I hopped into a friendʹs car after last weekend, and when we were nearly to our destination, I realized I had left my phone at home.
I apologized and then looked out the window, embarrassed. Inside, I was fuming, pissed at myself for causing an inconvenience. I felt the urge to apologize over and over, to say aloud, ʺThat was stupid. I canʹt believe I did that. Iʹm always leaving things. So sorry.ʺ
Had I, my friend would likely have said, ʺDonʹt worry about it. Itʹs no big deal.ʺ And I, of course, would repeat, ʺReally, I canʹt believe I did that. Iʹm sorry.ʺ
But instead of engaging in the runaround, I started to ask myself the point of saying these things over and over again. I had apologized once, the decision to turn around was made, and that was it. I already felt bad—why would I want to perpetuate that feeling by refusing to let it go?
The above scenario is one of many situations in which thereʹs potential to criticize ourselves about things weʹve done, said, or felt. But why do this at all?
Over the last handful of years, Iʹve made feeling good about myself a priority, and I realized that the words and phrases I repeat over and over can have a huge impact on my confidence and happiness. What is a mantra, after all? So, I went on a verbal cleanse, expunging confidence-sapping expressions from my vocabulary. And my sense of capability and overall well-being have never been stronger.
1. ʺIʹm sorry.ʺ
I caught myself saying this all the time. Iʹd run into someone in the grocery store, and Iʹd say, ʺsorry.ʺ A friend would ask for a Band-Aid, and Iʹd say, ʺIʹm sorry. I donʹt have one.ʺ Someone would call, and Iʹd be indisposed and say, ʺIʹm sorry, but I canʹt talk right now.ʺ
At all points of the day, it seemed like I was apologizing for something. At home, I sat on my couch and thought about the circumstances in which I would say, ʺIʹm sorry.ʺ I realized it was more of a reflex than it was connected to an actual feeling of sorrow or regret.
I was using ʺIʹm sorryʺ in place of phrases like ʺexcuse meʺ or ʺpardon.ʺ By using overusing it like this, I was making myself feel bad for no reason. And since Iʹve stopped, Iʹve felt much more confident and self-assured.
Ever since I can remember, there has been a ʺshouldʺ in my life.
I should be studying more. I should be married with kids. I should be more established in my career. And on it goes. The problem with the word ʺshouldʺ is that it passes judgment. It makes it seem like what Iʹm doing at this moment isnʹt good enough. And who says I should be doing all of these things anyway?
By using ʺshould,ʺ I give away my agency over my own choices. So now, instead, I substitute ʺcouldʺ where I would normally say ʺshould.ʺ
I could be married with kids, and Iʹm choosing to do [insert cool activity here].
I could be more established in my career, and Iʹm choosing to [insert goal Iʹm working toward here].
Instead of passing judgment on myself, I try to see where Iʹm putting my energy. Then I can begin to recognize that the reason Iʹm not doing x is because Iʹm (happily) doing y.
3. ʺIʹll let you go.ʺ
In the past, if I was on the phone and ready to hang up, Iʹd say, ʺWell, let me let you go.ʺ
More often than not, Iʹd do this because I needed or wanted to get off the phone but wanted to avoid offending the person on the other end of the line.
But saying ʺIʹll let you goʺ instead of ʺI need to goʺ implies that the other person has something more important to do than talk with me, which reinforces a sense of inadequacy on my part—even if only subconsciously. So, instead of making myself feel less-than, I speak the truth in love and say: ʺI have to get going.ʺ
Paying attention to how you use your words is essential to nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself. Start to notice which words or phrases you use most in your day-to-day communications. Identify the ones that you think could have potentially self-deprecating undertones. Then, try cutting these phrases out—just for a week—and see if you feel better. It worked for me.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your weekly horoscope, then try these three steps to getting out of your own way and finally getting what you want.