Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

What you say and how shapes you and reality

I recently came across a research study about the behavioral effect of two expressions ” I can’t” and ”I don’t” on students. Curiously, those students which were part of the group saying ”I don’t” showed healthier choices than those saying ”I can’t.” The reason for this result is the difference between limitation and choice.

When you say ”I can’t” you focus on a limitation imposed to you. When you say ”I don’t” you focus on a choice and this empowers. But I think it points to a deeper idea.

The things you say, and how you say them, shape your mind and experiences. And produces a powerful influence on how you face your goals.

”There is power in words. What you say is what you get.” (Zig Ziglar, author, and motivational speaker)

In this transformative sense, we shouldn’t waste words, but use them to change our path. You could say – ”I want to write a book to be a writer.” – and never reach your goal because you’re focusing on the result to find your identity. Instead, moving toward the result from who you are would lead you to say- “I am a writer. Books will come as long as I keep writing.”

This is not a matter of belief in what you say to yourself, like a self-confidence attitude. But it is something which produces physical changes to your brain, as argued by neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg and his co-author, communications expert Robert Waldman in their book “Words can change your brain.” They say,

”A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

If we strive to use more positive words in our speech, like “love”, “peace”, “joy”, “relaxed”, we alter our brain and increase the activity in its motivational centers. Words have enough power to change reality. Newberg and Waldman also say that,

”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.

Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will include you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”

A greater awareness of the power of words gives a totally different meaning to the expression ”choose your words wisely.” But the main point is that you have that choice.

I think the best words come from a growth mindset. If you feel empowered by the positive words you say, you not only grow but also those around you and your environment, all part of reality.

The next time you say something, choose the words that shape who you are and want to be.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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