Speaking before you think is a bad habit that can get you into trouble and hurt you in the most important areas of your life. Relationships will suffer or end, your career will be stalled at a level far below your talents, and most importantly, you will have little confidence in yourself.
Your speech shapes your life. Time and again you find yourself in situations where the outcome depends on what you say and how you say it. Your words are a reflection of who you are. If your words are getting you into trouble, you’re showing others the very worst parts of you. You’re presenting yourself as being thoughtless, careless or just plain hurtful.
Not only do your words create a positive or negative reaction in the world around you; your speech influences your thinking and can alter the course of your future. Your words are a way of underlining your thoughts and reinforcing them. When your words are harsh, negative, inconsiderate, or judgmental then these are the aspects of your experience that are emphasized. It won’t be long before you have developed the habit of always focusing your thoughts on the darker side of life. You know what kind of a person this will turn you into – a miserable, depressing and mean spirited person who sees only the bad and not the good in others or in life.
If you speak before you think about what you’re going to say, you do not take the time to consider what words you will use, what these words will mean to another person, or how they will feel about what you’re saying. You are also not thinking about what these words say about you as a person or about all of the good things you may be neglecting to focus on.
To break the habit of speaking without thinking you first have to accept the fact that it is up to you to control your tongue. You are responsible for what comes out of your mouth.
Next, you have to diligently practice closing your mouth as soon as you open it. I’m not kidding. If you have this problem it means that you are reacting to the people and situations around you by opening your mouth and talking. You are not reacting by thinking. When you close your mouth, you are breaking the pattern or habit and taking control. You are giving yourself time to consciously CHOOSE what you want to say.
The third step is to say what you really mean. This is critical and you have to ask yourself if you are truly willing to do this. It’s easy to blurt something out and then say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking”. By then the damage is done. What you are really saying is that you are too lazy to put in the effort to pay attention to your words. Saying you are sorry only has meaning if you subsequently change your behavior. Ask yourself if you are prepared to think before you speak, to say what you mean, to stand behind your words, and to take responsibility for them.
Here are some other ideas for putting power into your speech and staying out of trouble.
Don’t talk too much. Excessive needless talking is usually a sign of nervousness or stupidity. Before you say something, ask yourself, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Speak only if the answer to these three questions is YES.
Avoid talking about bad, unpleasant, destructive subjects. Most of this is just a form of gossip whether you are talking about your friends or world events. Instead, talk about the good things you’ve seen or want to experience. If you do have to mention something unpleasant, use tact and gentleness, find something positive to say to offset the negative, and be brief.
Praise liberally. Sincere compliments, thanks, and other appreciative words are always welcome. Note the word “sincere”. The habit of giving honest praise not only will win you friendship and love, it will train you to look for the good around you. You’ll be amazed at how this rebounds in your life. The more genuine praise you give, the more positively people will respond to you, the more confidence you’ll feel, and the more successful you’ll be in your life.
Finally, speak calmly and as much as possible, avoid angry words. Angry words create enemies, drain your energy, and make you ill.
There is a saying that the tongue is a good servant but a terrible master. Put effort into controlling your words and it will change your life.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.