2 Linguistic Tricks to Optimize Your Goals & Affirmations

On Thanksgiving, my dog Roxy escaped her leash and went for an adventure.  Just as my husband was about to catch up with her, Roxy’s powerful nose caught the scent of an 8 point buck.  Instinct set in.  Roxy chased that buck straight out of town.  She wanted that buck more than anything and that desire blocked out all those things that would have weighed down a human: the probability of a 40 pound dog outrunning an 8 point buck, the thorns tearing her ears, the bitter cold crashing against her face, the unfamiliarity of the terrain she was running into, the rough rocks that tore the pads right off her paws, and the 6 guests waiting for Thanksgiving dinner.

7 hours later a cop found her limping back into town.  She was drenched in blood.  Despite her weakened condition, she had this little grin that seemed to have a hint of victory.  She was more successful that hunting season than any of the hunters in my family.  The following week her paws remained wrapped in bandages, but that little grin of victory did not dissipate.  I have to admit there’s something poetic about Roxy’s adventure.  She knew what she wanted and she chased after it.

That strong connection between desire and action is what we are seeking by writing down goals and by creating affirmations.  The wording of these goals and affirmations can strengthen the connection between your desire and your actions.  If you have already formed your goals (or resolutions) and affirmations for this year, go ahead and take them out and go over them as you read this blog entry.  The point is to perfect your goals and affirmations so that you can program your mind to focus as much as a dog focuses on chasing a deer.

#1: Never say Never… Not, or No

Considering that Roxy has a habit of breaking loose and going on adventures, when another dog ran towards me one day, my first instinct was to catch him.  I took a knee and held my arms out wide, ready to catch the dog.  Then I heard the human chasing after him yell, “worry, he does bites!”  I quickly stood up and stepped out of the dog’s way.  The human muttered a few unkind words towards me as he ran past still chasing his dog.  Apparently the human had actually yelled, “don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!”

The human mind takes longer to process negative statements (statements using words like “never,” “not,” “no one,” “nothing,” or “no”) than affirmative statements.  This fact is made even more prevalent by the horrible habit we English speakers have of reducing “not” to “n’t.”  I can not be the only person who constantly has to ask people “did you say ‘can’ or can’t?'” If the dog owner had yelled, “it’s ok, he’s friendly,” then I would have grabbed the dog.  According to Remember the Ice by Bob Nicoll, sticking to affirmative statements can have a powerful effect on both your personal and professional lives.  Bob illustrates this effect by telling a story of a shop owner who switched his “don’t forget the ice” sign for a sign that said, “remember the ice.”  After the switch, ice sales reportedly skyrocketed.

Take a moment right now to look over your goals and affirmations.  Are they negative statements?  If so, turn them into affirmative statements instead.  For instance, instead of “don’t procrastinate,” say, “do it now.”  Instead of “I will not eat sweets,” say, “I will eat fruit for desert.”  Instead of “I will stop smoking,” say, “When I feel anxious, I chew gum.”

#2: Relax, You’re Sentence is all Tensed Up

When it comes to wording goals, your verb phrase should contain the auxiliary modal “will” and not any other auxiliary or phrasal modals.  And for those of us who don’t speak Grammar-Talk, I mean use “will” in your sentence.  For example, instead of saying, “I am going to be a great person,” say “I will be a great person.”  “Am going to” is too long and implies that you have a vague plan.  “Will,” on the other hand, is shorter (thus directly connecting “I” with the desired outcome “a great person”) and implies a definite outcome.  Thus, for goals, “will” is better.

As far as affirmations are concerned, your verb be in the present simple tense.  In other words, you should phrase your affirmations as actions that happen habitually.  Instead of saying, “I will be a good person” or “I can be a good person,” say to yourself, “I AM a good person.”  This direct phrasing keeps you accountable for the moment it is said as well as the future.

In general, as you shape your linguistic world this year, I suggest keeping your verb phrases as short and sweet as possible.  I find that longer verb phrases are often used when avoiding the truth or when orchestrating an excuse.  A simple verb phrase contains quite the punch.  As Shel Silverstein said, “But all the Woulda, Coulda, Shouldas all ran away and hid from one little did.”



  • Avoid negative statements for your goals and affirmations
  • Use “Will” when writing your goals
  • Use the present simple when writing your affirmations
Are You Focused on Your Desires?

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