More than words
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Back in 1998, I stumbled upon a book that over all these years is still a staple in my library and part of my philosophy.
I was living in San Diego, a 20-something-year-old, mostly single with enough good friends. I had a great apartment in the Mission Valley area, practically next door to what was then Qualcomm Stadium where the Padres and Chargers played. I had a good job and drove my Dad’s hand-me-down but totally amazing Audi 5000CS Turbo. Nearly every Saturday without fail, I would drive up the beautiful coast to my friend’s apartment in the University City area. She’d usually drive from her apartment up the even more beautiful stretch of coast highway to Del Mar where we would go to our favorite coffee shop, Miracles. I’m wondering now if I truly appreciated the name of that place back then. We’d get our coffee and some breakfast treats and spend hours sitting in the southern California sun, looking out at the ocean and just talking about the week, about life, about whatever...
Most days, when we’d finished our coffee, we’d stroll a little around Del Mar with its quaint shops, frequenting one in particular that carried candles, incense, dream catchers, and so much more, including books. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was really my introduction to the world of personal development. I found books like The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto, books on I-Ching and Chakras. These are all still in my library and I pick them up periodically. One book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, had such a profound effect on me from the start. Yet I somehow knew even then that I wasn’t truly ready to receive everything I was reading. This book calls to me now and then, so I pick it up and remember something I’ve perhaps let slip, or find something I hadn’t found before.
The First Agreement in this book is “Be impeccable with your word.” What Don Miguel Ruiz goes on to describe is the importance of having integrity, saying what you truly mean, and using “the power of your words in the direction of truth and love.” If we all adopted even just this one agreement the world would be a vastly different place.
What is so important about the words we use? Maybe everything. We attach meaning to words. While a picture might be worth a thousand words, a single word can conjure an entire vision in our minds, it can trigger a memory, it can drastically alter our state in an instant.
The words we each use have impact in two directions: outward and inward.
What we each say out loud can be heard by anyone around us. This means our family, friends, coworkers, even strangers out in public can absorb these words, whether the words are directed at them or not. You probably have heard the expression “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Maybe you’ve even used it yourself. I think it’s true that words don’t matter at all…. when they’re someone else’s. And when you remember that you can’t control what someone else thinks or says and never, ever have to care what they think or say. Yet it’s so easy to instantly get impacted by what someone else says. Now, if someone says something that you think is totally awesome, like “Great job!” or “I love your shoes!”… ride the wave of positivity. But it takes awareness and energy to deflect negativity, to protect our inner world from the damage others may otherwise inflict. I know that not everyone shares this view, that there are lots of people that get pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions just because of what someone else said, often without even noticing. So if the words I speak can affect others, isn’t it my great responsibility, even privilege, to choose words that empower and uplift others?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.” - Henry Ford
Our inward-directed words, what we say to and about ourselves, I’d argue, is what matters the most. Sometimes these words are out loud, other times they may be silent thoughts. Either way, they have immense impact on our subconscious, which listens very obediently to what it is told. Our brain seeks congruity, creating what we say and believe is true. So if I’m constantly thinking or saying “I’m not smart,” my subconscious is going to influence me to act in ways that a person who is “not smart” would act, which then “proves my point” and reinforces this belief. If I had a friend who constantly told me I wasn’t very smart, would I want to continue being friends with her? Probably not. So why should I say such things to myself! If I say, instead, “I learn from my mistakes,” that triggers my subconscious to look for learning opportunities, which will result in a very different trajectory for me. We all have stories about who we are. I wonder how many stop to look at those stories, evaluate whether they are empowering or disempowering, and decide whether they want to keep them or create new ones.
As I started writing this, I happened to listen to a podcast from last month with Marissa Peer (The Model Health Show, podcast #387). Her message boils down to: “The words you say define what happens to you.” I’m both fascinated and comforted that the same message has come to me, in varying forms, for more than 20 years.
I wonder what you will observe if you pay close attention to what you, and others, are saying for an entire day?