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3 Words That Are Killing Your Chances of Success

clarity Sep 05, 2016

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Words are powerful – whether spoken aloud or simply to yourself. They affect your attitudes and beliefs. They shape your perception of the world. Words not only allow you to give voice to your thoughts and feelings, they are instrumental in shaping them.

Earl Nightingale, one of the founders of the personal development movement, once described our brains as fertile soil. You have the ability to plant anything you want – nutritious crops or deadly plants. You decide what seeds to put in the soil. The land will simply produce what has been planted.  For that reason, it is crucial that you focus on the words you use, the seeds that are being planted when you speak.

Here are three words that you should completely eliminate from your vocabulary - and powerful replacement words to rapidly accelerate your success.  

1. Can’t – This is the most dangerous word of all. It completely destroys any possibilities for growth. “Can’t” eliminates any chances for moving forward and paralyzes your brain. You can’t. It’s impossible. Period. End of story. There are no other variables to consider or alternatives to pursue.  That’s it. You’re done. 

Rather than using can’t replace it with, “How can I?” For instance, rather than saying, “I can’t afford a new car” say “How can I afford a new car?” Do you see the difference – the way those words impact your thought process?   The word “how” causes your brain to kick into high gear. It starts looking for possibilities, ways to make it happen. It’s telling your brain that there is a way – you just have to find it.    


2. Problem – One of the most memorable lines of any movie is the one uttered by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. “Houston, we have a problem.” Just hearing those words makes your heart sink, doesn’t it? The word is filled with negative connotations. Problems equate to doubt and uncertainty. They tend to bring about fear and anxiety and create a paralyzing sense of dread. Nobody wants to deal with a problem!


Rather than a problem, use the word “challenge”. Challenges are interesting, fun, and something that you are motivated to tackle. They tend to energize us and lend an element of excitement to our day.  Challenges are stimulating. Problems are stifling.  Always go with challenges.

3. Try – As the great Yoda said on Star Wars, “Do or do not…there is no try”.  Trying implies that you will not give it your all – that when the going gets tough, or the demands too great, that you will surrender to mediocrity. It gives you an out. “Doing” on the other hand means that failure is not an option. It means that you cannot and will not accept defeat because the stakes are too high. Rather than saying “I’ll try”, say “I will.” It creates certainty in your brain that this is going to happen.

Words can have a powerful effect on the level of success you achieve. Make sure you are using ones that will create opportunities for success, rather than ones that will paralyze your efforts. As philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

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