5 Words to Ban from Your Vocabulary

Talk to any self-improvement expert or motivational speaker and you'll hear that the words you use have the power to change your life -- whether you're talking to other people or to yourself. Swap out low-energy, negative-sounding words (never, nobody, bad, guilt) for positive, uplifting ones (can, good, will, love), and you're well on your way to a happier life. Sound a bit too Pollyanna for you? I tend to agree. But this doesn't mean we couldn't all benefit from having our linguistic closets cleaned out from time to time.

I thought about what words we use on a regular basis and why it may serve us to drop them (or at least rethink our use of them). Now, it's fairly easy to recognize how using undeniably negative terms can cut into your happiness quotient. But what about the more subtle words, the ones that sneak in and sabotage you in ways you may not know? Here are five that we can very well do without.

Let's start with an easy one, a life-coach all-time favorite. It's fairly obvious why this word is an instant energy-sapper: It reeks of guilt, regret, powerlessness. If you should do something, it probably means you don't want to do it, but you'll do it anyway, albeit begrudgingly. And if you're acting against your interests and desires, then you're most likely not living a life of your own making. In her book "Every Word Has Power," hypnotherapist and author Yvonne Oswald suggests that we remove "have to" and "could have," as well. These words not only imply obligation, she says, but also smack of resentment just below the surface. Instead of "I should do my work now," Oswald recommends taking back control by saying, "I'm ready to do my work now." Bottom line: "Should" is a hollow word that serves only to heighten your insecurity. So the sooner you drop it, the better.

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Sure, I use this word. But I don't like it. It's a cop-out compliment, a verbally ambiguous, vague, and featureless comment that rarely does anyone any good. If I want to set you up with a guy I know, and all I can tell you is that he's nice, how much does that help you decide whether you should meet him? If you tell me that your big client lunch was nice, that doesn't paint any sort of picture for me. I personally like to think I'm more than just a well-behaved, inoffensive person (which is essentially what nice implies), and I'm sure you do, too. "Nice" is like extra bulk in our verbal artillery, and it's time to trim down.

I don't want to rule out the notion of success, or of ambition for that matter. But I do challenge you to take note of how and when you use the term. Why? Because it's one of those amorphous, unquantifiable, blanket-type words we often use to describe other people's achievements. In this way, it can serve as a subtle form of self-criticism ("She does so much more"), an illusion through which we interpret others' lives and accomplishments as more real or worthier than our own. Truth is, though we may not really feel successful ourselves sometimes, I'm willing to bet you this: Someone, somewhere, regularly uses the term to describe how wonderful, talented, and pulled together you are. So don't be so quick to lavish only others with it. Keep some of the credit for yourself.

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Now here's a tricky one -- sort of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has an insidious way of becoming a prediction when you use it as a sweeping statement. Witness how easily this slips from present to future tense: "I never have enough money to go out to eat" becomes "I'll never make enough money to do what I want." Or, "I never have fun on first dates" becomes "I'll never find the right guy." Way to seal your doom. Some people believe that this "never" mind-set becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, since, more often than not, you get what you expect in life.

The flip side of this verbal coin, however, is the tendency to use it as a judgment call ("I'd never do that"). Be careful here. While never may put a negative cast on your future, this devil of a word is often out to prove you wrong. You just may find yourself in a situation saying or doing the very thing you thought you wouldn't (such as making an off-color joke at just the wrong moment or donning a pair of skinny jeans), and then the joke's on you. So handle with care, my friends. Any term that implies an "absolute" statement may be right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the right ones. And either way, you lose.

Okay, so this one may come as somewhat of a surprise. After all, aren't we just that -- busy? Being busy isn't necessarily bad in and of itself. But lately this word has begun to rub me the wrong way. Perhaps because it reeks of a kind of better-than attitude. It's almost a status thing, a contest to see who's busier than whom, and whoever's more crazed wins. ("You've got two kids, a full-time job, and you're coaching little league? You win.") If that's what this is about, I'm afraid "busy" has undergone some major inflation.

None of us can know who's actually busier than anyone else. In some cases, it may be that someone simply isn't as efficient at getting things done or can't say no to things. I feel just as busy as the next person, but I admit to some broad stretches of time when I'm sitting on my sofa watching CSI, filing my toenails. Sure, I'm technically busy. It all depends on what you mean. I think we should all just own up to the fact that we're busy, and if we're lucky, we'll stay that way. Being busy, after all, means that we're active, vital, and needed. So let's stop saying it to each other over and over. Because when something really important or great comes along, it's amazing how quickly our schedules free up.

Text by Terri Trespicio

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