In a past blog, I discussed how use of language affects morality. But the power of language expands far beyond moral issues. In a lecture series in Great Courses, Dr. Peter Vishton elaborates on the intricate connections between language and mind/body. He provides research-based proof that an individual’s thoughts manifest themselves even on a person’s physiology.
Dr. Vishton states, “Language is a central feature of how our brain makes sense of the world around us . . . so the language we use can greatly affect our thinking.” He cites research by Dr. Vanessa Patrick regarding the effects of self-talk and motivation. Her research paper, “I Don’t versus I Can’t: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior,” demonstrated that when a group of dieters were offered a piece of chocolate cake, those who replied, “I don’t eat chocolate cake,” were much more successful at resisting temptation than those who responded, “I can’t eat chocolate cake.” She maintains that the word “don’t” indicates intrinsic motivation, so dieters who had that self-talk were making a choice and, thus, felt empowered. Yet “can’t” indicates asking permission, which is related to extrinsic motivation.Thus, the concept of Think Yourself Thin may appear to have some basis in reality. Furthermore, she contends that this principle extends beyond dieting. If someone wants to eliminate a bad habit, using self-talk with don’t versus can’t appears to be a more effective strategy.
Furthermore, Dr. Vishton discusses another research study that indicated that the language centers of the brain influence calorie expenditure. He cites the work of Dr. Crum of Stanford and Dr. Langer of Harvard, who enlisted hotel housekeepers to test their hypothesis about changing their mindsets regarding how they viewed their work. The group that was told that their daily work activity was exercise experienced significant weight and blood pressure changes, even though they did not change anything but the words they used to describe their activity. The body processes affect many regions of the brain.
Words are crucial, so be careful of the inner monologue.