Power of a Word
Choose your words carefully because you are listening. Each day we are have a multitude of options to articulate how our lives unfold. Infinite choices leave us with an incredible scope of power to shape our lives with our words.
We commonly underestimate the power of a single word. We believe that certain situations dictate, even demand, the use of a specific word to describe an occurrence. It is as if only one word describes what really happened or accurately represents the actual situation. We are not readily cognizant that we choose the words we speak and that our word choice fulfills a distinct purpose.
In the late 90s, I first came to understand the power of a single word. The word in question on this particular day was “pressure”. Approximately 200 people, witnessed an exercise unfold where a participant explained a family situation in front of the group to the facilitator. In his memories, the participant felt “pressured” by his parents to attend college, explaining that his parents “pressured” him to attend Stanford. His parents would happily pay for him to attend their college of choice BUT would not fund him in any other endeavors…such as his preferred pursuit to become a professional baseball player.
The seminar leader, having a sense of his background and history, realized that this word “pressure” was very charged for him. It represented a significant marker as to how he saw his parents and how he felt about his life as a young adult. The seminar leader intentionally challenged the participant to truly understand what the word “pressure” represented as it described the situation. Was this word “chosen” versus “dictated”? Was “pressure” the only appropriate word for the situation? Did the word “SERVE” him as it related to this situation?
As I watched the conversation unfold, the seminar leader described what pressure represented to him- a giant ball that was continually inflated until the sides of the ball are stretched or the feeling one gets when diving deep into the ocean until your eardrums feel like they will pop!
Interestingly, the participant continued to use the word “pressure,” followed by “come on…you know what I mean.” Steadfast, in his conviction, the seminar leader challenged each of his retorts.
“No, I don’t know what you mean” and “pressure to me is like “X” what you’re describing to me looks like “Y,” the seminar leader debated.
After 15 minutes of going back and forth between the two, 199 people in the room understood precisely the point to which the seminar leader eluded. It appeared that the person most closely involved in the situation, the person with the most to gain, could not see it.
The “Ah-Ha Moment” presented itself at minute 16 when the participant realized that he had chosen the word “pressure” to describe the situation with his family. He easily could have chosen a different word such as encouraged or insisted, versus “pressured.” In that single moment of realization, his world was forever changed by simply selecting a different word to
describe the situation. Changing that word changed his relationship with his mother and father immediately.
The participant immediately understood that he had choices in life where he previously thought there were none! Ironically, he still used the word “pressured” to describe the situation, BUT just knowing it was his choice made all the difference to forge a new relationship with his parents: one with a greater amount of freedom!!
Similarly, I remember feeling like a fraud when I hadn’t run a triathlon in several years, and I told someone that I was a triathlete — was I? Don’t you have to “do” triathlons to be a triathlete? What is the statute of limitations on claiming you are something by doing it? One year? Five years?
After some thought, I realized that with five triathlons under my belt and the fact that I was running, biking and swimming, I earned the right to call myself a triathlete! By declaration, I am a triathlete. Triathlete is a word I chose to describe myself; it is not predicated on performance. It empowers me; it calls me to be a better version of myself each day…
What words are you using to describe situations or yourself? Are they empowering, do you see that you are choosing?