How Our Words Shape Our Perception

The simple choices that we make every day have a huge effect on our perception of the challenges we face. One of the most powerful choices we make thousands of times a day are the words we use.

These word choices shape our thoughts, and our thoughts shape our actions.

The Power of Our Perception

Ryan Holiday has a fantastic quote from his book The Obstacle is The Way about the role we play in the power of our perception,

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

I’d like to focus on a particular story of the true power of our perception even in the worst situations. It’s a story I pulled from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a top middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide and sentenced to three life sentences. Upon being sent to prison Carter informed the guards and the warden that he would never give up the last thing he controlled, himself.

“Every second of his energy was to be spent on his legal case… They hadn’t ruined his life - they’d just put him somewhere he didn’t deserve to be and he did not intend to stay there. He would learn and read and make the most of the time he had on his hands. He would leave prison not only a free and innocent man, but a better and improved one.” - Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Pursuit of Turning Trials into Triumphs

It took nineteen years and two trials but Carter never gave up. He controlled his perception of the situation and made an obstacle into an opportunity.

Our perception has an enormous impact on the ultimate results of a situation and learning to take control of your perception is one of the most powerful ways to improve your mindset.

For more stories and analysis and to learn how to take control of your perception I encourage you to check out The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Pursuit of Turning Trials into Triumphs by Ryan Holiday

Photo of The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Your Words Control Your Thoughts

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” - Henry David Thoreau

You paint the story in your mind. A challenge in front of you can either be an obstacle destined to slow you down or an opportunity to learn and grow from.

Take control of the story by painting the picture you want to see. You have the power to control your perception.

Photo of a rather absurd painting

Paint the story you want to see, I don’t know exactly what is happening in this painting but I like it.

Taking control of your thoughts can seem daunting, so instead of trying to take control of your entire thought-process focus on the words you are speaking and thinking.

“I Get To” vs. “I Have To”

The power of words on our perception is incredible, and no word-choice has a bigger impact than “I get to” vs. “I have to”.

It shifts our perspective on a task from an obligation that we have to do to an opportunity that we get to do. From thoughts of pain and fear to enjoyment and growth. Here are some examples, feel the shift in perspective as you read them:

I have to do a workout later today - Vs - I get to do a workout today

I have to pick up the kids from school - Vs - I get to pick up the kids from school

I have to finish reading this blog post. Vs. I get to finish reading this blog post, I get to learn more and grow, I get to read the incredible thoughts of Bryden the all-insightful.

Okay, I may have gotten too excited with that last one, but the point stands.

Other Powerful Word Choices

“I Have To” vs “I Choose To”

One other alternative that I’d like to talk about is “I choose to”.

  • I choose to go to the workout.
  • I choose to miss class so I can go to practice.
  • I choose to not go out tonight and study for this test.

Using “choose to” requires you to recognize that you control your life.

“I am in control of what I do in life, I don’t have to do this, I choose to”

“I Am Not/I Can’t” vs. “I Am Not/I Can’t… Yet”

Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their characteristics are set in stone.

When you declare “I am not good at math” or “I can’t hit this lift” you are assuming a fixed mindset. But by adding one simple word to the end of those sentences you can regain control of your mindset.

“I am not good at math… yet” or “I can’t hit this lift… yet”

By adding “yet” you are recognizing that by putting in the work necessary your abilities are fluid and can be changed.

Building the Habit

Building the habit of being intentional with your word choices can be very difficult as we will often not notice when a harmful word choice slips in while we’re speaking.

Enlist Help

The best way to build the habit and recognize when you slip up is to enlist your friends or teammates to call you out when you use “have to” instead of “get to” or make a fixed mindset statement like “I can’t…”.

Having awareness of a fault is the first step to change and there is no quicker way to build awareness than to have someone call you out in public repeatedly. Here at Sled Dog Development Coach Ozzy prides himself on calling me out as many times as possible.

Photo of Myself and Coach Ozzy with a sick mullet

Myself and Coach Ozzy before he cut his hair

Create the Right Environment

Our environment has the greatest impact on the habits we build and who we are. As Jim Rohn noted, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”, so surround yourself with people who are already intentional with their word choices or try to encourage your friends to also adopt intentional word choices themselves.

Negative Reinforcement

Another option is the classic habit-building technique of snapping a rubber band against your wrist whenever you catch yourself not being intentional with your word choices. A simple yet effective negative reinforcement technique.

Conclusion: How Words Influence Our Perception

Our perception has an enormous impact on the outcome of any situation and learning to take control of your perception is one of the most powerful ways to improve your mindset.

The word choices we make daily provide an easy way to take control of our perception of the obstacles we are faced with.

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