The power of words is never more evident to me than when I’m working with a client or team and the language turns negative: The boss is difficult. The workloads are unmanageable. The policies are dumb.
Immediately, I see the negative effect that kind of language has on the situation. You see, when you say the boss is difficult or the work is stressful, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Organizational expert Robert Kreitner explains it like this: “We strive to validate our perceptions of reality, no matter how faulty they may be.”
So, if you think the boss is a nightmare, you’ll look for ways to validate that he is, in fact, a nightmare. You say you feel stressed; you’ll find more ways to feel stressed.
In the book Words Can Change Your Brain, authors Newberg and Waldman suggest, “A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” That means, the more you engage in negative thinking and speech, the more your brain generates those kinds of thoughts. It’s a downward spiral that will not only affect your mood and outlook, but will create more stress for you as well. And who needs that?
Let’s look at a couple of common refrains I hear far too often. Once you notice these phrases in your daily speech, you can take action to reframe them to take some stress out of your day. Imagine that—reducing stress just by changing up the way you talk.
1. “I’m Swamped”
This used to be a favorite of mine. Invite me to lunch? Can’t, I’m swamped. Take Friday off? No way, I’m swamped.
But now, I stay away from this one. If I keep saying I’m swamped, then I feel, well, swamped. I’m simply reinforcing the feeling of being overwhelmed, whether I truly am or not.
Instead, stay realistic about your workload—even if it’s a bit overwhelming. Try phrases like, “I’ve got a lot to do right now, but I know I’ll complete it all on time,” “This is a huge project, but if I break it into smaller pieces it’ll be less overwhelming,” or, “There’s a lot on my plate, and I need time away to recharge. Taking Friday off will be good for me.”
2. “I’m So Busy”
I know very few people who feel that they aren’t super busy right now. It’s almost become a badge of honor to proclaim to our colleagues how consumed we are by our important activities.
Surprisingly, it could be your behavior, more than your workload, that’s giving you “busy syndrome.” Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, says our obsession with multitasking is one of the culprits.
When we multitask, we don’t actually do things simultaneously; we switch back and forth between tasks. So, working on an email, while on a phone call, then responding to instant messages that pop up makes you feel far busier than you would be if you managed only one task at a time and gave it your full attention.
When you’re inclined to say, “I’m so busy,” stop and assess what you’re really doing. Are you busy trying to do three things at one time and projecting that on your entire job (or life)? Instead, eliminate the phrase entirely. Start saying to yourself, “I’m not that busy, I’m focused on the one thing I’m doing now”—and then do it.
3. “I Don’t Have Time for That”
The trap of blaming a lack of time for not being able to do something is a common one. In the week ahead, notice how many times you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to deal with [insert dreaded task here].”
Whether your inbox is overflowing or your home office is completely disheveled because you “don’t have time” to organize, stop and think about it. Is it really because you don’t have time?
The reality is we all have the same number of hours in a day. So when you say, “I don’t have time,” you’re really saying that you’ve chosen not to give that activity your time and attention.
Over the next few weeks, change it up. Instead of saying you don’t have time, say, “That’s not a priority for me right now.” Or, “I know that needs to get done, but right now these other three things are more important.” Clearly delineating your priorities puts you in control of your time and to-do list, instead of the other way around.
The fact is, the way you talk about yourself and your workplace has a huge influence on your stress level—and ultimately, your satisfaction. Watch for these three sayings this week, and see how you can change it up, reduce your stress, and relieve some of the pressure.