The child’s adage, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is 100 percent false. Few of us are strong enough to un-hear what people say to us.
We are likely to forget the positive things people say, but we remember the negative ones forever. And these shape how we feel about ourselves, what we believe about our capabilities, and how we live our lives.
A More-Accurate Version of the Adage
According to Wikipedia, “sticks and stones” appeared in the March 1862 edition of The Christian Recorder. Called an “old adage,” it was published in this form: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.”
A very different rendition of this childhood rhyme meant to ward off other children’s verbal bullying was written by Rugby Redfort. It goes like this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me. Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.”
This version is more accurate.
Living Your Beliefs
As young children, we believe what our parents, teachers, and other influencers say to us. At that young age, friends and schoolyard bullies influence us with their words as well.
We take all of their words at face value. We think they are the truth. We make them our personal gospel. They become what we believe about ourselves.
Then we live into those beliefs. We make them true over and over again by creating scenarios and experiences that prove them. And then we tell ourselves, “They were right. I’m not good enough… or _____.” (Fill in the blank with your most negative belief about yourself.)
However, we don’t stop doing this later in life. In fact, as adults, we continue to allow the words of others to determine what we believe, how we behave, and the outcomes we get.
What You Hear
I remember when I was in high school and told my mother I wanted to become a novelist. I’d had lot’s of positive feedback from my English teachers about my ability to write. Because of this, I believed I was a good writer.
However, my mother’s response dashed my dreams.
“Only really great writers make a living writing novels,” she said.
I realize now that she was merely practical. However, my young adult brain only heard the “only great writers” and “make a living writing” parts of what she said. My belief became: “I’m not a great writer; therefore, I can’t make a living as a writer.”
I lived this “story” many times. Each time, I would think, “See, she was right.” Eventually, I gave up on my efforts to have writing provide my livelihood.
I even turned away from writing—an activity that helps me fulfill my purpose and feed my soul—and built a business around my writing. That business left me little time for writing. So, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, my writing did not bring in income. That reinforced my belief that it never would.
Choose What You Believe
Recently, I was working with one of my mentors in the publishing industry. As a mentor, he is an influencer in my life. That means, when he says something, I tend to listen and believe what he says.
I told him I had submitted a proposal to a publishing company. He’d given me some feedback on the document, most of which I’d implemented. I felt great about the proposal when I hit “send” on the email… But that feeling dissipated fast after he commented, “You should have called me to discuss the document before you sent it.”
I immediately went into self-doubt and imagined negative scenarios. My mentor’s words lowered my self-esteem and self-confidence.
But I didn’t want to tell myself that story. I didn’t want to believe that I’d sent the proposal too soon. So I didn’t respond to my mentor’s email and didn’t answer his calls.
More importantly, every time I found myself thinking about what he’d written, I shifted my thoughts. I chose to believe something different. “The proposal is good. I will get a book deal,” I told myself.
See Through the Facts
A few weeks ago, a friend called. She was upset because a man she used to date told her that she would always be alone and unable to support herself.
She said, “He’s right. Just look at my life.”
“You have a choice,” I told her. “You can believe what he said and see your life through that lens. Or you can look for proof that he is wrong and see yourself and your life through that lens.”
As we reviewed her life, it became apparent that she has never been alone. She has friends—lots of them—and family. Also, as someone single much of her life, she depends on her own ability to support herself. And she has done that well.
Once she saw the facts, she could believe the truth rather than what this bullying man had said to her. She shifted her focus toward what she knew to be true. She chose what to believe.
The Power of Words
Words are enormously powerful. They hit you in the face as hard as someone’s hand. They cut into your heart like daggers. And they stick to your mind as if put there with permanent adhesive.
But you don’t have to continue living with the pain, the scars, or the reminders. You can choose which words to speak to yourself and to believe. And then you can live from those beliefs.
As you do, your life changes dramatically.
How to Un-Hear What You Were Told
It is virtually impossible to un-hear what the influencers in your life tell you. But you can do your best to forget their words and change your beliefs.
Like me, you can focus your thoughts on the results you want to create or the type of person you want to be.
Like my friend, you can look to your life for proof that negates what you’ve been told, and then focus on that knowledge.
Both my friend and I made a choice to believe something different. And then, every time the words we previously heard entered our minds, we told ourselves something different—something positive and supportive.
We choose to believe what we told ourselves.
You can do the same.
Live into Your New Beliefs
Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
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.
Intentionally choose the beliefs that will help you live your destiny.
Get out a piece of paper. Write down all the things you wish your parents, teachers, friends, and influencers had said to you. What words would they have used that would have helped you adopt supportive beliefs?
Decide to believe those things right now.
Then go live into those beliefs.
As you do, you’ll stop hearing those other voices. You’ll forget the words they said that hurt you in the past. More important, you’ll stop believing their words. Instead, you start living a life based on beliefs that serve you.
What new belief will you adopt? I’d love to know. Leave me a comment below, and please share this post with a friend.
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Photo courtesy of melitas .