“I’m going to go out there and try to win the tennis match. I probably won’t.”
So said rank outsider Marcus Willis before his tennis match against seven times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, on Wednesday 29 June 2016.
“We hope that we can go out and win” was England football team Captain Wayne Rooney’s objective, shared with the media at the Euro 2016 pre-match press conference, the day before their defeat to Iceland on Monday 26 June 2016.
Meanwhile, his opponent’s coach wanted to “focus on not conceding a goal to England.” However, Iceland faced an England penalty goal success at the very start of the contest.
Words matter. I focus a LOT on the words that my clients use in the way that they speak – and write. So much so, and usually with some humour, they eventually start correcting themselves before I get the chance to, as new neural connections in their brain get embedded and they start to change their language and therefore their results. How we think and communicate will determine the response that we get, in both our own heads and those of the people with whom we converse. In the social world where humans thrive, getting our message across is extremely important: it could be a matter of life or death.
However, this is not just about being able to communicate effectively in the boardroom – or the bedroom! When we think and communicate particular words, they have a distinct effect on our physiology and mindset. Our brain responds to commands and as I have highlighted previously, it prefers to have certainty, which promotes a closed loop in the brain.
If you don’t believe me, here is a quick exercise (you might not want to do this right now if reading this on a train!).
Say out loud: “I will try and get this done by 5 pm.” How did that feel? How did you sound?
Next, say out loud: “I will get this done by 5 pm.” How did this feel? What do you sound like saying this?
What have you noticed? The first instance contains one of what I call my trigger words: the word try. When I hear a client saying try, for example “I will try and complete this action by next session”, my antennae immediately picks up an alert. I encourage them to re-frame how they are thinking about the particular task. After all, you know that if your friend says that they will “try and call you” or “try and come to your party” that your telephone is not going to ring and that you will be a guest short. The same applies when competitive athletes say try or hope to win, such as in the cases given at the beginning, and that losing is almost inevitable. “We will go out there and win” sounds much more determined, more energetic and more purposeful, doesn’t it?
In addition to using powerful words there may be phrases that resonate more with you than others. In the above exercise, by commanding the instruction to yourself “I will get this finished by 5 pm”, it is far more motivating than thinking or saying the word, done. The word finish implies a closed loop to the brain and the mere thought of getting to the end of the task will produce some good-feeling dopamine in the brain. When your brain is feeling good and therefore motivated, you will be much more likely to do what you set out to do because the brain wants to receive its second reward of pleasure-inducing neurochemicals.
So remember that your words will affect your self-motivation and what others hear and think about you. Plus, you can assist your team (at work and at home) by helping them use more powerful words to set themselves up for success, too.