When I first consciously started on a path toward a happier, healthier lifestyle, I was focused on making BIG changes to my habits, like cutting back on my sugar intake. I spent a lot of time and energy identifying where my sugar sources were coming from, and while it was easy to identify the big culprits – like chocolate, fruit, juice, desserts, etc. – what took more effort was finding all the sneaky places sugar finds it’s way into my body…
…because sugar is a sneaky ingredient.
While it’s important to focus on the big bad habits, what I learned along the way was that there are so many smaller, less dramatic habits you can focus on changing that will help to make the bigger changes come more easily. One of the biggest things I found helped in all areas of my life was to make tiny adjustments to one of my biggest habits:
Like sugar, certain words are the sneaky ingredients in our day-to-day vocabulary that can be tripping us up. We sprinkle certain words into our sentences out of habit, words that might seem benign, but in fact are complete game-changers that shape our reality into something else.
We might even call them sugary words.
6 Sugary Words to Cut Out, with Substitutions
Sugary words: Should
When the word should pops up in our vocabulary, it’s typically coming from a passive aggressive place, one steeped in morality and expectation. How often have you said these words to yourself: “I should exercise more regularly,” or “I shouldn’t have that dessert – but I want it.”
While of course exercising regularly and moderating desserts are both healthy choices, what happens when you should yourself into action is that you have effectively displaced ownership over what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Taking ownership over your choices can be as easy as changing up the words you use. Try this instead: “I will exercise more regularly,” or “I won’t have dessert.” Not ready for that kind of commitment? Try this instead: “I will endeavour to exercise more regularly in the future,” or, “I will have a dessert this time, but not next time.”
Consider, as well, ought in place of should. It essentially means the same thing, but there’s something cute and harmless about ought that I don’t mind oughting myself to do something.
Sugary words: Natural
Natural is a sneaky word used to “prove” certain lines of reasoning, like, “It’s not natural for humans to drink cow’s milk,” or, “Humans aren’t naturally designed to be vegetarians.”
The problem with natural (especially on food labels) is that it seems to declare a thing purer and more whole because it comes from nature as opposed to being “man-made”; however, one could argue that, since human beings come from nature, it follows that everything humans do is therefore natural.
Natural might seem to carry a lot of meaning when we use it, but in essence it means nothing.
Try speaking in terms of whether something works, or doesn’t work. Don’t stop drinking dairy because it isn’t natural for you to do so; instead, stop drinking dairy because it doesn’t work for you.
Sugary words: Logic
Of course there’s nothing wrong with logic, or being or thinking logically. Where the word logic becomes a problem is when we try to apply it to human emotions, especially our own. When we do this, we are judging ourselves or others for soundness of mind – or lack thereof.
For example, “You’re not thinking logically!? Smarten up!”
Leave logic for the science textbooks. When it comes to human behaviour, reason is a much kinder, more appropriate word. Regardless of how illogical you may feel or think, you will always be able to apply reason to your actions.
For example, “It’s reasonable that you might be feeling that way, you’re human after all!”
Sugary words: Or
This is less of a word to avoid, and more of a word to be suspicious of. Or often pops up when we believe there is a choice to be made between two things. The problem with or is that it can steer us toward black-and-white thinking – as in, “Should I go to the gym tonight, or should I stay in and watch Narcos?”
Ask yourself: Does it necessarily need to be one or the other? Maybe you could hit the gym and watch another episode of Narcos. Alternatively, watch an episode of Narcos now, go to bed a bit earlier and hit the gym in the morning.
Don’t box yourself in with or.
Sugary words: Later
Later is another word for never.
Soon is a more genuine word for expressing time commitment because we are more likely to honour that commitment. Planning to go to the gym tonight? Go soon instead of later. Bump into an old friend you haven’t seen in a while? Let her know, “I’ll speak to you soon,” rather than, “Talk to you later.”
Sugary words: Like
We use this word way too much. There are times when it’s the correct word to use, of course. For example, “Sometimes when I get home after I’ve been out for beers I like to watch Working Girl on Netflix.” But when we stick like randomly into our sentences, we are removing our responsibility to communicate with meaning and relevance because we are not declaring anything official – after all, it’s like this, it isn’t actually this.
e.g., “Cutting back on sugar is going to be, like, THE HARDEST THING EVER.”
Substitute: No need, just drop it.
You might notice something when you stop using like so much. It causes you to slow down a bit and think about what you’re saying; to choose your words a little more carefully to be sure that you communicate with accuracy.
e.g., “Cutting back on sugar is going to be hard, but it’s not the hardest thing ever.”
With any behaviour modification in life, give yourself time to adjust – the change won’t happen overnight. One thing I’ve learned about trying to change bad habits is that it takes time. You might endeavour to make a change one day, and then forget about it for a couple of days, remembering again and subsequently beating yourself up for forgetting and scrapping the whole idea.
Give yourself time! The path to changing a bad habit is riddled with forgetting and then re-remembering – if this happens, then you know you’re on the right track.