“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and you can’t train your brain! It’s got a mind of its own!” He was a salt of the earth “good ole boy” … but his marriage was failing. I had heard him say in an earlier session, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, you better stay on the porch.”
I couldn’t resist asking him is he was an “old dog” or a “big dog.” Because I knew he was referring to himself in both statements. He made both his wife and I chuckle when he said, “I’m an ‘old dog’ when I don’t want to do something, and I’m a ‘big dog’ when I want to get something done. His honesty was delightful!
It initiated a conversation that inspired what I would like to share with you this week. It’s about communication. It’s about training our brains for outcomes, instead of verbal diarrhea or verbal anorexia.
Research says we speak at least 7,000 words a day. Most speak many more. Every word you speak is your imprint on the world, and defines who you are!
Ask yourself these questions:
How many of the words you spoke in the past 24 hours:
- Were encouraging?
- Were negative?
- Reflected who you want to be?
- Reflected the legacy you wish to leave?
- Allowed others to see what’s in your heart?
- Accurately communicated your wants and needs in a healthy way?
- Informed those you care about what you are thinking (ex: I’m so proud of your) or feeling (ex: I love you so much)?
- Were meaningless?
People know us by our words, and communication. But do your words have a purpose? Do they allow people entre to your mind and heart in a healthy way?
All we have to go on are words we hear (and the tone they are delivered in); things we see (body language, facial expressions, choice made) and behaviors we experience. Your words can give entre to your mind and heart, or they can close the door to both.
I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone on the planet should have entre to your mind and heart, but if those close to you do not, the relationship will have little to no connection.
The client I was having the fun conversation with about “which dog” he identified with was responding to my invitation to train his brain to share his heart and loving thoughts with his wife. Apparently, he freely shared with her what he didn’t like about her and the relationship, but expected her to know what he admired about her, and loved about their relationship, although he rarely used words OR behaviors to communicate that message.
I asked him in what categories he would place his 7,000+ words a day. He said:
- 40% business
- 20% humor
- 20% planning/logistics
- 20% sports
His wife nodded in agreement. I asked how she was supposed to know how much he admired and loved her.
He informed me that he told her he loved her when he married her, and he assumed she knew he would let your know if he changed his mind.
The problem was NOT that he did not love her. The problem was how he had trained his brain to use his words daily.
Like most of us, his words pour out randomly in the moment. With little consideration of how it sounds, and how it affects others, particularly those we care about.
I know you want your communication to accurately reflect who you are and what you are about. I would love to help you train your brain to insure that occurs.
Here are the steps I gave him that will also help you train your brain:
- Master the art of zipping it. Spend the next week pausing for 10 seconds before responding and asking yourself this question: “What will these words accomplish?” (More about that in the next step).
Most of us struggle with the ability to press pause for 10 seconds. We are anxious to weigh in and share our wisdom and opinions. And in doing so, we become “buttinski’s.”
In the first or second grade, my friend Tanya (who I lovingly called “Toddy”) and I shared a table. Our teacher was teaching us about interrupting. Then we had to draw a picture about what we thought someone who was a “buttinski” would look like.
Toddy and I giggled the whole time as I drew a porcupine with a BIG MOUTH! She drew something else hilarious, and we decided our “buttinski’s” could be best friends … like us.
I share that with you because it trained my brain in a way that has never left me. I am very careful about not interrupting others, and very aware when others interrupt me. Why? Because a visual changed my brain.
Take a moment and draw an image that represents your brain with a stop sign near it. Or some other graphic. Like a mouth with a zipper and a10 second timer. Make it funny. Laugh at it. You will find it much easier to pause for 10 seconds.
You MUST help train your brain to master the art of zipping it.
2. Determine your outcome before you speak. I am committed to practicing zero negativity in my speech. Even if you do not share that commitment, at least determine the outcome you desire before you speak negative words.
In my office, I often ask people the outcome they desired with the words they just spoke (especially when they are negative). People are shocked when I ask, and usually ashamed when they give voice to the desired outcomes. Things like: to put her in her place; to get him to shut up; to let them know what they said was stupid, etc.
When we press pause and zip it for 10 seconds, and explore the desired outcome, often our words will change, or we may even choose to remain silent.
When I speak to clients in my office, my desired outcome with most things I say is to move the conversation to considerations of healing, restoration or extraordinary things. Whether in or outside of my office, I want my words to reflect hope, encouragement, and gratitude. From that position, many thoughts and comments go unspoken.
I hope you will practice this step for 77 days. You may not do it perfectly, but the effort will train your brain to speak for outcomes that reflect your true character.
3. Invest time and effort in noting the impact of your communication. Both relationship maturity and emotional maturity involve components of noting your impact on others.
Noting our impact on others is so important if we truly want to refine the way we use our communication to define us and leave a good imprint on the world around us.
We have all kinds of sayings that train our brains differently. Things like:
- I’m not going to sugar coat it
- I’m going to tell it like it is
- I have a right to say whatever it is I want to say
Of course, we all have a right to all of that. The question is, does that train your brain to use your communication to reflect how you want to impact the world and be remembered?
When I was a little girl, I would spend weekends with my Mamaw. One of the things we did together was take flowers to my Papaw’s gravesite. Then we would walk around the little community graveyard, and she would tell me about many of the people. There was one gravesite where there was a human sized statue of a man. I wanted to see it, so as we walked there, she told me that most people thought he was a mean man. Sure enough, on his inscription, it said: “He was well loved when silent or sleeping!”
I suggest your write what you hope your gravesite inscription says about how you communicated. That’s a powerful brain trainer.
4. Take time daily to consider what is in your heart for the important people in your life, and make intentional, special efforts to convey it.
Most of us assume that others know how we feel about them, how we admire them. It’s strongly present in us, but our words and behaviors do not communicate it.
I have a newsflash for you. NO ONE PASSED MIND READING 101! The responsibility is not on OTHERS to assess how you think and feel about them and their relationship with you. It is on YOU!
Here is how you can train your brain differently. Have a weekly meeting with yourself. I have mine on Sunday evenings. I have a list of important people in my life. I ask myself in that meeting (I call it “My Mind/Heart Reckoning”), how I feel about each person on that list, then I score how well I have communicated that in the past week. Unless I feel I have scored 100%, I develop a plan to rectify it. (Examples: sending texts/emails; making phone calls; scheduling a meal with them; sending a card).
Because I know that meeting is coming on Sunday, it trains my brain to be very intentional in my communications. Not only with the people on my list (although they get priority), but with everyone.
When will you have your meeting? Who will be on your list?
5. Practice gratitude with important connections regularly. Let people know you are grateful they are part of your life.
I know, I know … it always comes down to gratitude! YES! Indeed it does. There are only a few things that create a release of oxytocin in our brains. One of them is a 20-second hug. But another is someone expressing gratitude to you, and for you.
Train your brain to do that by practicing it daily. Practice it often. Practice it whether you feel like it or not. It’s powerful for your brain, and for your connections.
As for the “big dog” I mentioned, he retrained his brain. He truly wanted his wife to know the things he thought and felt about her, how he admired her, how he loved her.
It took some time, and when she was gushing about the difference in their marriage, he looked at me with a sheepish grin and said, “Well, I didn’t think you could brain wash this ‘big dog,’ but you did! And if it makes her feel that way, I am grateful!”
What about you? Are you ready to train your brain to accurately communicate your thoughts, your feelings, and the true picture of who you are? Jump in with the five steps above and you will be giant steps ahead!
You will find your life richer, your relationships sweeter, and your fulfillment greater! I know you want to leave an extraordinary imprint on those around you!