Whether we realize it or not, we have all experienced the unbelievable power of words. Think about a time another person said something positive to you; consider how those words brightened your day, made you smile, boosted your confidence, gave you energy and motivation, or softened your heart. Unfortunately, most of us also remember a time someone said something negative to or about us. Those painful words likely dampened our mood, ruined our day, and/or made us feel self-conscious about ourselves. Words are powerful.
Most of us have spoken or written words to others that have had a significant impact on their lives. We know what a friend who is hurting needs to hear; we know exactly what to say to our significant other to tick them off. Because words can be so impactful, each of us holds a considerable amount of power in the way we speak to others.
In addition to being powerful, words sit at the cornerstones of our memories. We can all remember funny or unique sayings from a childhood teacher, or an endearing phrase our grandmother always told us, or encouraging words from our parents during hard times. Words stick with us, and have the potential to shape who we are and how we think in future situations. This isn’t just limited to verbal words: written words can have an equally powerful impact on our lives. Think about quotes you have heard, books you have read, or other snippets of information that you have collected during your life.
For me personally, some of the books I have read have given me messages, information, and perspectives that I cling to and choose to revisit in times of need. Oftentimes, the encouragement I have found in books has come from one individual chapter, one phrase, or even one single word. We don’t choose which words or phrases resonate with us, but we never forget the ones that do.
I am a quote fanatic, and the first saying that popped into my head while writing this was, “Create a life you don’t need a vacation from.” When I first read that quote, I was working far too many hours and burning the candle at both ends. I was daydreaming of spending lazy days at the beach and envisioning vacations that I had yet to plan for. I found myself anticipating better days in the future while completely overlooking the present. For me, creating a life that I don’t need a vacation from means reminding myself that I have control over my schedule and commitments, and mindfully spending my time in ways I enjoy.
Another quote that had an enormous impact on me is, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” You may read these two quotes that mean so much to me and be entirely unaffected, which is ok! Everyone’s brain is unique, and we all are dealing with different challenges and circumstances. Look for the quotes that cause you to take pause and read them again, the quotes that are significant even if you’re not entirely sure why, the quotes that you memorize naturally and effortlessly.
Common sayings, too, can make immediate impressions on us and are routinely used to convey important lessons and thoughts. We are all familiar with sayings like, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” “everything happens for a reason,” and, “life is too short.” These maxims serve as helpful reminders for us and, when repeated enough times, become instantly accessible by our brains. Some adages have seemingly been around forever, while others are relatively modern. For example, “YOLO (You Only Live Once)” was recently popularized and was either used as encouragement to live mindfully in the moment or as an excuse to make irresponsible decisions. We alone choose how we interpret these phrases and what behavior we encourage.
I frequently use quotes and phrases in my therapy sessions with clients in hopes that something will stick with them. Some examples of quotes and sayings I use most often include:
- “The behavior of others says more about them than it does about you.” This phrase is very similar to the old saying, “What Susie says of Sally says more of Susie than of Sally.”
- “Don’t believe everything you think.”
- “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.”
- “You can do anything, but not everything.”
- “HOPE: Hold On, Pain Ends.”
- “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
- And of course, the Serenity Prayer, as often used in substance abuse treatment: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
We need to use the knowledge we have about the power of words to not only be mindful of the way in which we speak to others, but also to feed our own brains positive and encouraging messages. Our brain functions off of what we feed it; the words we speak to ourselves matter. Sometimes we have to practice and show our brains how we want them to think. We want to speak words of hope, gratitude, and comfort to ourselves in times of pain, words of inspiration and determination to ourselves in times we lack motivation, and words of grace and understanding to ourselves in times of disappointment.
What are some practical ways to apply this knowledge? Here are a few suggestions:
- Reading self-help books
- Writing uplifting notes to yourself
- Giving yourself a pep talk in the mirror
- Finding quotes online that speak to your current circumstances
- Downloading an app that will send you daily words of inspiration
- Listening to podcasts or watching videos that are helpful
- Surrounding yourself with positive people
- Following positive accounts and pages on social media
After you find quotes, sayings, or phrases that are impactful and meaningful to you, hang onto them! Save them, write them down, tell them to others, repeat them to yourself, make them the background on your phone, or hang them on your mirror. We want to give our brains easy, constant access to positive and uplifting messages. And of course, see a therapist who can assist you in exploring what messages you are telling yourself and guide you in making lasting, beneficial changes.
By: Julie Killion, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor – Wake Forest