The Words We Choose

by Steve Ryals

It still amazes me to realize how powerful words are. The words we choose to describe our moment-to-moment experience (sometimes called our inner dialog, or running commentary), are usually internal and very private. Speaking gives even more power to the words we choose and the language we use. For example, I often use the word "overwhelm" to describe how I'm feeling, as in "OMG! I'm feeling so overwhelmed!" Usually what I mean is that I'm experiencing a series of physical sensations, including tightness in my body and shallow, rapid breathing, along with swirling thoughts and a strong sense that all these feelings and bodily sensations are an indication that something is very wrong.

Like virtually everyone I know, I'm addicted to adrenaline. I definitely love getting my "fix" in the ways I'm most familiar and comfortable with. That is, unless I'm deliberately getting an adrenaline rush by choosing to step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, especially lately, I feel as though I'm learning to be more comfortable when I'm uncomfortable, though often I'm so uncomfortable when I step out of my comfort zone that I just want to run away.

When I take this awareness into looking at my relationship with the word "overwhelmed," I see how loaded that word is for me. I have a story that it's not okay to feel overwhelmed. Digging deeper, I realize that I "hate" (have an intense dislike for) the sensations I associate with the word "overwhelmed." I feel really double-extra uncomfortable. The point here is that when I choose another word to describe the very same constellation of sensations, let's say "busy," I notice that I'm more calm than when I use "overwhelm."

Ultimately, my goal is to release my need for internal dialog to label and therefore "cubbyhole" my experience. My intention is to be fully present with each breath, consciously choosing which, if any, stories I want to be invoking to describe my moment-to-moment experience. As I write about extensively in Drunk with Wonder, there is the "isness" of the moment, free of story or content; and then there is our experience or perception of the "isness," which is based on the stories we choose to tell ourselves that gives the "isness" a place in the narrative we call life.

To bring this discussion back to the word "overwhelm," what I'm discerning is that I have used that word to inject a shot of adrenaline straight into my heart. This adrenaline rush, while very intense and definitely a "high," is also very hard on my body, mind, heart and spirit. When I choose the word "busy" to describe my experience of having made a series of choices with the common goal of accomplishing some tasks, I don't get that shot of adrenaline. I feel much more calm and relaxed, and better yet I think more clearly, which actually allows me to accomplish more than I can when I'm putting myself into an emotional frenzy by "feeling" overwhelmed.

My discovery is that when I'm feeling overwhelmed it's because I choose to use that particular word to describe the sensations I described earlier, not because of how many tasks are on my "to-do" list. I create my experience on a moment-by-moment basis with the words I choose to use to describe the "isness." In this moment, the words I am choosing to describe my experience of writing this essay are "empowered communicator."

I still have as many things on my "to-do" list as I did before, it's just that in this moment my list no longer feels overwhelming. It's just a list. I'll get all my tasks accomplished sooner or later without ever needing to feel overwhelmed. How about you? Have you noticed any areas of your life that aren't working as well as they might? Consider taking a close look at your word choices. Perhaps you can choose words, such as busy instead of overwhelmed, which will support you in living the life of your dreams.

Steve Ryals, author of Drunk with Wonder: Awakening to the God Within went from homeless and shooting drugs in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district at 17 to graduating from UC Berkeley on the Dean's List six years later.

Drunk with Wonder was written, edited and designed with almost no help from fossil fuels. Steve is proud to say that Drunk with Wonder is printed on 60# Thor Offset acid-free, recycled paper with soy-based ink. Drunk with Wonder is the culmination of years of research and decades of personal experience.It's been hailed as where "Conversations with God meets What the Bleep Do we Know?"

To learn more about this timely book go to:

on our home page