Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life Enhancing Language

Language is a powerful tool for enhancing your life. The way we think and express ourselves is crucial to how we make meaning and how we unconsciously motivate ourselves and others.

“Our language influences our perceptions”
Peter Senge
“Incorrect use of language leads to incorrect thinking”
Buckminster Fuller

Through language we create our reality

“Language is the means by which we organise and shape our experience"
Dr. Annabelle Lukin, Dep’t of Linguistics, Macquarie University

Language is one of our key tools for thinking and making sense of our world. It’s also how we communicate between parts of our multi-mind and with other people around us.

As will be pointed many times throughout this blog, and as suggested by both the fields of NLP and General Semantics, 'unsane' use of language leads to 'unsane' thinking and this in turn leads to 'unsane' actions and outcomes in life - not very life enhancing!

As highlighted by the field of NLP, there are three basic modelling processes we use to create our maps or models of the world. These are:

  • Deletion
  • Generalisation
  • Distortion

Each of these modelling processes has language elements that are indicators of the process. In NLP, these language distinctions are described by what is called the NLP Meta-Model.

By becoming aware of and tracking for these distinctions you can become more precise in your thinking and communicating with your self and others. You can also gain more life enhancing choice and control over how you are modelling and generating your world by choosing language that supports your outcomes.

Wants vs Shoulds

When you create absolutist rules and generalisations about what you ‘should’ do and what you ‘have to’ do, you limit your freedom and apply pressure that can lead to parts of your multi-mind sabotaging your success.

No one likes to be pressured or forced into action. In NLP, generalisations such as ‘must’, ‘should’ and ‘have to’ are called ‘modal operators of necessity’. They indicate rules about the mode of operation you are following or requesting. Thinking that you “absolutely must do X” often leads to stress and procrastination.

A much more generative and useful way to communicate to yourself and others is to use ‘modal operators of desire’. Words such as ‘want to’, ‘like to’ and ‘desire to’ are much more compelling and are linked with life enhancing notions of value and attraction.

So when you are thinking and talking about your outcomes and goals, notice the words you are using. Practice and form habits of replacing the modal operators of necessity with modal operators of desire. For example, rather than saying something like “I should go wash the car now”, instead choose to express the statement as something like “I want to wash the car now so that it looks fantastic”. You’ll notice it has a different feel to it when expressed that way and is much more likely to lead to the intended outcome.

Powerfully using language that supports your outcomes can really make a difference to the happiness and success you are generating in your life.

Remember, words are powerful. So do languaging that aligns, encourages and supports all the parts of your multi-mind.

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect thinking is an example of linguistic distortion.

This type of thinking is expressed in utterances that imply or presuppose belief that one thing causes another. When these beliefs don’t match the way the world really works, they are semantically ill-formed and impoverish a person’s model of the world. In this way, Cause and Effect beliefs limit your perceived choice or ability to act.

The most usual form that Cause and Effect distortions take is statements that a person’s actions or environmental circumstances ‘cause’ an emotional response in another person.

For example, the thought “My boss makes me angry” is a Cause and Effect belief that is inaccurate and not entirely rational. It doesn’t match the way the world fundamentally works.

No one can cause an emotion in another person. Your response to stimuli is effected within yourself. This is shown by the fact that a number of people can experience the exact same event and yet each of them will generate their own unique meaning and response. What one person gets angry about, another may find humorous.

This is a powerful and life enhancing insight. Emotions are not something that happen to you from external agency. Emoting is a process your mind/body does, with unconscious competence, in response to your environment. You can influence and change how you are emoting and responding.

No person or situation causes your emoting. However, if you operate from the semantically ill-formed belief that you do not have control, and that the world causes and creates your emotions, then you limit yourself and remove choice from your world. And that’s an enemy to happiness.

To counter this, listen for language, thoughts and beliefs that have the form:

X causes Y

If you hear yourself saying or thinking things such as “person X pisses me off” or “situation X depresses me” or “X causes me a lot of pain” then you are distorting your world and limiting yourself with Cause and Effect modelling.

The way to expand your choice is to turn such causal relationships around so they are more sane and rational. Put the locus of control back into the expressions by re-languaging them as “I cause Y when X”.

For example, instead of saying “My boss makes me mad”, re-language this as “I make myself mad about my boss”. Notice this now puts you at choice. You can now focus on outcomes and decide whether this is a response that is useful or whether perhaps there might not be a more generative way to respond.

Remember, choice = control.

Blaming Others

The field of Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) has also determined a number of irrational beliefs that people use to anger themselves.

Fundamentally, REBT has shown that the process of angering occurs when we blame others for not meeting unreasonable rules or expectations that we have generated in our model of the world. Beliefs such as “people must never make mistakes or else they are totally useless”, “everyone must always treat me fairly” and “I must always be totally loved by everyone” are irrational and unrealistic. Using such language to think about people and situations can only lead to disappointment, anger and low self-esteeming.

Listen for such irrational self-talk and actively dispute it. Replace it with more useful beliefs that match the way the world works. The truth is, people are fallible and will occasionally make mistakes, treat you unfairly or not meet your expectations.

Getting angry at this is pointless and unsane. Of course you’d prefer that they not do this, but recognise this is just your preference. Don’t take yourself and your expectations so seriously. Blame is an enemy to happiness and definitely life diminishing, so listen for it in your language and challenge the irrational beliefs that underlay it.

Escalating Anger

Intelligent people do not use words that escalate anger. They understand the power of words and know that anger is an emotion that down-regulates intelligence and creativity.

Thoughts and expressions such as "How could they!!!??" and "How dare they!!!???" will only create and escalate the unconscious process of angering.

Really listen carefully to the languaging you are doing and refuse to use hateful or vengeful words or expressions that escalate anger.

Universal Frighteners

An insidious form of linguistic distortion is known in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as 'Universal Frighteners'. These beliefs are generalisations about FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Universal Frighteners are indicated by global qualifiers associated with generalisations about fear. Comments like “It’s totally shocking”, “That’s completely horrifying”, “It’s all really scary”.

Challenge these linguistic distortions by asking yourself and others questions like “How specifically are you scaring yourself about this?” and “What specifically about this are you fearing?

Language is Life Enhancingly Powerful

You can gain power over your thinking and believing by listening for and questioning your use of linguistic deletions, distortions and generalisations.

Because we are habit forming creatures, you can overcome old habits and patterns of thought by using words and expressions that presuppose possibility and hope.

Language and thought really are powerful and can definitely enhance your life or diminish it - so listen to what you say and ensure you are using words that support happiness, choice and meaning in your life and the lives of those you love.

wishing you great life enhancing thoughts
smiles, Grant

And for those interested in learning more about the NLP Meta Model and other hypnotic language skills, I highly recommend the following books:


  1. Hi,

    This is so powerful. Language and tonalities are so important in day to day activities with home, work and leisure activities.

    Love your work,

  2. Great
    Well expressed.
    Such useful concepts.


  3. Grant, I'm so glad you linked back to this post in your newest one, I had missed it. I love your way with words.

  4. Hey Jean, thanks so much for your kind and positive words. They are powerful, and make me smile :-)

    cheerings, Grant


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