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Words Carry Weight

Words are vital to personal growth, recovery and sense of self-worth. It's not only about the words said out loud, but the messages behind the words. Even having those messages in your mind can affect behavior in many situations, years after the messages were implanted. 

In her book Learning to Love Yourself, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruise teachers her readers to recognize some of the "garbage messages" that may have been heard as children, and what is taught through those messages. For example: 

  • "You can do better than that!" (meaning: "What you are doing is not good enough.")
  • "Family business is private business." (meaning: "Don't trust.")
  • "Don't speak unless you're spoken to." (meaning: "Being spontaneous is wrong.")

If you continue to hear those messages or repeat them, it can make you feel bad and unloved, affecting self-esteem and contributing to unhealthy food behaviors. 

On the other hand, there are positive messages that help people feel good about themselves – phrases such as: 

  • "That is a great idea!"
  • "I like you just the way you are."
  • "I'm proud of you." 

Consciously choose to spend more time with supportive people who say these types of things, and also make a habit of saying them to yourself. 

People in 12-step recovery programs often use slogans as a way of reprogramming hurtful self-talk and unhelpful messages. Slogans are short phrases that are easy to remember and can instantly evoke the principles of healthy recovery. There are sample slogans with explanations on this page: 

You can also create your own slogans or mantras. Start by thinking about the values, principles or phrases that you consider important and sacred. Then try on different wordings until you find the ones that feel good. After you've been using them for a while, you may notice that your enthusiasm has faded, or that you've begun saying or thinking the words by rote. If that happens, switch them for some new words in order to stay fresh. 

Also consider which words you want to let go of. For example, we often use violent terminology for everyday activities without even realizing it, such as:  "I'll shoot you an email later." 

Other words may not be violent, but they de-motivate instead of being motivating, such as telling yourself that you need to exercise (exert) or work out (work), instead of inviting more movement into the day. 

Another example is how marketing experts teach business owners to use only positive language in any materials. Instead of, "Please do not hesitate to call me," you'd want to say, "Please feel free to call me." Can you feel the difference? 

Changing your wording is not an overnight project – it takes time and practice. As a much-loved 12-step slogan reminds us, it's about "progress, not perfection."