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(Un)Learning Your Language

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

When I was an anchor, before every newscast, I would go through my scripts with a fine toothed comb. I would work with our writers to make sure that the story we we were telling was told in a way that was engaging, that would continually push it forward, and the angle we would use to tell it couldn’t be misconstrued to mean something else. After all, headlines grab attention but the question we would always ask is ‘what kind of attention is it grabbing?’ As we have seen in the news cycle over the last few years, language and how we use is has real power in shaping perceptions, and those perceptions can shape reality.

In our daily interactions, we often underestimate the profound impact that language has on our lives. Whether it's the unspoken communication between animals or the intricate sounds and words we use to navigate the complexities of the human experience, language plays a vital role in our understanding of the world. Language shapes our relationships, perceptions, our financial well-being, and how we see ourselves. Yet we are often on autopilot when we communicate and we rarely think about the origins of our reactions, our thought processes, and even the words we use to speak. Here are some ways the language we use has a real impact every day:

The Language Within: Connecting Mind and Body

As a parent, I strive to equip my child with the necessary vocabulary to thrive in an ever-changing world. But beyond the external language of words, there lies an internal language that connects our thoughts, emotions, and actions. By recognising the connection between what he thinks, feels, and physically experiences, he can gain a deeper understanding of himself. This self-awareness enables him to navigate his emotions and eventually make choices aligned with his values. In essence, I am teaching him the vocabulary he needs to express how he feels and why he's feeling it. Here’s where it gets complicated: I am teaching my son what I know. But what if what we know isn’t necessarily the healthiest ways of living and being, let alone communicating? What if what we know is something that was handed to us generations ago?

Language and Self-Perception

The language we use to describe ourselves significantly influences our self-perception and identity. The labels we use to define our attributes, roles, and achievements contribute to shaping our sense of self. It doesn't help that societal narratives and cultural norms provide us with a framework for constructing our identities. We know now that framework isn't accurate, nor emotionally intelligent. By being aware of and analysing the language being used around us as well as the language we adopt when describing ourselves, we can uncover the underlying beliefs and biases that influence our self-perception. We can then work towards learning a healthier language one that nurtures a more authentic and empowering sense of self.

The Language of Learned Behaviour in Relationships:

Language not only influences our personal development but also shapes our worldview and relationships. Our behaviours and actions are, in essence, a learned language.

Consider the dynamics of a romantic relationship where both partners may speak the same spoken language, yet their communication may be vastly different. One may yearn for verbal expressions of love, while the other may demonstrate love through acts of service or gestures. This discrepancy highlights the importance of understanding and respecting each other's love languages—the unique ways in which we express and receive affection. By recognising and appreciating these subtle nuances, we can bridge the gap in communication and foster deeper connections. Oftentimes, conflicts arise due to miscommunication, us either not understanding or recognising the intention behind our partner’s actions.

Remember, we learn how to be in a relationship from watching the people who were in a relationship from the time we were babies , ie our parents. If we didn’t see our parents showing affection physically, like hugs and kisses, to each other, we may grow up either not feeling comfortable showing affection to our loved ones or we grow up possibly yearning for that physical affection to the point where it can be all-consuming.

Beyond Relationships: The Language of Money and Success

Language's impact extends even into the realm of finances and how we define success. Our perception of money and our relationship with it are largely influenced by the learned behaviours of our parents or caregivers. If we grew up witnessing financial struggle, we might internalise the belief that success comes only through hardship. Conversely, if we observed our parents finding joy and fulfilment in their work, we develop the belief that abundant opportunities exist for us as well.

Success is a subjective concept, and our understanding of it is heavily influenced by the language we have been taught. Societal expectations, cultural values, and personal experiences all contribute to our definition of success. The language we use to discuss achievements, goals, and accomplishments shapes our aspirations and motivates our actions. How we have been taught to see ourselves whether it is to "always be a good girl" or "boys are always strong and loud" influences the way we are in all relationships both personal and professional. We may not speak up in meetings or confidently ask for the raise we know we deserve. We are seeing considerable changes in that respect but it's the quieter voices, the voices within us that can still remain unchallenged. By critically examining the language we hear of success, of ourselves, we can challenge conventional definitions and pursue a more holistic and fulfilling understanding of personal achievement.

Our mindset plays a crucial role, determining whether we view the world as limited or abundant in terms of opportunities. By cultivating a mindset of abundance, we open ourselves up to possibilities and prepare ourselves to seize opportunities when they arise.

Here’s the thing, how we cultivate that mindset of abundance comes down to some very rational thoughts:

  1. It takes just as much energy to worry as it does to believe in the best outcome for us. Just as it takes as much energy to look for jobs we feel we must take in order to succeed rather than focus on the work we would love to do and that which pays us well. The latter just feels unrealistic because we have been taught to believe that worrying is what will bring about change or will protect us from the worst case scenario. By focusing on what is in our control, doing the work to prepare ourselves for all opportunities, and then stepping back and believing that what is meant for us will come to us, will help us to feel more in control of our present moment—a moment not mired in stress but in a hopeful mindset that feels much lighter than carrying the weight of worry.

  2. Bills have to be paid and life costs money. That is a fact. But why do we often believe that in order to live a decent life we must struggle to earn? Is it because there is fear attached to our dreams? Do we feel our dreams are impossible because they're not for "people like us". Is it because we know we can get a job we hate but we don’t know we can get a job we love and it is that certainty we bet on rather than betting on ourselves? What if from the beginning we were taught to rely on the certainty that comes from trusting ourselves in believing that no matter what, we will be ok?

  3. Just because something has always been done a certain way, has always been believed a certain way, doesn’t make it right nor does it mean it will work for our lives today. And as we knowl, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

  4. The motivation that comes from a mindset that is based on abundance is authentic, passionate, electrifying, and contagious. People with an abundance mindset all seem to look as though they’re carrying around a cheeky secret. It isn’t a secret, it’s more a formula to their success which is believing they could so they did. The motivation that comes from a mindset based on scarcity is one of fear, insecurity, feels heavy.

  5. By living and working in ways that are aligned with, and not in conflict with, our values, the inner turmoil subsides enabling us to feel more at ease and comfortable with who we are, leaving room for more powerful thoughts and emotions such as hope, anticipation, and even expectation of success. These thoughts have a tidal wave effect on our life after all our thoughts shape our reality.

It must be said that while we have learned language from our parents and early caregivers, we must also take into account the circumstances of how they learned theirs. Most first generation immigrants for example, have had to relearn practically everything in order to succeed in a new world. When once they were taught to believe in their work and successes, they were then shown (upon moving to a new country) that those successes weren’t recognised and their experiences weren’t valued thus changing their emotional landscape, embedding within the understanding that their differences (in ethnicity, colour, nationality), would mean struggle and hardship to prove their worth. It would be that language we would then inherit.

There are some 7000 spoken languages in the world. Language is a multifaceted tool that underpins our daily interactions and significantly impacts our lives. The intricate vocabulary that shapes our understanding of the world serves as a bridge connecting us to others and to ourselves. As the cognitive scientist Lera Borodisky said in her incredible TED Talk, "...speakers of different languages think differently, but of course, that's not about how people elsewhere think. How you think, how the language that you speak shapes the way that you think. And that gives you the opportunity to ask, "Why do I think the way that I do?" "How could I think differently?" And also, "What thoughts do I wish to create?""

By recognising the diverse ways in which language manifests, by being more emotionally intelligent, we can cultivate deeper connections, foster self-awareness, and empower ourselves to thrive. By learning how we can master our own language by shedding the vocabulary that doesn’t serve us, we can wield our skills wisely as we navigate the complexities of life. Next time when you're having a conversation or you're thinking a certain way (especially if you're hearing he words "why does this always happen to me" or "I just can't do it"), pause for a second and think about the words and the sentiment behind them. And ask yourself, 'is it absolutely true?'

As a coach, as it was when I was an anchor, my role centres around effective communication. I act as a translator, helping clients articulate their thoughts, emotions, and aspirations in terms that resonate with them. Through this process, I guide them in changing or developing the language they need to become more attuned to their true selves, their desires, and the path they wish to pursue. Coaching empowers individuals to unlock their potential by bridging the gaps in their language and communication skills. By harnessing the power of language, we gain clarity, self-confidence, and the tools we need to navigate life's challenges and move towards a life of happiness and success on our terms.


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