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4 Powerful Vocabulary Shifts that Enhance Performance

Whether you are giving your team (or yourself) a pep talk, words matter. And these four word swaps could help you make the shift from showing up to standing out.

The language we use as managers, with colleagues, and even how we talk to ourselves can significantly impact our motivation, confidence, and ability to perform at our best.  

Negative thinking often comes from a place of fear and self-doubt. At the same time, a positive outlook can empower us to go after what we want bravely and self-assuredly.

In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman explain how simply changing our vocabulary can scientifically change how we think.

“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain.”

In other words, if you say it, you’ll believe it. And if you believe it, you will do it.

Getting over the hump of insecurity can begin with just a few simple changes. If you or someone you know needs a pep talk, try these powerful four word swaps—they could help you make the shift from showing up to standing out.

Swap #1: “I will” to “I am”

Do you live in the future or the now? When you picture yourself and who you are becoming, it helps to live in the present. Say it proudly. This isn’t a “fake it ‘til you make it” scenario. This is training your mind to accept what you already know—that you are a confident, capable, and creative problem solver.

Instead of saying: “One day, I will become VP.” Try this: “I am confident in my abilities and am on track to becoming VP.”

Swap #2: “Should” to “Want to”

Stop “should-ing” on yourself (and others!) and explore how swapping “should” with “want to” could give you more control and ownership of where you place your energy. When you use the word “should,” obligation to someone else is implied. Saying “want” shifts the focus to your desires.

Instead of saying: “I should try reorganizing the team so people are in the right seats.”Try this: “I want to ensure people are in the right seats because it will help boost employee confidence and make our team run more efficiently.”

Swap #3: “Yes” to “No”

Setting boundaries can be the most powerful way to promote and protect your values. So why is it so hard to say no? Well, for starters, “research shows that seeing the word "no" causes the sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain.” But saying yes all the time is a one-way ticket to burnout and resentment. So, how do you effectively say no without feeling bad?

Jeffrey Davis, Founding Director & Chief Consultant of Tracking Wonder, suggests practicing “saying no to the request, not the person.” By explaining why you can’t do something without justifying it, you can show appreciation for the request, set healthy boundaries, and not hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.

Instead of saying: “Yes, I have a lot on my plate, but I’ll figure it out.”Try This: “Thank you for thinking of me; unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth to take this on.”

Swap #4: “But” to “And”

“But” negates the phrase before—is that your intention? More than likely, it’s not, and you’re weakening your sentiment when you misuse it. Maintain a more positive tone by swapping out “but” for “and.” You’ll create a more supportive tone, leading to more productive outcomes.

Instead of saying: "You did a great job, but there were a few mistakes." Try this: “You did a great job, and there are a few areas we can improve on for next time.”

Boost morale by shifting your mindset.

Increasing your performance while decreasing unhelpful stress doesn’t have to be rocket science. It can be as simple as choosing your words.

In the meantime, let me ask you: What word swaps have made a difference in how you handle difficult situations?


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