Home / Resources / Negative vocabulary can have a real affect on our emotions

Negative vocabulary can have a real affect on our emotions


It all began because my siblings and I have been spending a lot of time with my father this year.  For anyone who remembers the column where that journey began, I can quickly update you that he is now happily moved into his new abode; the old house is cleared and hopefully sold; and his children are slowly recovering from the physical and emotional turmoil resulting from months of spending each weekend involved in the process.

Anyway, what became one of the many jokes which got us through this period was the frequency with which he used the word “incidentally”.  Our hearts sank whenever a sentence began with it as we knew it would be followed by “did you find”, “remember” or “your sister/brother said” and involve yet more work or discussion.  It became the catchphrase on many of our “to do lists” and debates on whether to chuck, save or sell various items in the house; not to mention a few wry smiles when he uttered it in the presence of more than one of us.  Unfortunately, like so many such jokes, it then sorely backfired as its usage rubbed off and I found it had worked its way into my everyday vocabulary.

What could I do except pinch myself every time I realised I’d used it with my out-loud voice?  Well, as ever, there’s an answer for everything if you look in the right place.  So, I found myself trying to follow the guidance of Tony Robbins and his “Transform your words in 4 steps” blog.  I know the examples he uses are for replacing negative words and phrases with something less negative and more realistic to help you change the way you feel.   Quite frankly, using this one fairly short, neutral word had a negative emotion attached to it after my recent experiences, so I thought I would try his 4 steps regardless.

It should come as no surprise that ‘incidentally’ wasn’t on its own for long!  The first step of the exercise is to notice the vocabulary you use and the label you put on things to describe your unhappy feelings.  I could certainly tick his first example of overusing the word “worry” and noticed I “really worry” about things a lot!  My response to being asked “How are you” could do with a makeover too, as my sarcastic responses may not conjure up the most positive emotions – in my defence I do live in Scotland, so am usually either looking like a drowned rat or removing hair from the centre of my face from where it’s been left by the wind when I’m replying to that question.

Step 2 was identifying three words you use on a regular basis that intensify negative feelings or emotions. Well, I had ‘incidentally’ and ‘worried’ but struggled for a third so cheated a bit with a phrase rather than a word, as ‘fed up’ seems to have crept in over this same period!

Step 3 – find 3 positive words that you can say and own consistently which will increase your positive feelings and inspire you.  Hmm, that took a while!  Using his tips to consider your response to “How’s it going” and a positive word you come up with when thinking about your whole life, I settled on ‘tickety-boo’, ‘great’ and, cheating again, ‘pretty damn good’.

The final step is to choose two accountability buddies who you give permission to pick you up whenever they hear you use your negative words and check with you that you really mean to use them or want to lower their intensity.  I’ve discovered it’s just ‘tickety-boo’ when the tables are turned from their teenage years and your adult children get the chance to suggest you might wish to correct your vocabulary!

It’s an interesting exercise and I shall definitely persevere as it’s making me more aware of how my language can affect my emotions … but it is ‘incidentally’ still ongoing!

Recent articles on our blog....

A row of well thumbed cream coloured paper folders

Workplace wellbeing resources – some helpful recent additions

May 16, 2024

Our latest collection of external resources to help workplace wellbeing includes guidance and recommendations relating to a range of topics – autism employment, ensuring EDI is for everyone, information sharing in mental health emergencies at work, menopause in the workplace and women at work.

Read More →
Group of people working around a desk beside a cork board with coloured notes

Why we should focus on minimising employee illbeing to aid workplace wellbeing

May 16, 2024

This post begins with some research which concludes that efforts to improve wellbeing at work are directed too narrowly. It then goes on to highlight some courses that can help employers looking to minimise employee illbeing in the workplace. They present opportunities to explore strategies that can enhance a culture of psychological safety and trust.

Read More →
A row of clear clips with yellow heads showing various emoticon faces clipped onto a cork board

Moving more at work for our mental health

May 15, 2024

In line with the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we offer some simple suggestions for building movement into our working day.

Read More →



Our purpose is to provide training and consultancy services to enhance resilience, health and wellbeing in the workplace.


Differentiation is one of the most strategic and tactical activities in which companies most constantly engage


It's natural to have questions about training and how it fits with your organisation. Our FAQs can help you find out more.


View case studies for some of the in-house training courses we have delivered to different types of organisations across the UK.