In 2012 in Edinburgh Ph D. Keith Chen shared macro economic analysis of 25 years worth of data that shows that the language we speak affects our ability to save money. Through extensive analysis Chen drew out an unbreakable relationship between the savings rate of particular groups of language speakers that were significantly different to speakers of other types of language.
Chen focused on the distinction between two groups of people. One group spoke a language that had a different future and present tense (futured languages); the other group spoke languages that did not differentiate between tenses (futureless languages).
English is a futured language, which differentiates its tenses between the past, the present and the future. For example: “yesterday it rained”, “today it is raining”, “tomorrow it will rain”. Mandarin Chinese is a futureless language where these three phrases would translate as “yesterday it rain”, “today it rain”, and “tomorrow it rain”. Chen’s hypothesis was that by verbally and grammatically distinguishing between the present and the future, us futured language speakers dissociate ourselves from the future, making it less important than the present and that this has an unconscious effect on our behaviour and choices.
From detailed analysis of 25 years worth of OECD data he was able to show that futureless language speakers are 30% more likely to report having saved in the last year than futured language speakers.
This is a tangible illustration of the great influence language has on behaviour. We may not be able to strip out the future tense of the English language to improve our savings rates, but by modifying our linguistic habits, we can influence our behaviour in other areas.
Let me introduce you to “Modal Operators of Necessity”, the linguist’s term for words of obligation. Words such as “have-to”, “must”, “should” and “ought-to”. These words pepper our everyday speech and imply a lack of choice. Have you ever said “I have to call so-and-so” or “I should do the dishes”? Subtly, these words create feelings of powerlessness and servitude within us, robbing us of our enthusiasm and self-determination.
Modal Operators of Necessity are deliberately used by the hypnotherapist within the trance state, to infer a lack of choice. For example, “you can’t access that old problem in quite the same way again”. Within trance, I use these Modal Operators of Necessity for the benefit of my clients. The intentional use of these words is a powerful tool in my toolbox.
If you would like an alternative to Modal Operators of Necessity in your everyday speech, let’s look at Modal Operators of Possibility. These are words such as “can”, want to”, “choose to”, “able to”, “get to”. Notice how it feels to say, “I choose to do the dishes”, “I get to call so-and-so”. These words create a sense of optimism, choices and alternatives.
I invite you to take this new linguistic pattern for a test-drive. What changes do you notice in your body, your energy and motivation when you speak in this new way?
You can choose to leave me a comment and share your findings!
You can watch Keith Chen’s fascinating talk in full here.
Image Credit: Trey Ratcliff via Flickr