Change the way you respond to the world – 7 words


A number of years ago, a wise teacher (yes, it was my therapist) invited me to change the way I respond to the world. At the time, I was complaining about other people’s behavior toward me, and about the perceived injustices I was experiencing. I was angry, sad, reactive and unwilling to see the part I was playing in my own misery.

Refusing to be drawn into my drama, he calmly listed 7 words to eradicate from my vocabulary. Doing so would shift my attitudes about the choices I make in life and how I respond to the events in my life.

Are you ready for the 7 words to eliminate? Here they are:


ought to

have to


need to

supposed to

got to

you better

Pause here. Consider for a few moments what it would be like for you if didn’t use these words. Play around with ways you use these words now, what substitutuions you might chose to make.

The argument for eliminating these 7 words is that it will shift your thinking from being at the mercy of forces outside yourself (your partner, your parents, traffic, the weather) to making a choice. When you use these 7 words, you rob yourself of choice and lose the intentional force with which you steer yourself forward in this world.

Eliminating the 7 words also brings in an element of positivity to your thought process and your speech. Instead of “having to do something”, try making the statement “I am going to do something.” Even though you may feel as though you don’t have a choice about whether or not to do the thing, speaking as though you do, changes the chemistry in your brain, invoking choice and intention rather than obligation.

For many, many situations in life, we do have choice, only we do not acknowledge it. No one forces me to sit down and write this blog post. I could say “I must write this post today” and feel oppressed and obligated. Instead I choose to say, “I am going to write a blog post today.” I cannot tell you how much better I feel when I allow myself to decide instead of feeling as though something else is deciding me. Think about your own situation. In what ways is something else deciding you?

A caveat on the word need. This word is not always used to replace choicefulness. i.e. “I need to go to the bathroom!” or “I need to take my medicine at the same time each day.” And, I still maintain that you can replace it with “I am going to use the bathroom now.” or simply, “I take my medicine at the same time each day.” The idea here is to bring some mindfulness to your speech. Pay attention to what you say and how you feel when you say it. If you use need, and still feel choiceful and intentional, by all means use it. And, I am guessing that when you replace the 7 words with intentional words, you will notice a difference. I know I did.

After my teacher invited me to eliminate the 7 words, I noticed some changes in myself. It took some time and practice, but when I began to say things like “I am going to/not going to” instead of “I should have …..” or “I better …” I felt more powerful and in control of my life. I felt kinder and more compassionate toward myself. The unexpected benefit of this was the spillover into other parts of my life. I had more love for others, too. Crazy, huh?

So what are the words to use to replace the 7 words? I have listed my suggestions for intentional and choiceful words below. Please feel free to add your own in comments below.

going to


will not

did not

able to

choose to

choose not to

If you are struggling with choicefulness and intention in your life or would like some help eliminating the 7 words from your vocabulary, shoot me an email or call for a free, 20-minute telephone consultation. 512.593.0583.

Peace, friends.



Fear and the Fertile Void


When I was five years old, a neighborhood dog escaped his yard and chased me, jumping up on me, in what was probably a friendly attempt to play. I was traumatized and fearful of dogs for many years after this.

Today, during my early morning run, a dog out of his yard, barked at me and moved in my direction. I looked at him and said, “good morning!” At that moment, his owner called and the dog turned away from me. This incident reminded me of how far I’ve come in my reaction to unknown dogs (and unknown incidents).


Two thoughts came to mind about this. First, early childhood events profoundly affect how we make contact with the world in adulthood. These events are usually buried deep in our subconscious and often do not surface until we intentionally work on self-awareness. Second, that my fear of dogs was a metaphor for many fears. The root of my fear was not the dog itself, but what might happen with the dog.

In Gestalt therapy, we call that place of uncertainty, between the known and unknown, the fertile void. It is the chasm we cross when we leave behind what is certain and safe, but perhaps not always productive. The fertile void is the creative possibility for something different and potentially powerful.


It is the willingness not to know. The dog might bite me, yes. He might be friendly and lick my hand. Crossing the chasm is done with choicefulness and the understanding that risk is involved. I don’t want anyone to be stricken with rabies because they reached out to an unknown dog who bit them!

And, I am advocating a visit to the chasm. To entertain the possibilities of the unknown. To be okay with not knowing.

Peace, friends.

Expand your range


I recently made a change in my vocabulary that has affected my range of experience and how I make choices in this life. I decided to eliminate, as much as possible, using the word “but” in my speech. Example: I want to go to yoga class, but I don’t have time. Or, I want to go on vacation to New Mexico, but I need to work on my writing.


Using the word “but” implies a duality that mirrors much of our culture, where something is either this or that. Often this is played out by the ideas of good or bad, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, work or play.  Although they seem to be, these ideas need not be understood as complete opposites. It is possible to hold two seemingly oppositional ideas in the same space. From my perspective, the word “but” is limiting, the word “and” is inclusive.


So, I want to go to yoga, and I am short on time. Do you see how the meaning of this statement has just greatly expanded? It includes an entire range of activities between the yoga and the time. Framing the statement this way frees me to prioritize my activities. When I allow that both possibilities exist, I also allow myself more choice about what I actually do. I don’t have time for yoga because I choose to do something else, whether it is dishes, laundry, coffee with mom, or writing.


The “and” is the empowering word that allows my choice. My decision to include both sides of the spectrum has helped expand the range of my choices and thus the decisions that go along with them. I am much more at ease when I accept the “and” parts of a situation.

Choice photo

The word “and” also helps expand the range of understanding about a person. People are usually not only good or bad, beautiful or ugly, naughty or nice. They fall somewhere along the continuum of both ends. Allowing both ends acknowledges the range and nuances of human existence and, for me, helps me find compassion in all situations. For example, my partner was very late the other evening, and I learned later about the care and effort he put into a project that contributed to his tardiness. I chose to accept both realities and hold space for them without reacting just to the time element. There are thousands of variations around the “and.” And, some may work for you, and some may not. The key is you may choose. What works for you and what does not?

I believe people are much healthier and ultimately happier when they realize the power there is in being choiceful. And all from a simple substitution of words.

See what happens the next time you substitute the word “and” for “but.” I’d love to hear your comments below.


Peace, friends.