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Why I never got on the “gratitude” bandwagon…and the power of words.

“I got you a job in the fish factory…Little Miss Anya it’s time to take your place in life  and in line.  And be grateful”

-Phlegmenkof to Anastasia in the animated film Anastasia.

I love appreciating the simple pleasures in life as much as the next person, often stop to think how fortunate I am to have such supportive and wonderful family, friends and collegues and have recently taken on the practice celebrating successes, large or small on a weekly basis.  All sounds pretty similar to the concept of the gratitude movement right?  And yet there is something about the word grateful that…well…grates on me.

I’m sure it dates back to connotations formed in my childhood.  I don’t think there was any one moment where it happened, but an impression I got from society in general that to voice that you wanted something different to what you got was to be an ungrateful/a horrible person.  I remember my mother lovingly cutting up an apple for my lunch to make it easier to eat. I wished she wouldn’t because the apple would always turn brown and soft.  But I didn’t want to say anything in case that seemed ungrateful.  In retrospect I’m sure she would have been all too pleased not to have to cut and wrap an apple for each of 5 children!  Anyway, now I like to substitute the word gratitude for appreciation, feeling blessed/lucky/fortunate, or celebration.

Hope is a wonderful and entirely positive word right?  Maybe to most people it is.  But I  have been coaching a client whom it turns out the word hope has a disempowering effect on!  She had fallen into a pattern of not fully committing to things she set out to do because she didn’t expect them to work out, and this was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Her approach became to put in a less-than-full effort and then “hope” everything would work out.  For her “hope” came to mean that she had little control over what happened in her life and that she was at the mercy of luck. So instead of “hoping”  she is now “believing/planning for/taking action to ensure” things work out the way she wants them to.

Success coach Emily Williams talks about not using the word “expensive” and instead taking about an item being high-end or quality.  This shifts the feeling of the item being unattainable and difficult to justify buying to being valuable.

I myself never used the word debt in relation to my student loan or mortgage as I see these as good/normal/reasonable investments and “debt” has negative connotations.

So, certain words can trigger certain negative emotions and thought processes.  Some words like “debt” and “expensive” are widely recognised to have negative connotations.  Some such as the examples of “gratitude” and “hope” here are highly personal/individual. The important thing is to become aware of these trigger-words in order to manage your thoughts and move them in a direction that is condusive to achieving the results that you want.  This may involve desensitising/forming new connotations with the word if you wish, or simply substituting the trigger words with other words that invoke a more positive/helpful thought process.

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