How Your Choice of Words Can Reduce Stress and Empower You

Replacing common phrases in your thoughts and speech can radically improve your work and interpersonal relationships.

Mike Sturm
5 min readJan 15, 2020


Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Language has a significant effect on how we experience the world, which has a correspondingly significant effect on our behavior. Our word choice can build or destroy relationships, make or break deals, and shape our sense of self. And yet we neglect these effects quite often.

The words we choose create a large part of reality. They establish and define commitments. They feed or change expectations—both in ourselves and in others. Words act as lenses, through which we view the world, and with which we build the narratives of our days, months, years, and lives.

So how much attention do you pay to the words you use?

Let’s take a look at four commonly used words and phrases, and how simply using an alternative can change the game entirely.

Have to, Need to, and Going to

There’s a huge difference between the things you have to do or need to do, and the things you’re going to do. The difference may seem small, but it’s there — and it sets you up to approach that thing as something you’ve chosen to do, rather than some burden laying on top of you.

In saying “going to,” you’re also speaking with a sense of commitment and intention. You’re on this thing. It’s a way of “faking it till you make it.” Maybe it seems dumb, but consider the low cost of doing this, compared to the potential benefits. If you just try this small change, it doesn’t take a lot of effort from you, but its benefits could be great.

If this seems a little crazy, consider this: your mind can’t tell the difference between the things you’ve committed to doing, and the things you haven’t, but that continue to be on your plate. To your anxious mind, it’s almost all the same — there’s just varying degrees of pressure distributed among the stuff you’re thinking about. Making this small change in phrasing can help to establish a small, but distinct division in your mind.

Can’t vs. Won’t



Mike Sturm

Creator: — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.