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3 ways in which language influences us & undermines our competence

When we hear the words language and influence, we usually think of great speakers like Martin Luther King, Kevin Spacey or Tony Robins.... People who moved hearts, shifted mindsets and inspired millions of people to make a change. What we rarely realize though: the words we say to ourselves everyday - the inner voice - influences us even stronger and with a more lasting impact.

On average, we say 16.000 words per day (no significant difference between men and women, by the way). And that's just a fraction of the vast amount of words that are living inside our heads.

The words we choose to say to ourselves and to others have two effects:

  1. The words we tell ourselves everyday influence our feelings, behavior and shape our personality
  2. By communicating with the outside world, we show our personality
You are what you tell yourself day in and day out

Language influences us from the very beginning of our lives. Our parents choose the language(s) we learn as a child. With our mother tongue, we inherit a huge catalog of cultural values and socially constructed norms. In addition, we let our experience and our feelings slip into our language - whether we want or not. Most of these things happen unconsciously - but it doesn't mean we can't change it!

The language we learn as a child even influences how we perceive the world. Example: In the Russian language, there are two distinct words for light blue and blue. Researchers could prove that native Russian speakers can distinguish the vast variety of blue shades more precisely than others.

The language as a therapist

Our language gives so much away about ourselves - and if we learn to listen and decode, we can understand ourselves better. Words are like a very skillful psychotherapist - they know your struggles and can direct you onto a better path.

Even though we may not be consciously focusing on our self-talk, our subconscious mind is listening to everything we say to ourselves!

The subconscious mind accepts all of our words as the truth without any filter! If you allow bad self-talk like "I'm a failure at xy" it equals junk-food that you ingest daily. Over a certain period of time you get sick!

These 3 tips will help you understand how your language impacts your life - and how others perceive you through it


Recently, I participated in a seminar about language and speech. After a short time, the trainer assumed that I make high demands on myself and therefore easily feel under pressure. I was totally surprised as my body language was calm and composed. What I didn't notice at all though: my rate of speaking was fast and I used the word "must" and "I have to" quite often - things people say when they fell rushed and directed by the outside world.

In addition to creating stress for yourself, the phrase "I must" conveys your listener that you give away your control and responsibility. "I must" sounds like you are controlled by the outside world. Especially at work this diminishes your competency!

You can ban those words from your vocabulary altogether because let's be honest: there are very few things people actually MUST do! You don't have to do the laundry, you don't "have to" call your mom. Just say: I will do the laundry and I will call my mom. You are not only signaling helplessness and incompetence if you say "I must" and "I have to", you also create stress for yourself by using these words.


Mindfulness is a huge buzzword and there are many meditation techniques around it. What few people know though: mindfulness begins with the words you choose and how you say them! Mindfulness is about being in the present, recognizing the things that happen around you in the moment.

Train your mindfulness by starting with your language. Avoid long sentences with many sub-clauses. You can train that by describing the things you're currently doing. Example: I'm taking a knife out of the drawer. I'm cutting the apple in quarters. I'm picking up one quarter and put it in my mouth.

Another thing that will happen once you train this: your language will become clearer as you don't construct too complicated sentences. The norm should be one main clause + one sub-clause.


Make pauses! This is something that people often underestimate. Especially in meetings, people lose their audience by talking fast without any pauses - out of fear that they will be interrupted. This makes them sound unsure, they begin to stutter and it increases their insecurity because if we don't take breaks we lack air! A lack of air makes you sound insecure and stressed. Your competence goes out of the window!

Take time to make pauses! If you prepare a presentation you should not only plan the words you want to say but also plan on when to make pauses where they fit! Pauses where they belong, make you sound more secure and are used by many great speakers as a stylistic device to make their audience more attentive.


These things are habits and as such need some time to form. In the beginning, I set my alarm clock two times a day to remind me of one of those rules for a month. Once I mastered the no "must" and "have-to" rule, I continued with the next one.

Don't be harsh with yourself! If you start to realize where you say "I must" right after you said it, it's already a big step forward!

The goal shouldn't be perfection but progress and an increased awareness of how you use your language and how it influences you!

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