Watch Your Language - Christine Kane

Recently, I was in a car with the promoter of one of my performances. He had picked me up at the airport and was driving me to my hotel. On the way, we talked about guitars. We got onto the subject of Olson Guitars, arguably the best guitar in the whole world. At one point, the promoter said, “Yea, well, in my entire life I’ll never own an Olson guitar.”

Many years ago, I’d probably let a remark like this slide on by, even adding my own “me either” to the mix.

Now, I can’t. Yoda steps into my head and says, (in a very Yoda-like voice) “So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done.”

So, I turned to the promoter and said, “You are NOT allowed to say that!”

This is because I know the power of language. When you know that words become things and that words create worlds, it’s hard to let language slide.

At the retreats I facilitate, I am constantly asking the women to re-word something they just said. By the third day, the women cast sideways glances at me when they know they’ve said something negative about themselves.

I can’t help it. I have a philosophy that friends don’t let friends speak crappily. Language is powerful. Words can create reality. Even if my promoter friend doesn’t know how on earth he’d ever get an Olson Guitar, it doesn’t mean he should cut off the possibility with his own words.

So, this is a reminder post. I know, from personal experience, how easy it is to slip back into old patterns of language. I know how easy it is to give little credence to the power of words.

So, here are 8 practical language principles for anyone who wants to be a better creator of her life.

1 – Eliminate “never” and “always.”

Never and always are words of hysteria. “I always screw everything up!” “I’ll never figure this out!” “I’ll never get an Olson Guitar.”

First off, it’s not true. If you always screwed everything up, you wouldn’t have made it out of the womb.

And second off, extreme words are designed to hook you. It’s just your emotions taking a joyride. You’re more powerful than that.

2 – Use AND instead of BUT.

“But” dismisses the statement before it. “And” includes it. For instance, “That’s a good article, but it needs some editing” isn’t nearly as encouraging as “That’s a good article, AND it needs some editing.” “I love you, but…” is another great example of the dismissive power of “but.”

3 – Avoid “Should.”

Should is a crappy word for many reasons. It is victim-speak. It disempowers its object. It negates desires, thereby making it harder to make choices. It adds a nebulous illusory energy to the decision making process. Use empowering language instead: “I could…” “I would…” “I am choosing to,” “I would like to,” “I don’t want to,” or “You might consider…”

4 – Stop calling yourself depressed.

Also stop allowing anyone to tell you that you are depressed. When you call yourself “depressed” or “obsessive compulsive” or “ADHD” or whatever – you’re claiming this thing. You’re calling it forth with the most powerful two words in our language: “I am.” That creates very little option for the transformation of this condition.

A friend of mine told me that she loved that I never called her depressed. I’m the only person who had refused that word to describe her. It helped her to get off anti-depressants.

Another friend of mine has challenged me to stop calling myself a Four on the enneagram. She reminded me that the study of the enneagram is to reveal the essence of who we really are – and that we are not our number. She told me to stop defaulting into “I’m a four” when I get triggered.

5 – Delete the word “hate” from your vocabulary.

“Hate” has lots of energy. When you use it, you send lots of energy out into the very thing you “hate.” Even if it’s negative energy, it’s still a powerful force, adding its charge to that thing. You’re also depleting this energy from your own spirit as you say it.

6 – Go Complaint-Free.

7 – Be “great.” Or “wonderful.”

A disease of the artist temperament is a belief that we must be authentic at all costs. And so we can’t answer a simple “How are you?” without delving into an in-depth scan of our emotional temperature.

Try this instead: When people ask you how you’re doing, just say “I’m great!” I used to think if I told people I’m great, I had better have a damn good reason for saying it, like I just won the lottery or something. I thought it would make me look suspicious, and people would start to wonder if something was wrong with me. But then I did it. And you know what? Most people don’t really care why you’re great. You’re saying it for you.

8 – Pay attention to the music of your speech.

You know how some people? They talk in question marks? And you have no idea why? But it makes you think you shouldn’t really rely on them? And it makes you not want to hire them?

The music of your language says a lot about you. If you let your sentences droop like Eeyore, (“Thanks for noticing me.”) or if you do the uncertain question mark language, take note of what attitudes are causing this. These patterns are created for a reason. Even if it feels like faking it at first, generate confidence as you speak.

  • SecondHand Karl

    OK, this is the second post I’ve read of yours tonight. I’m going through a major shift in my life, thanks to my Year of Resolutions idea. Trying to move from jaded cynic to, well, happy. (Which never seemed feasible to me before.)

    I’m just sad that I’m a dude and can’t go to that retreat because you actually make SENSE. And you communicate at an amazing level, which I dig. Still, I’m reading this stuff at a perfect time, I guess, and I’m glad someone pointed me your way.

    Just don’t tell anyone I’ve been here, or I’ll lose my Half Empty Glass License.

  • Babyamore (Trish)

    oh no I just a whole post on Never … a head and tails meme
    I think this advice rocks !

  • ChickiePam

    I am re-painting my children’s bedrooms. When I paint, I take out my trusty paint brush and the wall paint and I write on the walls first. I write things like love, joy, peace, contentment, Rinnie rocks, Doug rocks, I am beauty, grace, etc. Then when I paint over the words, I envision embedding them into the walls (as opposed to erasing them). My version of love and gratitude stickers on my teenagers!

  • Christine Kane

    lisa – what you’re describing is exactly what i’m getting at here – the difference on the INSIDE of acknowledging something, versus using it as a jump off point in conversations or whatever. it’s a very different energy!

    thanks pam and lisa!

    helen – what i actually favor is a holistic approach. (which is why i resisted medicine. i seemed to focus only on the symptom.) this is just one of the tactics that helped me along the way.

    hiya liz! that’s so true about finding out what you’re thinking by listening to what you’re saying…

  • Liz Strauss

    Hey Christine,
    So true, every word in the post and the comments from the group. When we change the words, we can change our world view in just a second. I often listen to the words I use to track what phrases are coming up a lot. Then I know, what I’m really thinking. 🙂

  • Helen

    Thanks for your kind answer, Christine. 🙂

    Maybe I didn’t understand the “no complaining” idea properly. I have been badly depressed and one of the things that helped me out was meditation ; allowing all ideas even negative ones to emerge and then letting them go as bubbles touched by a light feather. Another one was to learn to take the time to untangle the real emotion under the “this sucks” first reaction and try to express it as “I feel… “. Other recipes included not going to bed before I had managed to do at least one nice thing for me or found one positive thing in my life (a flower, a sunset, a chocolate, a poem…). I wrote a lot too, splashing whatever words would come into a secret diary, trying not to censure myself. However, I thought when I read about the “no complaining” campaign that it would somehow mean giving up therapies such as psychoanalysis ; what do you tell your shrink if you don’t complain anymore ? 🙂

    Coming from a family with a history a depression and manic depression, I understand why a lot of people refuse medication. But I also know you can spare yourself a painful crisis thanks to sensible medication. It is all a matter of “middle path” in my view. And once you know your weaknesses you are surely stronger.

    Maybe I feel troubled because you favour a “behaviourist” approach to healing whereas I feel more confident with other healing recipes -in that, we reflect what is going on in our respective countries, but it’s very good for me, it makes me think

    Anyways, sincere congratulations to all the complaint free goers ! 🙂

  • Lisa Natoli

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!! OMG. I totally love it. You are an inspiration. Thank you!!!!

  • ChickiePam

    To katherine/me: Your comment about taping your kids with “love and gratitude” cracked me up!!! I’m still chuckling and I read all of the comments after yours. I have one child/young man leaving teenagehood and my daughter is just entering teenagehood. I wonder if I slathered them with love and gratitude stickers if they would stop rolling their eyes at me for just one day?! Ha! No, I’m not complaining! I’m just speculating and laughing! Thanks.

  • Lisa

    Stop calling myself depressed. May I just say, in all my years of trying to own the depression that I battle and call attention to it to other so that it is not such a stigma, *no one* has ever made such a simply powerful statement. I thank you for that. It gives me a focus I have never had before. It gives me a focus I feel I need. I think there is a difference between acknowledging something realistically and acknowledging something so that it has a power over you. I have focussed on the latter. It is refreshing to know that there is another way. I thank you for that realization and, as always, your music.

  • Christine Kane

    helen – (you get your very own box 🙂 )

    first off, thanks for your courage in disagreeing here. that’s completely fine. here’s one thing to think about: not complaining is not about not expressing preferences. there’s a difference between saying, “I didn’t like that movie. I don’t think I’ll see the sequel with you.” and saying “That movie sucked. They should string that guy up by his toes for being such a moron. How did it win an Academy Award?” I think it’s more about the energy we use and not about being “in denial.” It sounds like you’re coming out of the “just put a happy face on it” place and recognizing your own “voice.” that’s a powerful place in which to find yourself. and i applaud that process. i believe you can go through that process without the “energy” of complaining. and i don’t think you uttered a single complaint in your comment.

    and as for emotional issues and biology – i understand your point. but i was someone who was labelled “depressed” for many years in my 20’s – even manic. I was told time and time again to go on prozac and other drugs. i never opted to take that route. yes, it was hard. and i’m not claiming to be a hero or anything – but here’s the thing: when i stopped discussing depression and calling myself depressed to anyone who would listen – i actually became happier over time. perhaps it was that all of this coincides with eating better and letting go of certain habits – but i think all of that is connected. this is why i wrote about #4. if someone else opts to use anti-depressants and call themselves depressed, that’s their choice. i like to be able to be the story of someone who said no to that option. and believe me, i still have friends who i talk to about emotional issues, etc. i don’t feel like I’m repressing anything.


  • Christine Kane

    thanks everyone for your comments. i’ve read them all – but since I’ve gotten backed up here, I’m going to respond to the few that had questions or disagreements!

    bill – you know you COULD’VE just stayed quiet and no one would know it was you. get the “trilogy” flavored Kombucha. I’ve tried them all – and that is, hands down, the best one.

    tom – i’ll admit that i read “nowhere.” though – now here isn’t quite how we’d all say it anyway! here now – that’s what i’d say. so maybe i’ll forgive myself on that! 🙂

    michelle – just a quick aside – i’m really not advising that anyone “become a better person.” that brings up all kinds of stuff for people. this is really about becoming more conscious or more aware of your own power. it actually is kind of selfish – and in essence you probably become a “better” person – but not in the way that implies guilt for not being “nice.” does that make sense?

  • Helen

    I have to say that you have nice ideas but in my view they don’t always work. Let’s take point 4 ; emotional disorders have biological and sometimes genetic roots. Though I agree it’s a good idea to be aware that you are always changing, refusing to face the fact that you have a certain condition, is in fact denial. In certain cases, at certain times, you simply have to take your medication.

    Also your point 6 makes me feel miserable. This is because I am now at a point in my life where, after playing the nice tough no complaint lady who found excuses to everybody for years, it has been of the uttermost urgency for me to face my “dark” side and to admit that I don’t like this or that, that this or that makes me sad or angry. It doesn’t mean this or that “sucks” in general, it simply means that as I am at the moment of speech I don’t like this or that. You may say that I am complaining. Maybe I am. But for me it’s exploring my true feelings, positive and negative. However, I try to do this with humour and gentleness in order not to overload others with my feelings. Therefore your no complaint campaign troubles me.

    A nice day to all 🙂

  • Michelle

    With ever post I take a deeper breath and become more grounded in myself – thank you for that. I wish I could remember to incorporate all of your “being a better person suggestions” but I try to do as many as I can in a day. That alone is a huge step for me. Thank you 100 times over.

  • Katherine/ME

    Influenced by the book, “the Hidden Messages in Water”, I have taped to my water glass, my britta water jug and under various places where glasses of water may be, “Love and Gratitude”.
    Yeah, people think I am nuts…I don’t live in Asheville!

    So, I have an apprecition for the power of words. That being said, I still get a chuckle when I remember my sweet little girl saying without a trace of passion in her soft, innocent voice, “I hate that”. Oh, I am sure I said the right mommy thing because that is the kind of thing I would do. She stopped saying it. I feel like her words still put out an energy and it was seriouly dilluted by her lovely pure light of being a little girl. However, now I believe she uses it more appropriately as a fourteen year old, with paaaasion!
    Recenty, I heard the suggestion to say to your children, “please don’t say that, it hurts the universe”. My children are 17 and 14. I tried it on them. they laaaaughed.
    Maybe I will tape to them the words “love and gratitude”.

  • Rebecca

    I always tell myself “remember to ….” rather than “don’t forget…” it seems that I always remember when I speak to myself that way.

  • Tom Heck

    Hi Christine — I’m a fellow resident of Asheville. A friend sent me the link to this post saying “I bet you’ll like this” and I do. It’s nice having a friend who recognizes my being in alignment with your message here.

    We (my wife and I) have two children (ages 4 and 8) and all of us work on using language consciously. Changing things like “I don’t know” to “I choose to know”. And here’s one I learned from the works of St. Francis of Assisi – – changing “I feel sick” to “My body feels sick”. St. Francis making the distinction that I am not my body. My body is a temporary vessel for my soul but my body is not me.

    About the power of words and what we see in them (experience in them) – – try this one:


    How many will see this: Opportunity Is No Where

    Or, perhaps more importantly, how many will see this: Opportunity is Now Here

    It’s the same combination of letters. The all powerful variable is the person viewing the letters. A subtle and important shift that will decide how you experience your day and perhaps your life.

  • Nancy

    Thanks Christine! I love this post! Particularly #8 – you are so insightful and clever and crack me up sometimes. AND at the same time you inspire me to pay better attention to the little things I would like to acquire as better habits.

    You are a blessing.


  • bill green

    Now, I know how your hubby feels, I hope I don’t become a “stage story” 🙂
    Your words are very helpful, in fact I will call Jim Olsen today and order my guitar. . .Oh by the way, thanks for the Kombutcha, I’ve been drinking it for five days and my blood pressure has dropped significantly. Very cool stuff (but yucky tasting.

  • Mindi

    This is an excellent post!

    A lot of this really resonated with me. I stopped using “hate” back in high school, probably because when I went to my fundamentalist bible summer camp, one wise woman said to me “only the devil uses the word hate.” Though I rejected most of what I learned there, that has stuck with me.

    When I first brought my husband (then my boyfriend) home to meet my mom, we were playing the game Trivial Pursuit. Whenever I would answer a question, my husband would get a little frustrated because I would answer it with a question. He said to me, “Always answer with confidence, even if it is a guess.” My mom was impressed! My husband has worked as a mentor with children and youth and he often encourages young girls to answer with confidence, because we are trained so early on to think we may not be right, we need to hide our intelligence, etc. and young boys are often encouraged in the opposite way.

    I’m still learning, but I know now when I play Trivial Pursuit to answer with confidence, and even when answering Jeopardy you can do it with confidence, too! 🙂

  • lisa

    Well Christine, more words to live by. Thanks. I always take something away from your blog. I haven’t been going complaint-free exactly and I still slip into colluding, but I’m trying, I’m noticing and I’m aware. It helps to change behaviors.

  • amypalko

    I’ve been lurking for a while, Christine, but (or should I say ‘and’ ;-)) this post has drawn me out of the woodwork. I so strongly believe in the power of words and the way that we use them in everyday discourse. I have 3 kids aged 9,8 and 6, and I have made it a point to encourage positive language, which includes not saying ‘hate’, ‘never’ and ‘always’. I hadn’t thought about ‘should’ but it makes perfect sense to me. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the post, and thanks for your blog. I so enjoy reading it 🙂

  • Christine Kane

    thanks sue and danny!

    r.m. – i’m interested to hear how it goes the first few times you change this habit… it’s a great practice – and it’ll actually shift your mood.

    sylvia – women and their bodies – that’s a big one for this kind of stuff. good for you!

    thanks bjorgvin!

  • Christine Kane

    colin – you could start your own blog called ‘like totally dude.” or something like that. 🙂

    thanks ren – yes, i used to say – if anyone else talked to me like i do – i wouldn’t be friends with them!

    yay mary – i’m glad to hear about the fires. i can’t even imagine. we’ll get right on that bumpersticker idea! 🙂

    thanks lucy – that’s quite a compliment!

  • Björgvin

    Thanks for the great article. It sparked that little bit inside of me needed to get me writing another blog-post. I was completely blank and this article was the first thing I read on my google reader, so it kind of made me write a blog post of my own about similar topics.
    Too bad you wouldn´t be able to understand it..

    But thank you for your blog. It´s always a good read.

  • Sylvia C.

    Super post….great reminders!

    I have this theory that I never say anything negative about my body! It only attracts attention to that area.

    I recommend trying it! And, now, I will try your great tips in the many other areas of my life!


    Sylvia C.

  • Brad

    Excellent article Christine! Sorry I missed you when you were in Utah…I was celebrating my son’s birthday that night. Hope you had a good visit.

  • connie

    Thanks for the superb reminder! Saying that you are Great sometimes shocks people because they are used to the automatic, fine, thank you! I often say I’m great and then say I hope you are too. By the way, I am not a four but definately a six (sixes frequently think they are fours) Lucky me, I slipped up on the complaint free 35 days and have an opportunity to practice more! I so enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  • R. M. Koske

    Wow, great post. I’m really going to have to work on number four. Discovering that I wasn’t just tired all the time for no reason was a relief, and (perhaps surprisingly) depression was a foe I could fight, unlike the nebulous fatigue that nothing helped. Changing the way I talk to myself about it is going to be a challenge.

    Number six really means a lot to me, too. Back when I was tired all the time for no reason, I felt like I couldn’t possibly lie to someone when they asked me how I was, so I answered, “A little tired,” and got scolded by various people because I couldn’t possibly be TIRED, I was YOUNG! Argh. Thanks for the permission to “lie.”

    I think this post will have to get printed out for my growth notebook.

  • Danny

    Thanks for sharing! I have self-talks with myself on this very topic all the time, and it certainly helps keep me on track.

    Bart Baggett has a very good article (actually an excerpt from one of his books) on this same topic. He calls it toxic language. It adds a few more twists to further reinforce the things you wrote.

  • sue

    This is great! It also compliments the practice of not complaining beautifully.
    I am going to REALLY use this when I speak to my kids and help them truly articulate their feelings and thoughts productively and in a forward-thinking manner. Thanks Christine!

  • Lucy

    Christine, I think you’re a great writer. You are able to take a potentially mushy, touchy-feely message/thought/idea and make it down-to-earth, “relatable” and powerful, even to a sometimes-cynic like me. If I were to describe your writing with just a few words, I’d say: funny, simple (not easy, but distilled, if that makes sense), strong. Thank you! 🙂

  • Mary

    “Friends don’t let friends speak crappily”

    Aside from the fact that crappily is a wonderful word in and of itself, this is a great message for a bumper sticker, a bulletin board, a Post-It note….or to simply integrate into our speech and our hearts.
    Mary in San Diego..where the fires are finally out and we are all in awe of the love and support of our community

  • Ren

    This is one of the first things I advise people to change when I do my creativity talks/workshops. We write down some negative messages we tell ourselves and have a “burning bowl” ceremony to dispose of them. I then pass around positive affirmations for everyone to take home. A reminder to talk kindly and lovingly to ourselves.
    Many people don’t realize that they say things to themselves they’d NEVER dream of saying to another human. It’s almost second nature in adults. We catch each other in our home….remind each other to treat not only others, but ourselves with great kindness.
    Great post!

  • Colin

    First of all, I love the word “nebulous”. Also, Michelle Verbeeck, if you read this, understanding the power of words when raising children is one of the most underestimated tools for helping children develop an articulation of emotional and cognative fine-points that there is: well done. And, the basic component for that understanding is a comprehensive vocabulary and speaking skill that is not dependent on ending a declaritive sentence with a question mark pattern, the use of “like” every other word, “totally”, in other words, nebulous, inarticulate subjective meaning…you get the idea (suggest C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man”). And as Christine says, clean up the self-mutilating language. Nice post and comments, everyone!
    Fr. Colin

  • Christine Kane

    thanks so much, michelle! (and i’m trying to teach my mom about the power of her words and thoughts as she takes care of my dad after he had a stroke!)

    hi caren – i’ll go check out tim gunn. (hey, if he’s worthy of a big long sighhhh – then he must be good!)

  • Caren

    What a wonderful reminder! The last point brought to mind something I learned recently by watching Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style (sighhhh…. I love Tim Gunn!): if you stand straight and walk confidently, not only will people’s perception of you be positive, but you’ll feel better about yourself. It’s so true! I always get many more smiles if I walk confidently through the grocery store, than if I slouch through, trying to be unseen. I’m not invisible! So why not make a positive impression?

    We just had a *great* discussion about “should” on an unschooling e-mail list I’m on. I’ll pass your wisdom on to the list!

  • Michelle Verbeeck

    the phrase you are what you eat, well we all know thats is true. But so is you are what you speak! I love reading your blog, it serves to remind me of the small things I need to keep paying attention to so that I can keep making my days better. I am currently trying to teach my daughter who recently became a new mom about the power of her words and thoughts, I know from past experience that it makes such a difference. This is one of my favorite blogs to read!!!

  • Christine Kane

    thanks everyone! and marilyn, my friends and i do that same thing with each other: “Is that what you want to put out there into the world?” it works – and it’s gentle. and as far as the catching colds idea — i don’t like saying it because it means that I’m wandering around just freely picking up whatever is floating in the wind. i don’t believe it works that way – unless you open yourself to it!

  • Marilyn

    Excellent list. My mother and I have a thing we gently say to each other or to others: You might not want to affirm that. I was thinking about this very subject yesterday because I woke up with a cold (which completely caught me by surprise–I’m seldom sick). I started thinking about the language we use around colds. We say I’m CATCHING a cold…I’ve CAUGHT a cold (which means the first one worked)…I HAVE a cold. I’m laughing at Laine’s comment, because I’ve often said: I rarely catch colds BUT I do HAVE allergies. I’m going to stop saying that! 🙂

  • MindFul MiMi

    Hi there,
    stumbled upon your blog via The Clearing Space. Great site and powerful insight. Some of my posts go in a similar direction.
    Will be back for some more reading and advice soon.

  • Laine

    That’s why I never say I have allergies. Sometimes my nose runs a little, sometimes I sneeze, sometimes I take an antihistamine, but I don’t have allergies.

  • elaine1

    Cool practical language tips I ‘should’ try them out!!! I…I mean I will try them out!!! Thanks 😉

  • Stacey

    Scott Noelle, on his Daily Groove, recently wrote a post about how when we talk about our lives we really are telling a *story*. I definitely want mine to be a very *good* story. So, I watch my language. 🙂