Could Your Language Affect Your Ability to Get Things Done?
I hate making promises and not following through.
I want to change. I continually set bigger and bigger goals. I focus on powerful intentions and what I “will” do.
Yet all I’m doing is shooting myself in the foot.
We’ve been taught growing up how important it is to set intentions for things we want to do. I’m realizing that most people who give advice have no idea what the hell they’re talking about (including myself).
Anyway, I saw a TED talk that discussed differences between Mandarin and English. In Mandarin, there are different words for dad’s older brother, younger brother, mom’s sister, dad’s younger sister, and so on. In English, we’re limited to uncle and aunt. 100’s of ketchup brands and only two words for our parent’s siblings…
It gets more interesting looking at difference in language and time. In English, we have a clear past, present, and future. “I did, I’m doing, and I will do”. In Mandarin there is only “I do”. When writing a paper, either you do or you don’t. There’s no difference between a paper you wrote and a paper you will write.
Here’s where the treasure is.
The speaker discussed differences in action between what he called futureless countries and future countries. A futureless country is one where there’s no difference between “do” and “will do”. The countries with a futureless language saved more, worked out more, smoked less, drank less, and did other actions that involved a small pain now for a huge pleasure later. Sometimes the difference might be 30% or more.
What happens in our minds is we imagine today as separate from tomorrow. By cutting the time apart, we put our tasks in a box that might never reach us. If we go along with this mental metaphor, we’re putting ourselves in a situation where we have to grab the task from the future box and put it into today’s box.
Let’s use writing a blog post as an example.
By saying I’ll write it tomorrow (Monday), when Monday comes it’s still in the ‘tomorrow’ box in my head. This may not be conscious, but still impacts our action or inaction.
By saying ‘I write a blog post’, I destroy any box that might have existed. Today is the same as tomorrow. Now, there’s no excuse to my inaction.
This kind of change puts pressure on us. The brain recognizes the disparity. It knows that we’re lying. This sets up a conflict in the brain between knowing I’m not writing the blog post and saying I’m writing it. To resolve this conflict, the brain urges me to write by applying pressure until I actually write and the conflict is resolved.
This small change in how I spoke had a profound effect on my effectiveness day to day.
When emailing someone, I say “I emailed” so and so. I pause and email the other person to make my statement true.
When thinking of wanting to write this post, I tell myself “I’m writing”. I keep repeating it until the post is written.
When wanting to face a fear, I tell myself I regularly face my fears. That makes it easier to do.
Try it out yourself. Anytime you find yourself wanting to say what you will do, stop and say you do it.
Let the magic unfold.