Though the expression says "talk is cheap," I'm not so sure this is always true. In fact, my experience giving therapy to hundreds of people tells me that talk, in fact, can be very, very costly to our health and well-being if we're saying the wrong things. I present you with the words and phrases that should be banned from our vocabularies to improve the state of our precious mental health.
1. "But . . ."
Who knew this three letter word could be so consequential? Interestingly, "but" is defined as a word that "indicates the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated." I would go to the gym, but I'm just too tired. I would save money, but I really want that new Prada bag. The moment we utter this conjunction, it's as if we have no choice but to obey only one of our desires.
The thing about saying "but" is that it glosses over the complexity of our experiences and encourages us to think in black-and-white terms. Life is not a simple thing. As such, I encourage people to start replacing their but's with and's to help make space for the nuances of their experiences. Surely we can want to go to the gym and feel tired, can't we? The moment we start swapping 'but' with 'and,' we give ourselves a hell of a lot more wiggle room.
"Should" is a word of obligation. It's also loaded with scripts from our culture, society, or family of origin that we often aren't particularly aware of. When you say you should go to the party despite feeling exhausted, for example, the idea that you should prioritise being social versus well-rested didn't come out of nowhere; somewhere along the way, you absorbed that message from somewhere or someone. The question is: Where did it come from? Who said it to you most often? Any time you hear a "should" slip out of your mouth, let it be an invitation to be curious about where it stems from and how it's affecting your day-to-day behaviours.
3. "I deserve it."
There's an air of entitlement that comes with this phrase, no? After all, it implies that you are so worthy, important, hard-working, or what have you that it would be ludicrous for you to not be rewarded. In reality, I'd argue that none of us "deserve" anything other than basic human rights. Beyond that, none of us really deserve anything. Certainly, we can feel like we've earned things, but saying we deserve something is akin to saying we expect to be rewarded and will be displeased if we aren't. Furthermore, using this phrase sets us up for a potentially damaging reward-versus-punishment mentality. For example, in saying you deserve that glass of wine after a long day, you're also implying that you don't deserve to deprive yourself. Again, this lures us into an overly simplistic, black-or-white way of thinking that ignores the complexities of our experiences. Instead of saying you deserve something, say you'd really like something instead. That way, your expectations stay in check and you resist thinking of life's happenings as rewards or punishments.
4. "I hope."
Now, when I invite you to remove "I hope" from your vocabulary, I'm not saying you shouldn't be hopeful. What I'm saying is that hoping for something implies that it's out of reach. "I hope to open my own business one day" sounds very different from "I am going to open my own business one day." Indeed, there's sense of complacency to saying you hope to do something. Hoping isn't what you need; doing is.
5. "Never" and "always"
These are absolute terms that are far too unforgiving. When we say our partner never does the dishes or that they're always late, what we're really doing is perpetuating negative (and inaccurate) self-talk and relationship cycles. Further, we stop ourselves from being able to see the positive moments in our relationship or life in general when we're so fixated on these fleeting negative moments. Even replacing "always" with "often" and never with "rarely" is a step in the right direction.
These words and phrases are so common in our everyday vocabulary that we likely don't notice how often we actually say them. But making these simple changes can have profound impacts on your mental health and overall well-being, particularly in terms of expanding your perspective and catalysing mental flexibility.