Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watch what you say

It never fails to astonish me what difference a few words can make. By the language we use, we can inspire others to feats of heroic sacrifice, create joyful laughter, or change the direction of our own lives. Words matter.

With that as backdrop, Alexander Kuzmin, the 33-year-old mayor of Megion, a Siberian oil town with a population of 54,000, has ordered his bureaucrats to stop using expressions such as "I don't know" and "I can't." If they refuse, they will be hearing a different phrase: “Find another job.” In a world of customer service representatives who would rather point fingers than solve problems, you’ve just got to love this guy!

Kuzmin has banned these and 25 other expressions as a way to make his administration more efficient. Some of the other prohibited phrases are "It's not my job," "It's impossible," "I'm having lunch," and "There is no money." To reinforce the prohibition, a framed list of the banned expressions hangs on the wall next to his office.

"Before,” says one staff member, “It was so easy to say ‘I don't know.’ Now before reporting to the mayor we prepare several proposals on how the problem can be solved."

Isn’t that something? By being forced to avoid certain words, people accomplish more — or at least come up with alternatives.

When you analyze it, it makes great sense. After all, we think in words. Sure, we’re creative sorts; but the process by which we translate those flashes of intuitive brilliance into action is via the internal conversation ever present in our minds. The repetition of that exchange, over years, shapes our view of ourselves, how we react to outside events, and therefore the actions that become our lives. If one wants to permanently change the construction of his life, he must start with the building blocks: those internal words, thoughts.

Take for example the common belief, “I can’t lose weight.” If you, like, are forever fighting gaining weight, try this: Instead of saying “I can’t lose weight,” say out loud with conviction, “I can lose weight. I just don’t want to go through all the work it will take.” You will notice — virtually immediately — an uncomfortable feeling welling up inside you. Why? Words, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are bound together tighter than a psychological Gordian knot. Disconnecting them is impossible.

I create my beliefs; I do so to make my life run smoother. If I repeat, “I can’t” enough times, I am absolved of the responsibility of trying, leaving time for other “more realistic” pursuits. If I change “I can’t” to, “I won’t,” I am forced — at least in my internal dialogue — to justify my motives, which can sometimes feel rather “messy.” It’s much easier to sidestep the responsibility; after all I’m already very busy.

When I say something different, I feel something different. Different emotions elicit different thoughts. New actions come from such untried thoughts. Life is the result of actions.

Say something different. Repeat often. Watch for new results.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of "I'm at lunch" being "banned". I mean, for pete's sake, even the best employees who are 100% dedicated to their jobs (and should therefore be SHOT DEAD IMMEDIATELY!) need to eat, have a break, and relax. Otherwise they become complete psychos.