Want to sound and feel more confident? Ditch these 11 phrases from your vocabulary


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We all have that little voice in our heads that weighs in on everything we do or say. If we let it, it can make us feel demoralized, belittled or just less capable. The end result is that we wind up not accomplishing what we want.


It’s never easy navigating challenging times, but as word experts and hosts of NPR’s award-winning podcast “You’re Saying It Wrong,” we’ve found ways to reframe our thoughts and change our attitude.

Here are 11 negative phrases to ditch if you want to think more positively and feel more confident, according to behavioral scientists, researchers and psychologists.

1. “I have to do that.”

What to say instead: “I get to do that.”

Swapping that one little word will change your attitude in a big way. It makes you look at something as an opportunity, rather than an obligation. Even if the task is unpleasant, it can teach you new lessons and open new doors.

2. “I can’t do that.”

What to say instead: “I can try to do that.”

Don’t admit defeat before you’ve begun! When you tell yourself that you can try, you’re not only giving yourself a chance to accomplish something, you’re also not setting up excessively high expectations, which makes it easier to actually succeed.

3. “I should do that.”

What to say instead: “I will do that.” (Or “won’t do,” depending on your mindset).

“Should” is a controlling word, and it puts pressure on us. So put yourself back in charge. Drop the “should” and make yourself the decision-maker by choosing whether or not do something on your own terms.

4. “Why is this happening to me?”

What to say instead: “What am I learning from this?”

When you ask yourself what you’re learning, you turn something that’s bugging or upsetting you into something that can lead you to better things. You’re not complaining; you’re simply finding the good in what might be a difficult time.

5. “I never should have.”

What to say instead: “Because I did that, I now know [X].”

When you rephrase this thought, you begin to think about the good things that happened because you did something that you thought you shouldn’t have. Maybe you met someone you wouldn’t have met, or you discovered something wonderful about yourself.

6. “I failed.”

What to say instead: “This attempt didn’t work.”

So maybe something you tried to didn’t turn out the way you expected. You didn’t get that new client, or you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. But if you tell yourself that you failed, end of story, you’re being unfair to yourself. Remember that there will be other opportunities.

7 . “If only I had done [X].”

What to say instead: Nothing!

We’ve all had our “if only” moments. “If only I had spoken up at that meeting with my idea,” or “If only I hadn’t answered that interview question that way.” But this is dead-end thinking. You’re not learning from the past, you’re just lamenting and making excuses.

8. “This is too complicated.”

What to say instead: “I don’t understand this right now.”

When you face a new challenge by immediately telling yourself that you’ll never get your mind around it,  you’re making it sound like it’s an unchangeable fact. This means you’re subtly telling yourself that you can’t change or grow, which, of course, is nonsense. We are all works in progress.

9. “It’s not fair.”

What to say instead: “I can deal with it anyway!”

Sure, life can feel unfair sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep repeating that negative mantra to yourself and feel beaten down. Face that perceived unfairness head on and look for solutions that will get you to where you want to be.

10. “It’s never going to change.”

What to say instead: “I can change the way I approach this.”

This is another case of going from passive to active. Put yourself in charge of the situation. You think it can’t change? Then change your approach to it and thoughts about it!

11. “Never” (or “always”)

What to say instead: Avoid absolutes altogether!

If you find yourself saying something like, “I’ll never get the promotion I want,” or “I always get overlooked,” take a step back to put things into context. Life isn’t black and white. The most successful people are able to look at things objectively.

Kathy and Ross Petras are the brother-and-sister co-authors of “Awkword Moments” “You’re Saying It Wrong” and ”That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means.” They cohost an NPR podcast on language, “You’re Saying it Wrong,” and have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Harvard Business Review. Follow them on Twitter @kandrpetras.

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