The clean slate of January 1 refreshes our visions of our higher selves. The potential of the New Year gives us energy and inspires newness: new diets, new interests, new resolve. However, the energy surge that calls us to action can quickly morph into an energy drain of guilt, leaving us to wonder how to better harness the fleeting enthusiasm that comes with flipping our calendars to January.
Thinking about energy as a by-product of our perception of our reality is one way to begin to unravel this conundrum. When things feel as if they are not going well, there is a tendency to feel energy depleted, making it difficult to rally to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. This, ironically, makes us feel as if things are not going well, and creates a self-perpetuating cycle. We think, If only things were going better, I’d be able to . . .
But what if we set different goals—goals that focus on increasing energy—and trust that, if we feel better and have more energy, we will take care of the things our higher self knows are important, such as getting in shape or reading for pleasure. This New Year, consider setting goals around intentionally buoying yourself by changing your language in ways that generate more energy. Below, we describe three, easy language changes that can plug a few common energy drains and serve as an indirect route to your “traditional” goals.
Three Energy-Generating Language Changes
Whether our goal is to organize the classroom library, teach students to listen respectfully while others are speaking, or lose twenty pounds, when things don’t go as planned, we are inclined to describe the situation with finality, making statements such as these:
- I never got around to organizing my books.
- Ugh—my kids are still talking out of turn!
- My jeans don’t fit like I want them to.
However, when we add the word yet to the same sentiments, the message changes dramatically:
- I haven’t organized my classroom library yet.
- My students aren’t listening respectfully to one another yet.
- My jeans don’t fit like I want them to . . . yet.
In the first set of examples, the implication is that our reality is fixed. Things “are what they are,” and if they aren’t what we want them to be, we might as well give up, because the window of opportunity has closed. In the second set of examples, however, the implication is that we are in charge of our own reality. The message is clear: although we might not be where we want to be right now, we have the power to get there—a message that is hopeful and can inspire us to keep working toward our goal.
In Mindfulness, Ellen Langer discusses a study where two groups of people were asked to do the same task: rate cartoons. When explaining the task to the first group, the researchers described it as “work,” and after completing the task, participants in this group described it as “boring” and said their minds wandered. The folks in the second group, however, had a very different experience. Most of them described the task as “enjoyable,” thus begging the question, How do two groups of people do the same task and perceive it so differently? As it turns out, the difference was subtle and simple. When the task was introduced to the second group, it was described as “play.”
Although we might not realize it, the word work carries a lot of negative connotations, whereas the word play tends to enjoy far more positive associations. We even feel these positive and negative associations in our bodies. In Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, Martha Beck suggests permanently replacing the word work with the word play. Read through the following statement and notice the powerful, energy-generating presence of the word play.
I am going to get up early this morning to play with my lesson plans and look at what happened when students played with narrative writing.
Or try it in your personal life:
I need to play with the laundry so that I have something clean to wear to go to play tomorrow.
Changing the way you talk about your “work” can change the way you think about it, which can change the way you approach it. What happens if you enter your laundry room ready to play with the laundry? The whole experience can change, sending ripples of energy into other parts of your life.
- “get to”
Words such as have to, need to, and should affect our psyche in ways similar to the word work. Our have-to‘s, need-to‘s, and shoulds tend to describe the tasks that weigh on us, those for which we may feel the least energy. They can even evoke negative emotions, such as resentment, dread, or guilt, which drain our energy even more. A simple way to shift our emotional orientation in a positive way is to lean toward gratitude by replacing have to, need to, and should with the words get to. Instead of saying, “I have to prepare for parent-teacher conferences,” try saying, “I get to prepare for parent-teacher conferences.” In the second example, the subtext is about the privilege of parent conferences, rather than about the burden. Appreciation becomes a portal to living in the moment and happiness. You can take this language shift a step further by thinking about all the things you appreciate about meeting with parents, such as having a job or having the opportunity to support students by making a connection to their parents. Although shifting to appreciation can be difficult at first because noticing what we don’t appreciate in a given moment is well practiced for most of us, it gets easier, and appreciation is a worthwhile new habit for the New Year.