How our words shape our experience, and why diets don’t work

How our words shape our experience, and why diets don’t work

Have you ever noticed how the words you use to describe an experience eventually replace your actual memories of that experience? For example, I ran the New York Marathon last year. When I got back home, people asked me how it was, so I described it to them. After I told the story a few times, it became fine-tuned, and I settled on the most interesting bits to tell people, and the best words to use to describe those bits. Eventually, this description became so well rehearsed that whenever I think of the New York Marathon, I think of my edited description, rather than the actual experience. In other words, the words I used to describe the experience became a shorthand for that experience. Rather than digging out loads of memories, my brain is somehow taking a shortcut and playing the edited highlights instead. The trouble is that these edited highlights are not just a shortened version of events – they are skewed in the particular way that I had chosen to relate the experience to my friends. For example, I left out the boring bits. I downplayed some of the agony. I focussed more on the fun and excitement. So the words we use to describe our experience not only become a shorthand for that experience, but they can start to define and shape the experience as well. This happens not only to our memories of the past, but to our experience of the present as well. And that is why the language we use when talking about our experience, behaviour and goals is so important. Take these...