Words Matter: Simple adjustments to the words we use can make a big difference as we learn how to discover opportunity.
This Could – just two words that create energy when spoken or thought. They activate the mind and builds momentum for new ideas, new options, new directions. Imagine having a conversation with someone about an important issue or business decision. In the middle of the conversation, they pause and say, “This could…” then their phone rings and they take the call while walking out of the room. The curiosity of what was going to follow those words would be palpable.
This Could creates an expectation that must be delivered upon.
“This is” sits at the other end of the linguistic spectrum—a statement of certainty and fixed identity. No energy builds. No point of departure is expected. Whatever follows is, well, it just is.
We use “This is” to label most things without much thought, which is the problem. We don’t have to think when we use those words. We don’t have to tax our brains by coming up with anything new. “This is X, and… we’re done. What’s for lunch?”
It is also an incomplete description of things.
Whatever you are labelling with a This Is fixed identity only exists in that identity at that moment. If you pick up a leaf and say, “This is a leaf,” you’re not going to be able to say the same thing about that leaf next year when it has decomposed and become part of the forest floor.
When your daughter asks for materials for her pottery class, you can hand her some and say, “This is a lump of clay.” But when she returns proudly showing you a vase made from that clay, you’re in a lot of trouble if you say the same thing.
We don’t consider the fact that the names and labels we assign to things and the functions they perform have been assigned by someone else. The identity and utility of almost everything has been mediated and shaped by history, experience, linguistics, culture, and customs. Every time you label something as “This is X,” you are using someone else’s assessment of that object and its function.
Simple adjustments to the words we use can make a big difference. Replacing “I want to” with “I will,” assigning a date to a goal instead “someday,” and so on are common tweaks people use to their internal dialogue to become more effective at managing their time and achieving goals. Much more powerful are linguistic variations we can use to transform our relationship with everything in our physical reality.
Let’s try a quick experiment. Look at the stapler above. Now tell yourself that it is called a “joiner” and not a stapler. Yes, you learned that it is called a “stapler” because it staples pages together. But it also joins the pages together.
You may dismiss the little wordplay as silly, but you have to admit that for the first time you are actually thinking about a stapler now: what it does, what its name is, how it got its name, etc.
Calling something by a different name activates synapses in your brain that were just sitting still every time you looked at or used a stapler. The language we use when we introduce ourselves—or others—to things make a big difference.
“We don’t just use language to communicate with others, we use it to think to ourselves,” writes Dr. David Ludden in the article “How Language Shapes Our World.”
“We see the world according to the framework our language imposes on us.”Dr. David Ludden
Pay attention to how your thinking changes when you replace “this is” with “this could be” in the following list of common objects:
- This is a cup. This could be a cup.
- This is a table. This could be a table.
- This is a coat rack. This could be a coat rack.
You may have felt a different mental sensation when you read the This Could column. The subject didn’t change, only the way of introducing it.
The difference you felt is the effect the words This Could has on your thought process. Those two words activate synapses in your brain that aren’t usually firing. Seeing, speaking, or hearing the words This Could introduce an object, material, or anything, tells your brain that a conditional moment is present and it needs to gear up for what’s next.
Introducing something with “this is” gives your brain no reason to switch gears. It is an absolute term, and whatever comes next, those words have already told your subconscious that you and your brain are in familiar territory here, so it can just relax and keep working on what you’ll order for lunch.
This Could is an indication that options and possibilities are coming. Synapses connect with the creative and analytical areas of your brain to get the operators standing by for what comes next. You’ve opened up the mental pathways of innovation, breakthrough thinking and increased creativity; all with just two words.