but…”, “I want to ask for that raise but…”
‘But’ gives us the perfect excuse to talk ourselves out of opportunities for self-growth. We stay stagnant, procrastinating and weak, thanks to this word.
“Yes” / “No”
‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are two edges of the same sword. For people pleasers, saying ‘No’ is a problem. On the other hand, for people guided by fear, saying ‘Yes’ is the challenge. Which one are you? Are you someone who needs to define boundaries, identify when enough is enough and say “No”? Or are you one of those people who never says “Yes” to new opportunities, adventures and relationships because you’re too jaded or scared? A wise person maintains a balance of these two words in his vocabulary.
Close on the heels of ‘should’ is ‘have to’. Like a huge rock that blocks the flow of a river, ‘Have to’ cuts us off from our natural intuitive guidance. “My body needs some rest but I have to do the laundry”; “I want to be alone but I have to attend this social event.” ‘Have to’ is probably the most counter-intuitive expression in our vocabulary and the sooner we eliminate it, the more we can truly live and enjoy life.
“Words of gossip”
As spiritual beings we understand that everything is made of energy—our thoughts, our words, our actions, our environment. When we use our energy to slander, demean or gossip about someone, we fail to realise that the real damage is happening to us! These thoughts and words emanate from within us and damage us way before they reach the intended target. Gossip is a kind of emotional poison that destroys our wellbeing and that of others. It serves no one and creates an unhealthy, toxic environment around us.
When we limit or instruct someone else from living their heart’s desire [whether it feels right to us or not] we are limiting our own dreams too. ‘Don’t’ is one of those words we grew up on [“Don’t climb that tree”, “Don’t wear that dress”, “Don’t laugh so loud”]. As children we felt crushed, disappointed and caged by “don’t” and yet as adults we find ourselves using the same words to limit our loved ones: children that want to explore, partners and spouses that want to be spontaneous and adventurous, colleagues and employees that want to take risks. Even more damaging is the inner voice that screams ‘Don’t’ every time we want to step out of our comfort zone.
I am sure you can identify and add a few of your own self-limiting and self-defeating words to this list. All you need to remember is that our words lead the way to a life of creativity, joy, laughter and love.
Which ones are you choosing today?