My kids are like sponges, so early in my coaching journey I would come home and practice on them. I really didn’t know what I was doing but it was great bonding time and even my green coaching skills would produce good results.

One night, my younger son came home from school and told me his spelling had improved from one of my Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques. My husband, who tends to be skeptical, suggested (I suspect kindly, as he wanted to join the rest of the family for dinner that night) that it was likely just a coincidence.

We decided to test it out. Partly driven by my knowledge that the unconscious mind never hears a negative, and partly driven by my desire to prove my husband wrong, we devised a plan to test the impact of language on our children’s behavior.

On the first night, my instructions to the boys were “scrape your plates into the bin—be careful that you don’t miss the bin!” Of course my instructions included the phrase “miss the bin,” and that’s exactly what they did.

On the second night my instructions were “scrape your plates into the bin carefully.” No mess! My husband wasn’t convinced that it was more than a coincidence, but as a pattern emerged over the next week, his skepticism started to fade. Despite my confidence in the process, even I was surprised at how effective our experiment was!

Both my husband and I used the results of our experiment to reframe our approach to speaking with our children. Kids pick up more than we intend at times, so it’s important to be mindful of our language. We repeat the phrase “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you,” despite the fact that it’s not really true. Words can hurt a lot, and even if they don’t hurt, they can change the way we think and behave.

Often our own self-talk is the most destructive voice we hear on a daily basis. As Henry Ford famously said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

I started reading more about the power of language and self talk in Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant from Within where he suggests a 30 day challenge of reframing a negative thought with a positive idea. For example:

  1. ANGRY I am observing from an alternative perspective
  2. AFRAID I am open to new experience
  3. OVERWHELMED I focus on small steps within the big picture
  4. ANXIOUS My thoughts and feelings create my thoughts
  5. UNCOMFORTABLE I am curious and sorting out my thoughts
  6. CONFUSED I am open to and trust my intuitive guidance
  7. FAILURE I gained wisdom and experience from this result

Using these simple reframing strategies helped me to be more aware of how my thoughts impact my behavior. I was able to quickly see that some self-talk is little more than a quick reaction that is not backed up with evidence: for example, feeling overwhelmed is a function of needing to focus on smaller steps and not reflective of an inability to complete the task at hand.

Focusing on the language I use—with myself, with my children, and with my clients—has helped me create positive results. As an added bonus, I proved my husband wrong and minimized the after dinner mess.