Choosing Words Wisely.

Do Contribute | Social Entrepreneur

Photo by Simon Edwards

Looking back to step forwards.

This time last year I wrote my very first article for Do Contribute. It was about how we can simplify the process of making change by changing our perspective.

At its essence, the article was about how new resolutions won’t stick if they aren’t made at an identity level. It has to be ‘like us’ to be that shiny, new person we want to be in our future, or we’ll always revert to the safe comfort zone of our existing self.

If we want to know what will keep us motivated to become our better selves, we have to understand our motives, as they’re what inwardly move us to behave in a certain way.

Over the past year, with more exposure to inflated rhetoric, hyped narratives and fake news, I’ve become more aware of the power of language in our growth process. The words we use to describe ourselves and our world heavily influence how we think, feel, act and do.

Our language can either motivate or debilitate us.

By way of example, lets get to grips with what ‘motive’ and ‘motivate’ mean. They’re derived from both movere (late Latin for ‘to move’) and motif (old French), which denotes a repeated pattern or recurring idea.

So, our motives move us to action, often repeatedly in a specific way. They’re our reason for doing one thing, something and everything.

Unfortunately, the word ‘motive’ always makes me think of CSI episodes or crime novels. Because of that, it has a sinister or calculated feel to it. So I don’t find it motivating in a positive sense. Yet, when I think of alternative words, a whole world of possibilities opens up, both positive and negative.

Instead of considering my motives, I can think about the grounds for making a particular decision. The incentive for starting a new activity. Or the stimulus, rationale or intention behind performing specific tasks to achieve a future goal. To me, these options seem supportive, scientific or logical. Other substitutes for ‘motive’ include incitement or inducement, although both of these can seem more antagonistic in flavour.

Successful change is influenced by the words we use and the stories they help to create.

If our language is more combative or critical, and less supportive or encouraging, it impacts on our chances of staying motivated to follow through.

The power of our words plays out in everything we do and affects how others see us too.

Success metrics in business and fitness worlds are often described in aggressive terms. We’ve apparently got to ‘grind hard’ to ‘crush it’. Despite ‘hustle’ scoring high in the startup world’s lexicon, both DHH and I are less enamoured with its use.

Granted, sustained success at anything means putting in the work consistently. But we can find better words to describe both the process and how we perform in that process.

[If you’re interested in exploring this more, I recommend reading Lanny Bassham’s “With Winning in Mind”.]

So, in my post on resolutions, I suggested three ways to help activate positive, permanent change in a simple way. I’m now taking it a step further:

1. Develop behaviours that are “like the ME” we all want to be.

Consider … what is your default reason for doing something? Is there perhaps a more powerful reason that you can introduce and assimilate into your identity? What are the words you are going to use to describe yourself and that new reason?

2. Create flexible routines that fit around the things we can and can’t control.

What self-care or work routines can you do in more than one location, or in more than one way, so that curve balls don’t affect your groove? How are you describing those methods? How are you describing their outcomes, when you do these activities, or don’t do them?

3. Cultivate incremental good habits. Simple ones that can be built up slowly, over time.

Think about 1% improvements. What small steps can you take every day to create momentum and support continued motivation? Reward yourself with good words and a cheer for every small win. Tiny Habits® can help, check out what BJ Fogg and Mike Coulter are doing.

4. Expand your vocabulary to include more pragmatic, optimistic and supportive language.

What are you saying about yourself in your head? How do you express yourself out loud? What could be said better, so that it resonates in a way that supports, instead of shreds?

Be kinder, both to yourself and to others.

Encourage. Empower. Nurture. Believe.

Simple doesn’t always mean easy. Making change takes effort, and it can be tough or painful, because our identity likes to resist change. But if we can think about the challenges and problem solving that accompany growth and change in more positive terms, then we’re more likely to enjoy the process and be motivated to stick with it over time.

How we envision and describe who and what we are in that process of change has the power to totally transmogrify the outcome.

Find the right words. Choose wisely.


Mich Bondesio

Social Entrepreneur

Mich Bondesio

Curious about connection, communication, design, learning, wellbeing and potential. Sharing thoughts on doing life and business better in our digital world.

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