Have you ever made a promise or commitment to someone and then backed out? (C’mon, we all have at some point.) The thing is, the subconscious is super smart. When we (subconsciously) want to avoid responsibility, we tend to rely on weaker language, otherwise known as weasel words, which give us more wiggle room in life so that we don’t have to firmly commit – to others or ourselves, ever!
Here are four weasel words that you likely use many times a day without even realizing it:
This is a word that we learn at a very young age. Parents often use it to set boundaries with kids so that they understand the rules of the house. With that said, it can be destructive because it is associated with inability or lack of possibility. As soon as you think it or say it aloud, you put limitations on yourself and create patterns of helplessness. Rather than saying “I can’t” do something, consider that you either 1) don’t know how to, 2) may need some help, or 3) need the proper tools to succeed.
Many people often confuse “need” with “want”, but these two things are distinctly different. A need is something that you must have in order to survive; and a want is something that you desire to have but may or may not be able to obtain. The danger of misusing the word “need” is that you‘re telling your primitive brain that you need something you really desire in order to survive. This behavior pattern can make a person weaker, less creative, and less productive. Be mindful of what you truly need (e.g. food, water, shelter) and think of your wants as nice-to-haves that really don’t affect your ability to survive (and thrive).
Avoiding this word may be a hard habit to break because many of us were taught, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” In this context, trying means not giving up and putting your best foot forward. However, “trying” is sort of an in-between word; it has good intent but it’s still non-committal. So, if someone ask you for a favor or to show up for them somehow, and you say that you’ll try, you’re essentially saving face for the moment but still leaving room for you to break your promise later.
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
What’s defined as “good” or “bad” really comes down to opinion, and between the two, the latter is inherently negative. The thing is, using this black and white label can limit your thinking and make it more difficult to see the bigger picture. Let’s take debt, for example. Many people associate a negative feeling with debt because if you have it then that means that you owe financial assets to someone else. But not all debt is bad. When it’s backed by appreciable assets — such as real estate — you are making a long-term investment will give you more return once you have paid off the mortgage on your home. Student debt is also considered reasonable and even positive because it’s something that you take on to further your professional career, which means you’ll get a return on your investment in the future. Rather than using “good” or “bad”, consider saying “This is more (or less) optimal than that.”
Note that judgment is binary, meaning that we tend to put things in terms of two options – either option A or option B, but not both (e.g. yes/no or good/bad). According to Mark B. Baer, a lawyer that specializes in eliciting empathy for more effective conflict resolution or management:
“When the brain reacts in a binary way, it leads to quick, irrational decisions and action; when a dialogue is engaged between the emotional and rational parts of the brain…. We can come to believe that reality is defined by two mutually exclusive categories….”
A true sign of personal growth is if you’re able to turn binary thinking into discernment – the ability to make decisions, using both the head and heart, and assessing values that are important to you. Discernment is considered to be a virtue; discerning individual are mindful and perhaps walk around with a little more wisdom than those that are quick to make decisions using binary, black and white thinking. Remember this the next time you’re engaged in deep conversation with a friend, family member or coworker 🙂