Thursday, November 18, 2010

7 Words (or 5)

Years ago, George Carlin did a bit about the 7 words you couldn't say on television.  These words were considered "obscene" or "offensive," and were deemed inappropriate for the 1972 American public.  A radio broadcast led to an FCC complaint, a Supreme Court case, and many complicated "decency" regulations.  Nearly 40 years later, you can hear most of those words on prime time television shows, and far worse if you include cable.  I guess we've got a different sense of decency these days.

Unfortunately, there are other words that are far more obscene: words that we not only hear, but say every day.  We even teach them to our children.  These words are far more offensive, as they crush our dreams, limit our relationships, and destroy our self-esteem.  I wish we could eliminate these words - not from TV or radio, but from our own personal vocabularies.

1. BAD - we use this word so easily, and so often.  We take a simple mistake, an error in judgment, or (most often) a lapse in will power, and label the action - and the actor - bad.  I’m so bad:  I forgot to call her back.  I'm so bad: I haven't worked out in a week.  I was so bad: I had two desserts.  Come on – it’s not like we’ve done something deliberately to hurt anyone (that would be bad).  In reality, what we did (or didn’t do) is so minor that we'd probably laugh about it if our friends said the same thing ... we might even get excited about how good that bad thing really was, and wish we could have done it, too.  But when we do this bad thing, we do hurt someone: we hurt ourselves.  Not by the thing itself, but by our response to it: we judge ourselves so harshly for every imperfection.  Sure, we would like to have done things differently ... and we will have that chance again (probably many times).  But we deem ourselves failures – as friends (for being so overwhelmingly busy), as dieters (for not being perfect in our food/exercise routine), as people.  We beat ourselves up for not living up to the unrealistic ideal that we set for ourselves, and that beating dictates our future actions.  One forgotten phone call, one missed workout, or one extra dessert is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when we label ourselves as bad because of them, we do even more bad things out of guilt and shame.  I blew it – why bother trying now – I knew I couldn't really do this.  I’m a failure.  I’m bad.  I’ve got a better way to look at it: we’re not bad, we’re just … human!

2. CAN'T - Henry Ford once said, "whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."  This is one of my favorite quotes, as it can be applied in so many different aspects of our lives.  Using this word, we set ourselves up for failure by not allowing for even the possibility of success.  I can’t just go up and talk to that cute guy/girl.  I can’t dance.  I can’t get up there and speak in front of a group of people.  I can’t lose weight.  I can’t get that job.  I can’t ask for help.  I can’t stop sabotaging myself.  Here’s my one question to all the things we can’t do: Says who?  We are the only ones who limit ourselves like that.  How do we know we can’t?  What are we basing that on?  Just because something is difficult, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  We can do it; we just have to modify our approach.  Besides, aren’t the best things in life the ones that actually take a little (or a lot of) effort? 

3. DIET - now this is a four-letter-word like no other.  Most of us have gone on some kind of diet at some point in our lives.  We may have lost weight, but we probably gained it back (and then some).  That's exactly what diets are meant to do.  Extreme deprivation may help us achieve extreme results in an extremely short time.  I won’t even get into how unhealthy they are – but that’s ok, ‘cause health isn’t usually our goal when we go on a diet, is it?  A diet might help us get into that dress for that wedding.  But what do we do when we get there?  We eat everything we see, because we haven't had it in so long and it looks sooooo good (realistically, a couple of those things probably do taste good, but most are just ‘there’).   Sometimes, we’re feeling so deprived that we don’t even wait for the wedding – and we cheat on our diet.  Let’s think about that expression.  Cheating = the ultimate betrayal (definitely a bad thing to do) … but who are we betraying?  Only ourselves.  So we have failed at this diet, and the pity party begins (it’s ok, though: those parties always have the best bad food).  We’ve got to find healthier alternatives.

4. SHOULD - this is how we describe all the things we don't want to do.  I should quit smoking.  I should lose weight.  I should study for that test.  I should apologize for that thing I said.  The problem is that should is just the beginning of the sentence.  Completed, it's really I should ... but I won't.  We can always find a reason not to do the things we should: because we don't want to.  What we’ve got to do is focus more on why we feel like we should do that thing that we really don’t want to do.  What’s in it for us?  Usually it’s something good, or we wouldn’t be feeling like we should do it.  If we focus on what we’ll get out of it (health, success, forgiveness), we might see that it’s worth a little discomfort or struggle.  Likewise, SHOULD’VE is just a way for us to focus on regret.  I should’ve planned better.  I should’ve told the truth.  I should’ve stopped after that first dessert.  But I didn’t, so that makes me bad.  The thing is, we can’t change the past.  We can’t undo it, but we can learn from it.  This is the time to ask questions.  Is it too late to do it now?  What was the result of not doing it?  This is not a time to wallow in shame, but to reflect and plan for a better tomorrow.  Is there anything we can do to make things better now?  Will we ever be in a similar situation in the future?  What can we do differently next time?  Next time you catch yourself talking about what you should do, do it.  When you think about what you should’ve done, know that you will do better next time.

5. TRY - even Yoda knew this one: "Do or do not; there is no try."  Think about what happens when you talk to people about any achievement.  Those who are successful will tell you proudly what they did.  Those who feel like failures will tell you sadly that they tried.  Do you know anyone who has tried to quit smoking?  How many cigarettes does s/he still smoke today?   Anytime we say we are going to try something, we are giving ourselves that out.  We are saying that not only is it OK for us to fail, but it is expected.  We may console ourselves, saying that we’ll try harder next time … but again, we’re telling ourselves it won’t work.  Not only that, but it will be even harder next time (we just declared that) … so then we’ll say we should’ve known better, and conclude that we can’t ever achieve our goals. Perhaps we’d be better off if we listened to the Jedi Master.

If only we could stop using these debilitating words, we'd see that we are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.  We can do anything we set our minds to, if we just stop trying.  We just have to focus on the good - in the idea, and in ourselves.  It's not always easy, but hey - we're worth it.

If you like what you read, tell a friend!  Actually, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If not, well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!