Our Language Can Sabotage Our Performance

Do you think the language that we use affects how we think, act and feel? Well it turns out that the things we say can easily help or hinder our performance. We’re not just talking about being positive here, but something inherently deeper. And it all has to do with the one factor that all successful people have: Self-Regulation.

Self-Regulation: the key to success

I am doing some research for a new book on creating the environment for people to thrive.  Along the way, we have been looking at the reasons that people succeed on an individual level and the overwhelming amount of research (as we’re sure most of you will know) points to self-regulation as the common denominator.

What is self-regulation? Glad you asked, because the definitions are pretty vague.  But we can safely say that, broadly, self-regulation involves being able to regulate your behaviours – to stop doing the things you shouldn’t do and also have the discipline to do the things that are best for you, even if it involves some short-term discomfort.

And central to this argument is that we choose our own behaviours, because if we aren’t responsible and accountable for them, then we have no chance of self-regulating.  

What does this have to do with language?

What we say can sabotage our ability to succeed

Think about the language that many people use.  It actually runs counter to these foundations of success.  You hear people use the following phrases mainly when they are feeling out of control.  Here are just a few that come to mind:

“If only I had/did/could…..”

This is really saying “I’d like to be able to do this, but because something isn’t in place for me, it ain’t gonna happen.  So, I might as well just wait until this thing falls into place because then I will be able to perform/succeed.”

A mentor of ours once told us that losers say “if only this happened…I would perform” winners say “only if I do this….will I perform.”

“He makes me angry”

When people say this, they are telling themselves that they are not in control of their emotions.  Think about it….he MAKES me angry. Did he really make you angry? Of course not. He did x, and you got angry.  Big difference. This is disturbing because I hear myself say it to my children sometimes.

“You make me so angry sometimes!” We should say, “When you push your brother down the stairs, I get angry.”  Poor example but you get the picture.

“I have to go to work/the gym/my mother-in-law’s”

You don’t have to do anything.  We used to say this to athletes all the time.  “you don’t have to turn up to training; you don’t have to run this drill……..but if you don’t you have to live with the consequences.”

If we indeed choose all of our behaviours, then you choose to do all of these things.  “I am going to the gym” or “I choose to do this report” would be better options.

“I can’t do it”

This gives you no choice.  If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.  No point in trying anymore. The correct answer would sound like “I don’t know how to do it yet” or even “I don’t know how to do it”.  Even this hints at the fact that you have options – you can learn.

Are these just excuses?

The funny thing is that all of these phrases excuse us from doing our best, in any zones of performance.  The reason we say them is because it makes us feel better about not doing the thing we know we should be doing.  It gives us a reason not to do it.

We all have the ability to self-regulate and therefore the ability to perform at our best in any situation.  Maybe it just starts with the things that we say.

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