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How does our language create our reality?

Kate Neser

Are you aware of how the language that you use may be impacting upon your perception of the world?

How does this happen, and what can you do to change it? As human beings, we cannot avoid language. Language is to humans like water is to fish, we swim in it every day, we cannot avoid it. It is all around us, on TV, radio, social media, family, friends, co-workers and even in our own head. And yet we are often unaware of its impact on our every day life.

Language not only describes the world around us, but it also serves to create our reality. To describe reality we might say “I can see a blue sky today”. To create reality, we might say “It is a glorious summer day today”. While these two statements might seem to be describing the same thing, the second description includes my own opinion or assessment that it is a glorious summer day, and to some extent, I am creating that as my own reality, or truth.

For someone else, that might not be true – someone who suffers from terrible hayfever at this time of year might vehemently disagree with me, and not see any ‘glory’ in today’s weather. We have each added our own meaning to our observation of the day, based on our opinions or assessments.

“So what?” I hear you ask, surely it doesn’t matter if people disagree about whether they like the weather or not? I completely agree. But it’s when we add meaning to our experience of life that is somehow disempowering, that it can be very useful to look at how we might be creating our experience of life through our language. Let me give you an example…

When my daughter was six years old, she came home from school one day and said: “I have no friends, nobody likes me”. This was truly her reality in that moment, and she was devastated. So without judgement, I started to ask her some questions to check on her reality. When I asked her in detail what she had done for the 20 minutes of recess and the 40 minutes of lunch, it transpired that she had spent approximately three minutes of recess sitting alone under a tree, and about seven minutes of lunch playing by herself on the playground.

The rest of the 50 minutes, she had spent talking to others or playing different games with a number of different people. When we had looked at this evidence, I asked, “So of the hour you had, you spent 10 minutes alone, and 50 minutes playing or talking to eight other people. Would you call those eight kids your friends?” She gaily answered “Yes”, and skipped away without a care in the world!

So now I hear you saying “But that’s a six-year-old – they make up stories all the time, and can easily change their assessment of the reality they have made up. I don’t do that as an adult”. But we do. We do it  ALL  THE  TIME! We might decide that “My boss hates me” or “I don’t fit into this workplace” or “I’m no good at public speaking”. These opinions or assessments might be based completely on reality – you may have copious amounts of evidence to support your point of view.

However, the human brain is tricky. What we tend to do, is only notice the evidence that supports our version of the truth. Once we have made a decision about something – say “My boss hates me”, we only see the times when she gives positive feedback to other team members, and we brush off positive feedback to ourselves saying something like “she doesn’t really mean it”. Or when a co-worker couldn’t find you to see if you wanted a coffee in the morning coffee run, you use this evidence to support your assessment “I don’t fit in”. Both of these assessments or opinions are just that – they are OUR reality in a particular circumstance. Of all the people I have coached who have decided that their boss hates them, not one of them has actually had a boss who has categorically said the words “I hate you”. They have come to this conclusion based on their own evidence.

And like my daughter, sometimes when we go through a process of questioning the basis of our reality – or grounding our opinions and assessments – we discover that perhaps we have created more of our own reality than we realise and that we are living in a truth that only exists for us.

This causes the most problem when we are not aware of the assessments we have made that are creating a negative reality for ourselves – one that is not grounded in reality. The good news is that by taking steps to objectively check in on the evidence we have, we can often shift our perception of a negative reality that exists for us. And the even better news is that by subtly adopting more positive language we can shift how we perceive the world, and we can start to notice more balanced evidence that supports that more positive view of the world – thereby creating a new reality.

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Kate Neser

Kate Neser is a Professional Certified Coach who loves to work with people to find the pathway to fulfil on their full potential in any area of work, whether it be developing their leadership potential, managing people or seeking the elusive work-life balance. As a former senior executive who managed the role working part-time with young kids, she is passionate about challenging some of the beliefs held in workplaces that get in the way of people living the life they dream about. More about the Author