by Ralph Marston
I remember my dad teaching me the power of language at a very young
age. Not only did my dad understand that specific words affect our
mental pictures, but he understood words are a powerful
programming factor in lifelong success.
One particularly interesting event occurred when I was eight. As a
kid, I was always climbing trees, poles, and literally hanging around
upside down from the rafters of our lake house. So, it came to no
surprise for my dad to find me at the top of a 30-foot tree swinging
back and forth. My little eight-year-old brain didn't realize the tree
could break or I could get hurt. I just thought it was fun to be up so
My older cousin, Tammy, was also in the same tree hanging on the first
big limb, about ten feet below me. Tammy's mother also noticed us at
the exact time my dad did. About that time a huge gust of wind came
over the tree and the tree begin to sway. I remember my dad's voice
over the wind yell, "Bart, Hold on tightly." So I did. The next thing
I know, I heard Tammy screaming at the top of her lungs, laying flat
on the ground. She had fallen out of the tree.
My dad later told me why she fell and I did not. Apparently, when
Tammy's mother felt the gust of wind, she yelled out, "Tammy, don't
fall!" And Tammy did. fall.
My dad then explained to me that the mind has a very difficult time
processing a negative image. In fact, people who rely on internal
pictures cannot see a negative at all. In order for Tammy to process
the command of not falling, her nine-year-old brain had to first
imagine falling, then try to tell the brain not to do what it just
imagined. Whereas, my eight-year-old brain instantly had an internal
image of me hanging on tightly.
This concept is especially useful when you are attempting to break a
habit or set a goal. You can't visualize not doing something. The only
way to properly visualize not doing something is to actually find a
word for what you want to do and visualize that. For example, when I
was thirteen years old, I played for my junior high school football
team. I tried so hard to be good, but I just couldn't get it together
at that age. I remember hearing the words run through my head as I was
running out for a pass, "Don't drop it!" Naturally, I dropped the
My coaches were not skilled enough to teach us proper "self-talk."
They just thought some kids could catch and others couldn't.. I'll
never make it pro, but I'm now a pretty good Sunday afternoon football
player, because all my internal dialogue is positive and encourages me
to win. I wish my dad had coached me playing football instead of just
climbing trees. I might have had a longer football career.
Here is a very easy demonstration to teach your kids and your friends
the power of a toxic vocabulary. Ask them to hold a pen or pencil.
Hand it to them. Now, follow my instructions carefully. Say to them,
"Okay, try to drop the pencil." Observe what they do. Most people
release their hands and watch the pencil hit the floor.. You respond,
"You weren't paying attention. I said TRY to drop the pencil.. Now
please do it again." Most people then pick up the pencil and pretend
to be in excruciating pain while their hand tries but fails to drop
The point is made. If you tell your brain you will "give it a try,"
you are actually telling your brain to fail. I have a "no try" rule in
my house and with everyone I interact with. Either people will do it
or they won't. Either they will be at the party or they won't. I'm
brutal when people attempt to lie to me by using the word try. Do they
think I don't know they are really telegraphing to the world they have
no intention of doing it but they want me to give them brownie points
for pretended effort? You will never hear the words "I'll try" come
out of my mouth unless I'm teaching this concept in a seminar.
If you "try" and do something, your unconscious mind has permission
not to succeed. If I truly can't make a decision I will tell the
truth. "Sorry John. I'm not sure if I will be at your party or not.
I've got an outstanding commitment. If that falls through, I will be
here. Otherwise, I will not. Thanks for the invite."
People respect honesty. So remove the word "try" from your
My dad also told me that psychologists claim it takes seventeen
positive statements to offset one negative statement. I have no
idea if it is true, but the logic holds true. It might take up to seventeen
compliments to offset the emotional damage of one harsh criticism.
These are concepts that are especially useful when raising children.
Ask yourself how many compliments you give yourself daily versus how
many criticisms. Heck, I know you are talking to yourself all day
long. We all have internal voices that give us direction.
So, are you giving yourself the 17:1 ratio or are you shortchanging
yourself with toxic self-talk like, " I'm fat... Nobody will like
me... I'll try this diet... I'm not good enough... I'm so stupid...
I'm broke, etc... etc." If our parents can set a lifetime of
programming with one wrong statement, imagine the kind of programming
you are doing on a daily basis with your own internal dialogue.
Here is a list of Toxic Vocabulary words. Notice when you or other
people use them :
Ø But: Negates any words that are stated before it.
Ø Try: Presupposes failure.
Ø If: Presupposes that you may not.
Ø Might: It does nothing definite. It leaves options for your
Ø Would Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn't
Ø Should Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn't
actually happen (and implies guilt.)
Ø Could Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn't
actually happen but the person tries to take credit as if it did
Ø Can't / Don't: These words force the listener to focus on exactly
the opposite of what you want. This is a classic mistake that parents
and coaches make without knowing the damage of this linguistic error.
* Toxic phrase: "Don't drop the ball!" Likely result: Drops the ball.
Better language: "Catch the ball!"
* Toxic phrase: You are telling yourself "You shouldn't watch so
much television." Likely result: Watches more television. Better
language to yourself: "I have read some where that too much
television, makes people stupid. You might find yourself turning that
TV off and picking up one of those books more often!"
Take a moment to write down all the phrases you use on a daily basis
or any Toxic self-talk that you have noticed yourself using. Write
these phrases down so you will begin to catch yourself as they