Sometimes we say things to ourselves that aren’t in our self-interest. Calling yourself a loser or saying “I’m such an idiot” every time you make a mistake isn’t having a positive effect on your self-esteem (on the other hand, you should definitely try affirmations), but beyond the obviously negative self-talk, there are a host of things we say that hold us back more quietly.
While not as plainly negative as “I suck at everything,” these phrases sabotage us in a sneakier — but still damaging — way. Here are some words and phrases that work in the background to stealthily undermine us; things we’d be better off leaving behind when trying to reach our goals.
“I don’t have time”
Consider that time is an invented concept and whatever you’re choosing to do with it is your invention. It’s a misconception that we do or don’t “have time” for something, because we control what we prioritise. (Of course there are our bosses, because most of us choose where we work, after all.) The fact is, we have time for whatever we make time for. Saying you don’t have time is a smokescreen for: “I don’t want to,” “I’m scared,” “I don’t value this enough to make it a priority,” or “I don’t want to fail, so I’m stalling.” When it comes to your dreams and life goals, blaming lack of time is just a convenient way to not get started.
“I don’t know how”
And where would we be if we only did things we knew how to do? Somewhere between Boringtown and Dead Inside-ville. It’s normal you don’t know how to write a book proposal or run your own business. No one does when they first start. Instead of resting on the excuse that you don’t have some magical fount of necessary knowledge, get going on your what, and learn how as you go.
“I’m not ready”
This excuse is gold because it allows not only you, but everyone else to let you off the hook. Most people will sympathise or corroborate your ironclad reasons for not taking action yet. (Could it be because they’re stuck themselves?) The problem with “I’m not ready,” however, is that it assumes there is some magical time off in the future when you will be. But there isn’t.
Even if you earn more money, get more experience, or “settle down,” you still may not feel ready. Because it’s not really about those things, anyway. It’s about your relationship to fear, change, and the unknown. By all means, prepare before you leap. But don’t spend too much time preparing, or you may find yourself in the same spot a year — or ten — from now.
In the words of the eternally wise Master Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda uttered these words when training a young Luke Skywalker out of his surly lack of belief in himself. The concept applies to us non-Jedi knights as well. The words “I’ll try” contain an implicit lack of commitment.
Will you or won’t you? It’s more comfortable to say you’ll “try” to do something, but it’s much more productive when you pick a side and hold yourself accountable for taking the actions necessary to do the thing you said you’d do.
“Maybe” is a great word to keep you stuck in the comfortable malaise of indecision. If you want to avoid committing to bringing that casserole to book club, “maybe” away. But when it comes to bigger ambitions, there’s no better way to stop you in your tracks than with a weak-arse maybe. Saying “maybe” to something is still making a choice — a choice that leaves you in limbo and pushes the same choice further down the road. How about deciding now?
The word “should” is made of judgment. It implies that something is the right thing to do, and if it isn’t done, there will likely be negative consequences. Instead of using “should,” replace it with “I will.” After declaring what you will do, you can enjoy the empowered feeling of making a choice from possibility, rather than fear.
“If it happens, it happens”
While this phrase can at times be useful as an exercise in letting go of the outcome after putting your heart and soul into something. As a standalone, it implies you have zero self-agency or impact on a given outcome. The things we want most don’t just “happen.” They require vision, commitment, and repeated action.
“But so-and-so really needs me”
It’s a wonderful thing to help others. But there is such a thing as giving so much as to put yourself in a perpetual martyr position where there is no time, resources, or bandwidth left to improve yourself. Are there places in your life where you’re over-functioning for someone or something else? Commit to taking back some of that time for you.
“I’m not smart/talented/brave enough”
As the story goes, Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Where would we be today if he had internalized that feedback?
We all “lack” in some areas and are stronger in others. The good thing is, we don’t need to be champions of intellect, courage, financial prowess, and beauty to achieve things. Instead of comparing yourself to others and despairing about your interpretation of the results, focus on what you know are your strengths. (P.S. Courage comes from practicing being brave. Do little things you’re afraid of and your bravery muscle will grow.)
“Just my luck”
You might say it when there’s “crazy traffic” and you end up being late, but saying things are “just my luck” puts you solidly in the victim position, as if there’s nothing that can be done to change what “happens to” you.
Take the last thing that you were mad about. What could you have done differently to improve the outcome? Empowered change starts with taking full responsibility for your choices — and their consequences — both good and bad, rather than habitually blaming “bad luck.”
These two words often lead into a wish, hope, or a complaint. “If only I was younger.” “If only my rent were lower.” “If only I’d gone to a better college.” Phrases like these keep you in a state of fantasy and helplessness. They presume a certain set of conditions or circumstances that would perfectly set you up for a successful, happy life. (Recognising this is impossible is actually quite freeing.)
Try shifting this statement into one of declarative action. “When I get my Master’s…” or “Tomorrow, I will…” and follow it up with one step you will take towards your goal.