Power Words: What They Are & How to Use Them

Once upon a time I thought I wanted to kick booty professionally. I was frequently attending taekwondo training camps at the Olympic Training Center and spent the vast majority of my time living with the intention of becoming a world-class fighter. Outside of the physical training, this also involved intense mental training. Although important in any sport, being mentally tough is especially critical in taekwondo since there is a high risk for pain (and by high risk I mean like a 99.99% chance of getting a bump, bruise, or at worst a good bell ringing).

My favorite sports psychology tactic that I still use today is the idea of power words. This is essentially a very short affirmation – a word that invokes a certain feeling that you can harness and propel yourself even further towards your desired mindset. This word is meant to be used to quickly snap you out of the “Oh s*!% that girl is huge and yelling really loudly in my face I am definitely going to get knocked out” mindset into “I AM THE CHAMPION AND I WILL DESTROY YOU” mentality. Or, in a less combat sport-y example, if you’re a person who from time to time suffers from social anxiety like I do, it can shift your thinking from “Everyone is super cute and fun at this party and I have nothing to talk about and who’s going to even find me interesting” to “I’M BASICALLY BEYONCE LOOK AT HOW FABULOUS I AM LET’S ALL BE FRIENDS!”

Words are extremely powerful and can actually change your brain: positive words strengthen the motivational centers of your brain while negative words can alter the way the brain tells your body deals with stress. Furthermore, just by hearing a word you have a stereotypical feeling towards can prime you to act like that stereotype. For example, participants in a study were shown pictures of flamingos, and then were asked to walk to a meeting down the hallway. Because flamingos are typically connected to old people in Florida, those participants actually walked slower as an elderly person would! So if you’re frequently calling yourself words like fat, stupid, lazy, ugly, not only are you conditioning your brain to literally make you feel more miserable, but you’re also more likely to become those words! Just like Amy Cuddy said in my post on scientifically proven ways to reach your goals, negative reinforcement is overall not motivating.

While it is not always easy to do, my solution to staying strong, positive, and successful has always been to rely on power words and affirmations. I particularly like power words because they are easy to remember and often have the same effect as a phrase – except you don’t have to worry about if you’re repeating that phrase correctly! For taekwondo, I wanted to feel intimidating and powerful, so my power word was “tiger” – as soon as I started thinking of myself like a proud tigress I felt agile, strong, ready to defend my territory. As silly as it sounds, it really works! Power words can be anything, an animal, a concept, a verb. If you’re trying to improve your eating habits, your word may be as simple as “healthy!” A person aiming to be more social at parties might say “Beyonce!” Whatever triggers that feeling you’re desiring is just perfect, there is no right or wrong word.

Currently I’m trying to be more positive and connected to the world around me, so I’ve often been thinking about the word “light.” It serves two purposes. One, it is a positive word that reminds me of all things bright, cheerful, and full of life, and two, after reading The Four Agreements again recently (post coming soon), it reminds me that we are all made of light. We are all interconnected and made of the same matter. We should all be treated with the same level of respect (you know, the Golden Rule and all). I’m actually even thinking of picking up one of these really awesome My Intent bracelets with “Be Light” on it to constantly remind me of these things.

What’s your power word? I’d love to hear what you strive to be and how you translate that into a single word!

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