The Power of Positive Language in Goal Setting

By Justin Wright

When setting goals, two things become critical with regard to the wording used in our definitions. For starters, we must be incredibly specific: vague language or ambiguous concepts will make it difficult to adhere to proper timelines with the things you want to accomplish. This is one of the criteria for the SMART method of goal-setting, which many of you may already be familiar with (particularly if you have seen the whiteboard in the side room at Invictus Boston). To expand on this criterion, however, we must understand the result of using different types of vocabulary in the definitions of our goals. This concept of positive vs negative language and vocabulary is intimately related to the concept of specificity.

Let us compare two individuals of similar talent, ability, means and social standing. For all intents and purposes these two people are almost identical in the resources that they have at their disposal. Both of these individuals have the goal of running in the Boston Marathon and completing the race in under 4 hours. They each define their goal as follows:

Individual 1: “I want to complete the Boston Marathon in less than 4 hours this year.”

Individual 2: “I will finish the Marathon this year and I will complete the race in under 4 hours.”

All other things being equal, who do you think is more likely to succeed? The answer lies within the specific language and phrasing of each goal. Positive language is stronger, bolder and affirms the statement being made. Negative language is weaker, leaves room for doubt and provides an excuse for things going wrong. Individual 1 uses negative language by expressing a want or desire to achieve their goal; they have already exhibited doubt that their goal is attainable, simply based on the phrasing used. Individual 2 has taken a firm stance that they will achieve their goal; they have not provided an alternative and have made a concrete decision that their actions must then fortify. Be careful in how you phrase your goals and realize the power of your words for determining your mindset.

As human beings it is natural that we may have doubts when making an important decision or choosing to tackle a large obstacle. Truly meaningful goals will scare you! Spend some time thinking about the kind of language that you use internally on a daily basis. Negative language is surprisingly common in the way we speak to ourselves. It is up to you to rewire your brain for positivity and start taking a firmer stance on your decisions as they relate to your goals. It is not only important to define your goal with positive language, but also crucial to reinforce this positive language in your daily internal dialogue.

The next time you think about a goal or are faced with a decision at some point during your day, pay careful attention to that voice in the back of your mind. What type of language are you using with yourself? Improve your mindset by noticing times when you are negative and rephrasing these sentences in a positive way. You may surprise yourself with how much more productive and happy you become!

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