The Blog.

Are your words getting you stuck in a rut?

17 May 2011 | Happiness, Personal Productivity

Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut, where you can hear your voice describing yourself with the same words day after day: I’m stressed. I’m too busy. I’m tired…. and even though you’d love it to be different, talking about it just makes it all the more real, almost like a self-fulfilling prophesy?

They say “You are what you eat”. I think often “You are what you say you are”.

I don’t know about you but I find that I’m very hot at picking this up with my kids. I refuse to let a phrase like “I’m useless…” , “I can’t…” or “I’m stupid” lie.

On the other hand it takes a bit of prompting sometimes to notice it in myself. In a recent conversation, a friend pointed out that I had said “I’m rubbish when it comes to memory” several times. Now whether my memory is rubbish or not, I’m sure telling myself how rubbish I am isn’t going to help (perhaps there’s hope that I might completely forget…?)

So what can you do about that? Well here’s one simple tweak that can make a massive difference.

Swap “I am…” to “I am doing”

You see, “I am” speaks to our identity. It feels permanent, it’s part of who we are.

“I am doing” describes something we are taking part in, at this moment in time, but it’s not a part of us. It’s temporary and detachable.

Notice how “I’m doing stress” feels different from “I’m stressed”? And taking it a step further, saying “I’m doing stress today” or “I’m doing stress right now” makes it even more transient.

Another example I’ve come across in parenting is to be wary of saying “You’re naughty”, “You’re being naughty” or “You’re a naughty boy/girl”, as on some level you’re telling them this is who you are – naughty. My son’s current favourite film Megamind sums this up beautifully:

“No matter what happened, I was always… the bad boy. Was this my destiny?… Wait. Maybe it WAS! Being bad is the one thing I’m good at! Then it hit me: if I was the bad boy, then I was going to be the baddest boy of them ALL!”

So instead I’ve decided to be more deliberate in saying “that was a naughty thing to do.”

I love this tweak because it also gives me plenty of permission to be imperfect – I can do grumpy, do forgetfulness and do mistakes without being a failure. I can do scared, do confused and do crazy and then go on to be confident, clear and (mostly) sane!

Notice the tweak?

What about you? What do you say to yourself, that’s maybe just something you’re doing rather than who you are? I’d love to know what difference you notice when you play with this simple tweak. Leave me a comment with your thoughts.


  1. Naomi

    Gosh I cannot think of anything but I will. I am sure and I will be back. I try not to label myself or say I am not good at something. I like to balance it with I cannot be great at everything.

    • Grace Marshall

      Sometimes just the awareness of the words can help you notice more of what might have previously gone under the radar. Thanks for stopping by Naomi. Look forward to hearing more when you’ve had a think and a play with it 🙂

  2. Jennymaguire

     I was wondering, how vast the positive outcomes may be from reading such a positive post. I am also wondering, it’s good to wonder isn’t it? What might we all be saying on a daily basis that reminds us how fantastic, creative and fun loving we are. I know you and your readers will agree with this sentiment, don’t you. 
    Keep up this fantastic blog it gives great food for thought. A much better use for food I find!!!!! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Ha thanks Jenny! I can see you’re really taking to this positive language! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Ha thanks Jenny! I can see you’re really taking to this positive language! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Ha thanks Jenny! I can see you’re really taking to this positive language! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Ha thanks Jenny! I can see you’re really taking to this positive language! x

    • Grace Marshall

      Ha thanks Jenny! I can see you’re really taking to this positive language! x

  3. shellintons

     I have been doing stress, shopping with the children 🙂 I am now doing, nearly relaxed, with coffee and a view of my chooks. Brilliant post Grace, insightful as always, thank you for sharing. You make me feel almost human ;p

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Shelly, delighted you’re finding it helpful 🙂 By the way, feel free to use “I am” when it comes to stuff that you do want – might as well invite it to become a more permanent feature! Have a great, relaxing, human weekend x

  4. Amy Harrison

    Hey Grace, I love the separation between the action and the personality. Words are so powerful especially the ones we tell ourselves and we can inhibit our own true power if we listen to closely to the labels we give ourselves. Enjoyed this post Grace – thanks!

    • Grace Marshall

      You are so right, words are incredibly powerful, and it’s something I often pick up on with my clients. Doing some training at the moment which involves lots of work with language and words, so I’m having fun with that. Thanks Amy, I appreciate your comments 🙂

  5. Anne Mcghee

    Great post Grace one should never forget the power of our words to attract what we want and even don’t want in our life.  

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Anne, yes words do affect what we bring to life. On that note then perhaps ‘always remember’ rather than ‘never forget’? 😉 Maybe that’s another post for another day! Thanks very much for stopping by to share your thoughts Anne.

  6. Sue

    Taking  a step back and ‘divorcing’ yourself from a situation can help you feel less connected, give you less ownership of those feelings and deal with them more logically. It’s like giving yourself permission to use that persona for a limited time, then pout it away and get your real one out!
    Lovely post, thanks Grace 🙂 

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Sue, yes stepping back and taking another perspective can be really helpful. Another way of putting some distance in is to talk about it in the past too – “that’s how I’ve been feeling” gives the possibility that from here on, things can be different. Glad you enjoyed the post Sue, thanks for your comment 🙂

  7. Sandra

    Nice! I’m going to try that.

    • Grace Marshall

      Go for it Sandra! Thanks for your comment 🙂

    • Grace Marshall

      Go for it Sandra! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  8. Collett

    ‘I’m doing tired’ – I really like this idea Grace!

  9. Collett

    ‘I’m doing tired’ – I really like this idea Grace! (sorry about the last image – I was trying to upload to Disqus – LOL)

    • Grace Marshall

      It’s a great little tweak isn’t it? (and nice pic!)


  1. Are you trying to reinvent yourself? | Grace Marshall Life and Business Coaching - [...] – like in kids’ films – you may have noticed me blog a few quotes from films like Megamind…
  2. Two and a half words that will improve your productivity | Grace Marshall Life and Business Coaching - [...] I’ve blogged about this before, that “I am” speaks to our identity. It feels permanent, part of who we…
  3. Failing well | Grace Marshall Life and Business Coaching - [...] particular attention to statements that begin with ‘I am’. Remember failure is an event, not a [...]
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About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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