Career/Life Tips, Reflections & Questions, tips

Want less stress? Choose your words carefully.

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In a recent phone call with a friend, I asked how she was doing.

“STRESSED,” was her emphatic one-word answer.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What has you all stressed out?”

She then rattled off an impressive list of projects she was working on. As she talked about them, I could hear a smile creeping into her voice.

I asked about it and she admitted that she was feeling pretty good about all the work she had in motion – it was all positive stuff that could have a great impact to her business’s bottom-line, and she was proud to see her team stepping up to the challenge.

Because coaching practices die hard, I asked if I could share an observation. And because she’s my friend, she humored me and said I could. My observation was this: She didn’t actually SOUND stressed to me.

After a long pause, she said, “That’s actually right. I’m not stressed – I’m excited.”

As we continued the conversation, we talked about how it’s easy to develop verbal crutches – things we throw out without really thinking, like, “I’m so busy,” or “I’m stressed,” because they’re socially acceptable – without realizing what impact they have on us. And just like anything else – if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

“So what’s something else you could say when people ask how you’re doing?” I prompted her, continuing in coach-mode for another minute. “Something that is accurate but doesn’t suck all the energy out of you?”

She came up with an answer fast: “We have a lot of great things going on!”

She liked it so much that she wrote it on a Post-It note and stuck it on her desk to help her break the habit, which was a brilliant move on her part.

When I talked with her a couple weeks later, I asked how things were going. Without missing a beat, she said, “So good! You’re going to think I’m just humoring you, but we have a lot of great things going on!”

The best part: I could hear her smiling.

How might your language choices be holding you back? Ask yourself:

  • What small stories am I telling myself and others repeatedly through my language?
  • Am I telling myself the whole story or only part of it through my language? (For example, it’s easy to tell people you’re working 60 hour weeks – but are you also mentioning that you get to choose your hours and you enjoy what you’re working on?)   
  • When someone asks how I’m doing, what is my typical response – and does it position me as owning my circumstances or a victim of them?
  • Chicken and the egg – am I actually stressed/frustrated/overwhelmed or am I feeling that way because I’m saying it so often?
  • What are other language choices I can make that will help remind me of the positive side of my circumstances?


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