You shape your reality and create possibilities with words, either consciously or unconsciously.
In my previous blog-post, I wrote about how people might place constraints on themselves by using phrases like “I can’t….” in their language. Some of the simple common words that we use automatically have the potential to create better choices or destroy possibilities. I am going to continue this series with another type of potentially self-limiting language.
Black or white thinking
Have you heard others say stuff like: “I am able to pursue my passion only after my children have grown up and are independent”, or they might say: “If I get promoted at work, I won’t have time for my family”?
The above two statements suggest ‘black or white’ thinking, or ‘binary thinking’. You can only have one or the other, meaning “if I choose this, I will lose that”. There is a perception or belief that people are allowed only one option and have to make a choice to give up on the other. That’s one possible way people get stuck because they don’t want to make a decision or don’t know how to. Or they simply want both options.
Some people get analysis-paralysis, tossing the options to and fro. Others might suffer a sense of guilt or resentment that they will be losing something else important when they eventually make a decision.
What if you don’t have to make an ‘either or’ choice? How could you explore the possibilities of having both?
Create possibilities by shifting your language
For example, I have a friend who is struggling with career and family. She enjoys her work despite the long hours. A promotion has been on the table for a while and she has not been able to make the decision to accept it. She believes that a promotion will take time away from her children. The story that she is carrying in her head is this: the promotion is “not good” for her family relationships (which is a core value of hers) and by wanting a promotion, she is a “bad mother” or a “bad wife”. Another part of her wants the promotion badly because achievement and significance are important to her as a person. She has been stuck in this ‘promotion or family’ situation for a while now.
In NLP, there is a process that we can use to explore this stuck situation in a session. As a start, I have asked her to explore these questions repeatedly to change her thought patterns and beliefs: What will be different when you replace the ‘OR’ with ‘AND’? A belief is a thought that you keep thinking about. To change the belief, one of the ways is to change what you are thinking about.
What will happen when you say: “I am able to have both the promotion AND family time”?
What do I have to do to make ‘AND’ happen? For example, to satisfy the ‘AND’ equation, my friend might choose to say ‘No’ to something else in her life, or she might come up with new strategies around how she prioritises her time.
When we ask ourselves an inclusive question like this, it forces us to think of choices and possibilities that satisfy the equation. Our focus of attention starts to shift. We begin to try on new perspectives and explore options that we had previously not considered. We have shaped our reality from ‘OR’ to ‘AND’, from being stuck to creating possibilities. It is like having many colourful doors appearing in front of you (see featured image in this post). It no longer feels like a dead-lock but a “I win” situation.
Try this activity
If you feel that you are experiencing stuck-ness, try this simple exercise of checking if there is unconscious binary thinking in your thoughts and beliefs.
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax. Turn your mind inwards and think about this situation that you are experiencing some deadlock or stuck-ness. Notice the thoughts that float into your mind as you consider the situation. What are these thoughts saying to you? If you see or hear any ‘EITHER, OR” statements in your thoughts, gently replace the ‘OR’ with ‘AND’. Repeat the statement using ‘AND’ and notice how it feels when you say this to yourself. You might have to rephrase the statement so that it makes sense. Gently ask yourself these questions: “What does it look like, sound like or feel like to have this AND that?” “How do I get this AND that?” Notice the energy in your body. Experience all the new possibilities you have invited into your situation with that simple shift in your language.
I am really enjoying writing these short pieces about this topic – it gives me the opportunity to clarify my own thinking about how I have been using language in my life. If you enjoyed this piece, check out my previous post about ‘can’t to can’. I have a few more blog-posts coming up about this topic!
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