When you’re at the grocery store and you really want to buy something, do you choose the long line or the short one? The answer is a no brainer. We choose the shortest path to our goals. Yet, so often we hear how being in it for the long run and having patience is the real key to success. Well, what if we told you that you can use both? Instead of the usual goal spiel about taking small steps, focusing on the small wins, break it into manageable chunks, put a due date on it, and don’t make the big picture too grand, today we are going to take a different (and shorter!) approach. We are going to talk about language and grocery store lines. Although all of the other goal stuff is valuable, has it worked? Chances are if you’re reading this there’s a goal you want to achieve that you haven’t been able to make progress with yet.

The Power of Language

Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” We have reviewed this in the past too, what you think about yourself is guides your daily decisions. Language has the power to guide our actions and beliefs. It can be used to help create change and pull us along when the going gets tough. On the other hand, language also has the power to hold us back and act as an anchor. The key is in the type of language you use.

Soft Language

Let’s revisit the grocery store line. It is frustrating to wait behind a slew of people when time is of the essence. They are separating you from your goal: getting out of the store with what you need. Language can work the same way. Take the following sentence for example: I am thinking about eating less sugar. How far is the word “I” from the action? It is separated by 3 words. What if the sentence looked like this? I will eat less sugar. Now there’s only one word between ownership and the action (and that word happens to be a verb as well!). It is more real when the association is immediate. Soft language is like the grocery line, it frustrates the psyche and keeps you separated from the action. Another way to think of it is as a soft pile to land on instead of the hard truth of what you want – in this case, eating less sugar. However, even the short sentence with clear language is still problematic.

Concrete Description

I will eat less sugar. What does that even mean?! How much is less sugar? How much sugar is this person eating? Goal language needs to be specific. Instead of saying “less” try “only 15 grams per day”, or “none”. These guidelines set parameters for you. There’s a fence placed around your actions corralling you into the correct behaviors. The more specific the language is, the more likely you will be to reach your goals. Aim to state goals in a way that applies to your life and gives clear direction. For example, if the answer to the above questions was that the goal setter was eating the same as an average American, 125 grams of sugar a day, and most of it is consumed at breakfast, then the following would be a goal with a concrete description and clear language. I will eat 15 grams of sugar at breakfast and a total of 50 grams per day. Although this sentence is an improvement, it isn’t enough quite yet.


Here’s the holy grail of goal achievement: staying motivated to get it accomplished. If goals were easy, then they’d be habits already. They’re not! It’s almost a catch-22 though because they are things we want badly, yet when it gets tough we all experience falling off the wagon. Why is that? Language. You need language that pulls you through the rough times and challenges. What is pulling the goal setter to eat less sugar in the day? Based on the language, we have no idea. Why eat less sugar? How will life change when less sugar is eaten? The answer to these questions should be embedded in the goal. By describing the ultimate purpose and vision for your goal with your language, a constant reminder of the “WHY” is there for motivation. If the reason to eat less sugar is to lose weight, or to be less sore, than that needs to be reflected. I want to be less sore at the gym so I will eat 15 grams of sugar at breakfast and a total of 50 grams per day. Yes, the sentence is longer, but look at the key parts. The goal is driven by the desire (I want…) and there is only one word between the ownership pronoun “I” and the action (eat). There are specific indicators for success and a clear vision of what eating less sugar looks like on a day to day basis. This language has the purpose, the vision, and the action plan to get there. Clean up the space between you and your goals by using clear language, specific descriptions and a motivating purpose. Treat your language like the grocery line, get as little between you and your actions as possible! Check out these resources to learn more about goals and language: The Surprising Tool You Already Have to Change Your Life WholeLife podcast with Mark England Do You Sabotage Yourself By Using Weak Language? Forbes article by Bonnie Marcus TEAM PLN


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