From Complaint to Opportunity in One Word

Words are powerful, both the words we think and the words we speak. The words running through our thoughts influence how we feel about ourselves, the situations around us, and others. The words we speak influence those around us and our selves. For instance, modifying one little word in a sentence can change the sentence from a complaint to an opportunity. “I have to go to the store now” sounds like a death sentence. So does “You have to practice” or “We have to go to church.” But notice how it changes from a burden to an opportunity when we change one simple word. “I get to go to the store now.” “You get to practice.” “We get to go to church.” Simply by changing “have” to “get” the sentences produce different feelings. They change a complaint into an opportunity. They give a sense of anticipation, something to look forward to.

Let me offer another example. “I can’t do this” sounds hopeless. “I can’t make a basket.” “I can’t hit the ball.” “I can’t do math.” They all sound hopeless, deterministic with no chance of growth or change. Consider what happens when we simply had one little word. “I can’t do this yet.” “I can’t make a basket yet.” “I can’t hit the ball yet.” “I can’t do math yet.” Adding “yet” offers hope. It opens the door for the possibility of learning and growing. It presents the opportunity of doing each of those actions in the future, either through maturity, practice, or the gaining of knowledge.

One more example. Consider how these sentences rob us of our agency and fill us with guilt. “I should have eaten an apple instead of the chocolate cake today.” “You should start practicing now.” “I should study more to get a better grade.” “Should” provides a shorthand method of describing a choice we have made or need to make. As shorthand, it does not describe both sides of the choice. It only describes the choice not taken or less desired. By not describing both sides of the choice and not admitting to the choice, we rob ourselves of responsibility and agency. In fact, we often replace responsibility with guilt. And we take away the opportunity to practice the responsibility needed to do it differently in the future. Look how simply rewording these sentences allows for greater personal responsibility and opening up the possibility of doing it differently in the future. “I chose to eat an apple instead of chocolate cake today.” “You can start practicing now.” “I am going to study more to get a better grade.” Do you recognize how these sentences communicate personal responsibility? They open the door for the practice of agency. They proclaim that you have a choice; and your choice makes a difference.

What does this have to do with family? Practicing these subtle changes will make you a happier person—a person more focused on opportunity than complaint, more open to growing, learning, and changing, and more practiced at taking personal responsibility. Your family will be glad for to live with a person who does these things. Who wouldn’t? And your children will learn to do the same. (Read My Children are Copy Cats…Now What? to learn more about children learning from our actions.) They will also grow more focused on opportunity than complaint. They will be more open to growing, learning, and changing. They will practice taking personal responsibility more often.

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