Cut These 20 Negative Words from Your Life and Be Instantly Happier
Ditch these surprisingly toxic words right now—the impact it'll have on your life will shock you.
The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is not exactly true. In fact, words can have a huge effect on you, from influencing your self-esteem to messing with your productivity and outlook on life. And while you can't change the words others say to you, you can refrain from using negative words in your own vocabulary.
"Words cannot change reality, but they can change how people perceive reality," Jack Schafer, PhD, wrote for Psychology Today. "They create filters through which people view the world around them."
The phenomenon is recognized by psychologists as the "illusion of truth" effect. That is, if you're exposed to something often enough, it becomes your reality. Because of that, it's important to be deliberate about the words you use. And if you cut the ones below from your vocabulary, we guarantee that it'll have a positive impact on your life. And for more amazing ways of boosting your mood, check out these 30 Super Effective Positive Affirmations You Can Use Every Day.
"Worthless" is one word that you should cut out immediately, says lifestyle expert CJ Legare.
"Today was worthless. Those calories were worthless. I'm worthless. There's such an ugly finality to that brutal condemnation," she explains. "When we proclaim someone or something as being worthless, we're throwing away anything that doesn't feel good—which negates the inherent value of living every moment of our life."
"Lazy" is a word many people use to negatively describe themselves or others, and it may be more prevalent in your thoughts and speech since the coronavirus pandemic began. Amy Hartle, relationship expert at Two Drifters, says that people "perceive lazy as being in opposition to achievement and success." However, taking time for yourself is not a negative thing.
"I would challenge people to eliminate the word 'lazy' from their vocabulary and instead reframe this feeling in another way," she says. "Consider what moving more slowly and deliberately is doing for you in a positive way. Perhaps it's not laziness, but mindfulness." And for more ways to feel positive during this time, check out these 11 Expert-Backed Ways to Manage Your Mental Health While Self-Isolating.
According to Laurie Richards, public speaker and co-author of Ready, Set, Go!, the word "can't" suggests a lack of control. Instead, she recommends people swap this word out with phrases like, "I'm choosing not to," or "It's better if I don't," to allow themselves to feel a sense of control in choosing, instead of placing a limitation on themselves.
Sharryn Gardner, paediatric A&E consultant, says using the word "but" in the middle of speaking negatively reflects on whatever else you said before. So instead of using this word that has a "negating and judging" character, Gardner says it can almost always be replaced by the word "and." For more about the English language, check out the 40 Facts About Words That Will Blow Your Mind.
The same goes with "or," says Michelle Pargman, LMHC, a mental health counselor based in Florida. It can also be replaced with "and."
"Simple tweaks in the words we use can cultivate gratitude and positive feeling in general," she explains. "We tend to think in all or nothing terms. The word 'and' demonstrates acceptance that things could be good and bad at the same time."
Making decisions isn't always easy. However, consistent use of the word "maybe" could be making you more insecure, says Samantha Moss, content ambassador for Romantific, a dating guide.
"Being indecisive and saying 'maybe' most of the time must be cut out of your vocabulary," she says. "This is to force you to be confident about your decisions and learn to stand [your] ground." And for more tips about thinking positive, check out Learn How to Be Happy: Avoid These 19 Things Happy People Never Do.
"Hate" is a word that you almost never need.
"Such a strongly negative word tends to trigger mild feelings to become worse, and the extremist stance can be off-putting to other people," says Patricia Celan, MD, psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada. "Move your thinking away from what you don't like; briefly acknowledge that those thoughts exist and are valid, but don't dwell on them. Instead, dwell on a positive thought. Not, 'I hate rain,' but 'I like sunny days.'"
Celan also recommends removing the word "should" from your vocabulary. She says this word not only puts a lot of expectation and pressure on you but also on others. She also points out that it's often "connected with perfectionism, controlling behavior, or anxiety." And for more ways to feel better about yourself, check out the 23 Things Successful People Never Do.
According to Vindy Teja, LLB, speaker and professional life coach, the word "always" is rarely accurate, as almost nothing is always the case.
"When used personally, it can be self-defeating, self-sabotaging or self-pitying," she says. (Think: "I'm always late.") "When used to describe someone else's behavior, it often sounds accusatory or argumentative, and opens the door to criticism about inaccuracies."
For the most part, people use "only" in a negative way, even if they don't realize, says Teja. When it's not used as an adverb to mean recently, it's usually being used to "minimize your efforts and communicate low self-esteem." She uses the example of someone winning a scholarship. Instead of saying, "I won a scholarship," a person might minimize their accomplishment by saying something like, "I only got one scholarship." Notice how framing matters here.
Many people use the word "busy" to try to convince the world of how successful they are, says Hope Zvara, lifestyle expert and CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga. However, when people stress how busy they are, Zvara says, they're actually pushing away "new business, new opportunities, new relationships, as well as new people, places, and things."
According to Katherine Bihlmeier, life coach and public speaker, while some people don't intend to be negative by using the word "trying," it usually comes across as defeated, nevertheless.
"This word doesn't have the same energy and determination as, 'I'm doing it,'" she says. "Trying' already implies failure, doubt, the uncertainty of the outcome, and the probability of not making it. It doesn't at all reflect the intention of truly setting out to accomplish the task you're about to do."
Using the word "just" can be harmful, according to Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, owner of Undefining Motherhood, an educational advocacy website for parenting women.
"It's what I call a 'hedging' phrase because it hedges your bets," she says. "The word 'just' suggests that you're not confident with the statement you're making or question you're asking, and thus undermines your authority."
Sherrie Dunlevy, public speaker and author of How Can I Help?, challenges people to eliminate the word "problem" from their vocabulary. She says that using this word makes you feel heavy, as if you have a burden. Instead, she says to replace the word with "challenge," which sets your mind up to look for a solution—making you "proactive instead of reactive."
The word "ugly" is one of the most negative words in the English language, says lifestyle expert and writer Samantha Warren.
"You should never use this word to describe yourself or anyone else," she says. "Being excessively critical of other people or yourself attracts negative energy. It's important to focus on the good in yourself, other people, and the world."
Using the word "perfect" also sets you up for disappointment and negativity, Warren says. Since perfection is not an attainable thing, banning this word from your vocabulary helps you feel better about yourself and your achievements. After all, Warren says, "Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity."
The word "stuck" implies that there's no room for growth forward or reflection towards your past. Kelley Vargo, MPH, practicum coordinator and academic advisor at The George Washington University, says that you should never see yourself as "stuck" within a situation. Instead, see your circumstances as offering "time to reflect," and an opportunity to "choose your next path."
Alongside "can't," Richards also recommends removing the word "won't" from your vocabulary.
"This word feels too final for me," she says. "Instead, I like to believe I'm flexible and open to learning and navigating. To remove the finality and limitation of the word 'won't,' I use 'for now' or "until I see a better option.'"
This word may be one that people see as neutral, but Hannah Milton, a mindfulness teacher with a background in psychology, says that removing this word from her vocabulary has actually allowed her to have a more positive mindset every day.
"If I have a poor night's sleep, my natural instinct is to tell everyone about it, carrying it through my day. What this was doing, though, was keeping the thought, 'I am tired,' securely front of mind," she explains. "And because our thoughts, emotions, and body all fuel one another, this made me feel even more tired. Since banning the word, I've noticed a significant decrease in the impact a poor night's sleep has on my day."
You may not succeed at a task, but neither you nor the task are a "failure," says Sheri Marcantuono, life coach and owner of Lotus Wood Journey LLC. Instead, you might have obstacles in your way that have caused you not to succeed at this exact moment.
"When you call yourself 'a failure,' you have to ask, 'What am I doing that causes me to feel bad about myself?' Are you doing too many things at one time? Are you trying to be like someone else? Do you need approval from others?" she explains. "Understand that you are enough, and one situation at a time will lead to success."