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5 Words And Phrases That Can Transform Your Work Life

Source | FastCompany : By Michael Grothaus

Reporting for this story took a different turn from the beginning.

Usually when I reach out to experts I get enthusiastic replies. But that was not the case when I emailed Professor Bernard Roth, academic director and cofounder of Stanford University’s He said he would “not help” me on a story I wanted to write about some excellent achievement habits he has refined and taught for several decades, which he’s recently collected in a book called The Achievement Habit.

Roth wasn’t being rude or difficult, however. He was making a point to illustrate one of the principles he talks about in his book: how swapping simple words and phrases we are used to saying multiple times a day can reprogram the way we think about and view perceived obstacles that stand in the way of personal success.

“I am prepared to assist (NOT HELP) you in any way I can,” Roth wrote to me.

Roth might seem like an unlikely person to write a book about personal growth and the way language choices affect it. After all, he’s not a psychologist, nor a linguist. His background is in mechanical engineering and design. Yet after attending an Esalen Institute retreat with other Stanford faculty in the mid-1960s, Roth became fascinated with human potential movement therapies. He soon applied his engineering and design principles to them to create his own content and formats of the therapy that better fit classroom and professional training situations.

“Over the years I kept slowly modifying the exercises and creating new versions based on what worked best with my students and workshop participants,” Roth says. “The book presents the material that has stood the test of time over several generations.”

One of his most prominent tips is word swapping. “Unfortunately, everyday speech is rife with disempowering language,” Roth says. “Even more harmful is how we use reasons to let ourselves maintain dysfunctional behaviors. The use of reasons to hide excuses makes positive behavioral changes very unlikely.”

The good news, Roth has found, is that by swapping simple words and phrases for others we can quickly—and permanently—produce positive behavioral changes. “People see the benefits immediately,” says Roth. “We do an exercise in class and almost everybody glimpses how defective their habitual speech patterns are. Then they use what they have learned for a week outside of class. Almost everybody comes back with amazing stories of how much better their lives have become.”

Here are five of the top words and phrases Roth recommends we swap out to get past the mental hurdles our everyday vocabulary choices put in our way.

Instead Of “But” Use “And”

“But” is probably the most limiting word in our vocabulary, Roth says in his book. “We often use ‘but’ in place of ‘and’,” writes Roth. “This substitution is so common that it sounds correct. Unfortunately it often has the effect of changing a neutral statement into a negative one.”

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