It’s often said that words have power. We use them to communicate with each other, express emotions, share ideas, and tell stories.
The idea that our thoughts and words shape our reality is nothing new, but it has has seen a resurgence in recent years with ideas like the “law of attraction” or the concept of manifesting.
Although these ideas may seem like magic, their real strength comes from their ability to impact our unconscious mind and tap into the innate drives that are rooted in our DNA.
Having a practical knowledge of how our words, including the ones we speak internally, affect our experiences can assist us in creating more purposeful, meaningful, and joyful lives.
Can the words we use really have that much impact?
Research has show that even thinking negative or painful words and phrases can have a significant impact on hormones, heart rate, physical pain levels, and anxiety levels. For example, reading aloud a list of words that are linked with physical pain can increase stress hormones and heart rate.
It should come as no surprise then, that the words we choose and our pattern of speaking can either positively or negatively influence how others view us, our self-confidence, and even our physical well being.
Does this mean that we can use our words to manifest things we want (or don’t)?
Manifestation or the law of attraction is often described as magic or some ability to influence the universe with our thoughts and words, but it is actually the brain’s Reticular Activation System (RAS) at work. This system of neural networks, works on an unconscious level, without much effort or noticing by us.
Although spiritual and metaphysical factors may (or may not) also be involved, as a therapist, I am specifically interested in how psychological factors are frequently disregarded, leading many individuals to misunderstand their own ability to utilize words or affirmations to influence their lives.
The RAS takes information from external sources such as the environment and our sensory inputs, filters out the unnecessary, and organizes the important things into meaningful patterns.
We depend on this ability to differentiate the vital information from the unnecessary, or we would be totally overwhelmed with input from our environment.
Evolutionarily speaking, it is advantageous: if picking red berries brings a tasty treat while yellow berries make you ill, you’ll be keenly aware of both colors as you venture through the forest, disregarding all other colors and objects like the thousands of green leaves and gray rocks.
However, if you only focus on the abundance of bitter yellow berries and ruminate about your bad luck for always finding them, you might miss out on the delicious red ones that are also present.
While these ideas might be helpful as a motivational tool, it’s important to be aware of the potential pitfalls and limits that come with this kind of thinking. Positive thinking and speaking alone cannot fix traumas, mental health challenges, or circumstances beyond our control. Nor should it be suggested as a way to tolerate injustice or distract from the need for social change.
Too often, these concepts are used to point the finger at people instead of offering them empathy or examining a wider view of their circumstances. Additionally, it ignores the fact that sometimes bad incidents sometimes happen without reason.
How does the RAS apply to manifesting or the law of attraction?
By saying an affirmation like “I am always lucky” to yourself the Reticular Activating System is triggered, prompting it to notice any external validation for what you think. The RAS then finds evidence of your luckiness like that great parking spot, the unexpected gift of chocolate from a neighbor, or finding $20 in your coat pocket.
Did saying “I am always lucky” put the $20 in your pocket? Of course not.
These instances are noticed by your RAS and sent up to higher brain centers where verbal thought patterns are formed–ultimately reinforcing this idea in your mind: “Wow! I really am lucky!” It is difficult to always see the direct connections, but when a person unconsciously believes in positive outcomes, they tend to attract lucky situations and notice them more easily. For instance, if someone thinks “I’m always unlucky,” they may not have searched for a parking spot in front of their favorite store or given a co-worker an extra smile that lead to them gifting them the surprise chocolate.
It can almost feel like it is a form of magic – and there’s no denying that the workings of our unconscious mind are nothing short of miraculous.
Consequently, you can teach your mind to not just concentrate on the positives in life but also make sure they happen more frequently.
Words and Phrases to Avoid
The Reticular Activating System of the brain is remarkable; however, it can lack subtlety, and doesn’t understand sarcasm.
Uttering casually negative phrases like “I just can’t with life today” or thoughtlessly labeling yourself as a “garbage person” might be amusing, however they cause you to unconsciously seek out even more negative experiences.
Watch out for ways you use words like “never” or “always” or any way you label yourself, even if in subtle ways.
This can look like saying things like:
“I never have enough time to do things for myself.”
“Why am I always so anxious?”
“I’m such a boring person.”
To break yourself of the negative self-talk habit, it is essential to become mindful of the language you use both internally and externally.
When these thoughts and phrases come up, pause and take a moment to reflect on why you’re thinking them and what function they might serve.
Have you ever stopped to consider what negativity is protecting you from?
Could it be disappointment, hurtful memories bubbling up, or even stoping you from being your incredible self to prevent others from feeling jealous?
Exploring these questions can help you let the negativity go, and practice talking to and about yourself kindly.
How to use the power of your RAS to improve your life
If you’d like to shape your world with positive words and thoughts, research shows it is best to use phrases that are simple, exaggerated, and present focused.
Rather than saying “I’m trying to be more confident” proclaim boldly, “I have absolute confidence in everything I do.” You don’t need to believe it right away for your Reticular Activating System (RAS) to start making this reality.
Positive words and thoughts can also create an internal environment that enables us to be more open to receiving help from others while we figure out how to deal with difficult situations.
How therapy can help when you’re stuck in negative self-talk
Changing our thinking and speaking patterns to be more positive can be incredibly difficult, particularly if we have unresolved trauma or other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. These issues can often create loops of negative self-talk and limit our ability to see the world and ourselves in a positive light.
However, therapy can be a powerful tool in helping us overcome these challenges and reshape our thought patterns.
In therapy, we can explore the root causes of our negativity and work to develop coping mechanisms that enable us to navigate difficult situations in a more positive way such as self compassion, developing healthy boundaries, paying attention to physical sensations in our bodies, and grounding in the present moment.
Additionally, therapy can help us be more present-focused in our attention and better able to appreciate and experience positive moments in our lives.
While changing our thinking and speaking patterns can be challenging, therapy can provide us with the tools and support we need to create lasting change and cultivate self compassion.
So taking a few moments to pause, reflect on why you might have negative self-talk or labels for yourself, and then replacing them with kinder language could lead to more positivity – both internally and externally. When you catch yourself using words like “always” or “never”, it’s a good idea to think about how your brain is processing information and what you can do to shape your world.