One book that has had a great impact on my life is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. According to Ruiz, the first agreement we must make with ourselves is “Be impeccable with your word.” Our word is our power to create. Words are seeds, and one word can change a life. We need to understand that the words we use are the most powerful tools we have. They can harm or inspire, build or destroy.
Moments can be enormous in the lives of our children and students, and the words we use have a significant impact on those moments. Words bring attention to things, and where attention goes, energy flows. The themes and ideas on which we focus take root and grow in the minds and lives of our youth. As educators and parents, we need to be intentional about bringing new and powerful words into the lexicon of our homes and classrooms. Not just a language to increase performance in school, but a language that offers balance, reduces anxiety, and provides a foundation for happiness and meaning in life.
Here are 9 positive words that lead to positive behavior and can change the trajectory and depth of our lives:
1. Authentic – What is cool? Authenticity is cool. The coolest person I know is my father-in-law. You would never mistake him for Matthew McConaughey or Brad Pitt, but he is magnetic. You like him the moment you meet him. He’s quirky and goofy, his clothes never match, and he can laugh at himself. He radiates happiness and extracts more joy from the moments in his life than anyone I know. He knows who he is and is comfortable with who he’s not. He is “the real deal”…yet another way to describe authenticity.
“Authentic” is a word we need to educate our students on and celebrate in the classroom. The great enemy of authenticity is comparison. Too often, students compare themselves to others. Comparisons have many damaging repercussions, including reduced self-esteem and succumbing to negative peer pressure. Pay attention to your students, watch for this destructive tendency, and, most importantly, help counter it by educating and celebrating students’ authentic actions.
2. Growth – In her groundbreaking work Mindset, Carol Dweck presents the “growth” mindset as the most essential element of success and happiness in life. The growth mindset is a perspective on life in which we find validation from internal growth through experiences rather than from external rewards. It is about understanding that, while grades will be forgotten and trophies eventually collect dust in the attic, who we become is what we take forward. We help our students become more growth-oriented simply by educating them on the concept and using terminology in class like, “You showed real growth today,” or, “Let’s focus on your growth rather than your grades.” These are simple examples of things you can say to instill this new, more empowering value in your students.
3. Grace – This may be my favorite word in the English Language. My ultimate goal is to live my life with grace. A derivation of gratitude, grace is the ability to constantly recognize the positive aspects of the people and circumstances in your life. It manifests itself as a heartfelt thank you, being a good winner or loser, acknowledging something positive, or accepting someone’s apology. It is seeing the best in others and the world around us, and expressing oneself in that manner. This is not an easy one to come by, but finding ways to represent it and recognize it might just make all the difference.
4. Vulnerability – Brene Brown, author and vulnerability researcher said, “When you are vulnerable, you are beautiful.” When we lean into life and put ourselves out there, that’s when the true magic happens. Vulnerability lives outside our comfort zone. It’s the butterflies in your stomach, and it’s an essential part of living an extraordinary life. Today, this word frequently has a negative connotation. It must be transformed into a positive element in our homes and classrooms.
5. Self-compassion – Pursuit of perfection is an unachievable goal. Too many young people measure themselves against unrealistic ideals and expectations and base their self-worth on false criteria. As adults, we know we are our own worst enemies. We need to break this cycle of neuroses for the next generation. Numerous kids are out there taking too many AP classes, participating in an excessive amount of activities, and feeling high levels of unnecessary anxiety as a result. It truly is a race to nowhere. We have to educate our children on the concept of self-compassion. They need to give themselves a break, take pride in who they are, and gain comfort with who they are not. Self-compassion is the key to so many ills that face this young generation.
6. Creativity/Imagination – It is my belief that creativity is a fundamental human need that follows just behind food, water, and air. If we are not being creative with our lives, we are in decline and likely suffering. A child is being creative when they are simply engaged in whatever they are doing. It is the energy that animates them, brings them into the moment, and draws the best out of them. We need to demystify creativity. It is not just a work of art or a new breakthrough invention; it’s as simple as engaging in a conversation, learning and applying a new concept, or playing. It is trying something you’ve never done or doing something in a different manner than you’ve ever done it before.
We can put the word “imagination” into the same category as creativity. During our youth, we lose much of these two beautiful capabilities. Sadly, many of us spend the rest of our lives trying to rediscover them. These concepts are essential elements to an extraordinary life. By cherishing and continuing to develop creativity and imagination, we bridge the gap between our current reality and the lives of our dreams. As the saying goes, you cannot have what you have never had without doing things you have never done.
7. Empathy – One of the most impactful books ever written was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The simple but powerful concept he explores is being interested in others; that is, learning to understand what is important to them and how they feel. Empathy is also the centerpiece of the groundbreaking research behind the concept of “emotional intelligence” by Daniel Coleman. Many agree that one’s EQ is much more important than their IQ in enabling success and happiness in life.
Empathy can be a very difficult mindset to instill in our youth because, by their nature, they are very self-centered. There is rarely instant gratification to be had when guiding students to experience empathy, but any movement in a positive direction will have huge implications in their lives. When you see even an inkling of empathy, recognize and celebrate it. Our ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes is essential to happiness and meaning in our lives.
8. Initiative – Every time a student takes initiative, they are demonstrating confidence in manipulating the world around them towards a personal goal. Resilience–the ability to deal with adversity–is a big buzzword in our education system. Lack of resilience can be a major factor in adolescent depression and suicide. When our youth come across adversity and lack the confidence in their ability to overcome it, they begin the feel stuck and powerless. This creates anxiety and hopelessness. This is why initiative is so important. We need to develop in our youth the courage and willingness to take actions and manage through challenges. They must know that they have the ability to deal with anything that comes at them.
9. Accountability – One of my personal mentors once shared with me that the greatest thing we can do for our children is give them the capacity to live without us. It may seem counter-intuitive as many of us see ourselves as protectors…which we need to be to a certain extent. However, preventing suffering in your child’s life is not doing him or her any favors. Pain is a necessary part of life, and it does not need to be avoided. It needs to be dealt with, and that is a major key to happiness and fulfillment.
“Accountability” is such an empowering word. It tells us that we are not victims of our past, and that our future is not predetermined. Our lives depend on the decisions we make and the actions we take from this moment forward. It puts responsibility for our lives squarely on our own shoulders–which is exactly where it should be. Our children and students need to fully grasp this. The sooner we free our youth to make their own decisions, the better. They’ll become better equipped to connect the results they’re getting with the decisions they make. This builds essential awareness and accountability.
The best way to eradicate a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit. The best way to manage a bad relationship is to spend more time with people that empower you. I believe the most effective way we can help our children overcome the negativity in their lives is to replace it with a new and positive energy. When we change the words we use, we shift the conversations we have so that we can better guide our youth towards the lives they want and the future we know they can have.
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