Words Matter: Change How You Feel by Changing What You Say - Part 2 of The Joyful Life Series
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Remember the saying "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." It turns out there's scientific proof how following this advice, contributes to your well-being.
In Words Can Change Your Brain by Mark Waldman and Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, what we say, has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress. Positive words, such as love, are proven to strengthen areas in the frontal lobes and promote cognitive functioning. However, hostile, negative words disrupt genes that play a part in the production of chemicals that protect us from stress.
Research has shown, the longer you can concentrate on positive words, the more functions in the parietal lobe start to change. This in turn changes your perception of yourself and the people with whom you interact. In other words, a positive view of yourself will bias you towards seeing good in others.
Knowing as humans we are hard-wired to worry and look to the negative (thanks to our primitive reptilian brain designed for self-preservation), I set off to do an experiment for a few weeks to see how I could change my words consistently and how that would make me feel.
In addition to daily meditation practice, here's what I tried:
Identify the Trigger: We all have things that tend to "set us off", sending us towards irritation, frustration and even anger. These emotions tend to be the pre-cursor to verbalizing negative words and sentiments. Identifying the trigger is often the first step to changing an unwanted behavior.
One of my triggers is when I feel my husband doesn't listen to me. This is the one I chose to focus on first; my "target trigger".
Replacement Behavior: With conscious knowledge of the target trigger, it's important to identify an alternative behavior to replace the unwanted behavior. I decided on a positive "catch phrase" to say out loud: "What I appreciate about....". This phrase became my 'go to' statement, inserting something positive at the end of the statement whenever I noticed that I was triggered.
Facial Expressions (Smile): Another fact validated by science: The physical act of smiling makes you feel better. The contraction of the muscles used to smile, fires a signal back to the brain, stimulating the reward system, increasing the level of happy hormones.
I made a concerted effort to smile more. When I was alone, in passing people in the grocery store, and when I was riding my mountain bike. Everywhere.
The results were remarkable. After about a week, I noticed a difference. I authentically felt a deeper appreciation for my husband that I hadn't felt in a while.
Even better, after 2-3 weeks, I noticed an interesting multiplier effect. The ease and happiness I felt translated to other areas without my deliberately identifying a target trigger. Situations that typically irritated me, such as being stuck in traffic, only mildly affected me if at all.
It’s been over a month, and I’m happy to report that I still use my positive catch phrase whenever I feel myself becoming stressed and find myself habitually smiling more, too.
If you decide to give this experiment a try, please share how this worked for you.