Motivation and Your Emotional Vocabulary

motivation from your emotional vocabulary

I have often said that the mind works in pictures, and that is true.  So how can words radically alter our feelings if our mind files everything in pictures?

It’s true that we can picture something in our minds without having words to describe it.  But once you have a picture in your mind that you want to communicate to someone, what’s the first thing you do?  The first thing you do is try to find words to describe that picture, right?

Now it becomes a word picture

Even though our mental file cabinets are filled with pictures that represent experiences, we use words to access those files.  The word labels that we use for those experiences tell our nervous system where they are filed and how we feel about them.  So the word labels in effect come to represent the whole experience, not just a description of the experience.

Before you can articulate a feeling or experience, you need words to describe it.  If the words you use are not accurate you will misrepresent that experience to others.  Now here’s the fascinating thing about that, you will also misrepresent that experience to yourself.  Why not use this fact to your advantage?

Increased motivation and resourcefulness

One of our personal goals should be to try and remain in the most resourceful mental state possible, under any circumstances.  When we are in a negative head space it tends to rob us of our resources and motivation.  Alternately, a positive mindset increases our resourcefulness.  The more resourceful we feel, the more motivated we are to take action. When we lack resourcefulness, we also lack motivation.

How do we use our emotional vocabulary to create greater motivation for ourselves so we will take action?  We can choose word labels that frame our experiences in a way that empowers us with greater resourcefulness and motivation.

Adjusting your emotional vocabulary toward motivation

How resourceful do you feel when you’re infuriated?  Think about that for a minute, imagine yourself totally infuriated, and note how you feel.  Now notice what happens to those feelings if you change the label from infuriated to mildly annoyed.  Not only will you feel less angry, but you also feel more resourceful.  Let’s take it one step farther.  What if you represent that same experience by saying to yourself, “I was mildly annoyed but it passed quickly.”  How does that affect your degree of resourcefulness and motivation?

Can you see the practical application of this information?  Feeling resourceful equates to greater motivation, and greater motivation leads to taking action.  The more ways we find to stay in a resourceful mental state, the more likely we will be to keep taking positive action in the direction of our goals and aspirations. That’s how motivation works.

From depressed to empowered

It’s a clinical fact that more and more people are suffering from depression these days.  Depression is a debilitating state of mind that leaves people feeling helpless and hopeless. This is the polar opposite of motivation.

In his book ‘Awaken the Giant Within,’ author Anthony Robbins describes one man’s battle against depression.  After explaining to the man the effect that his words were having on his emotional state, the man agreed to the following.  For the next 10 days he promised not to use the word ‘depressed,’ not even once. If he felt tempted you use that word he would replace it by saying, “I’m feeling a little bit down, I’m getting better, or I’m turning things around.”

Simply shifting the word label used to describe his feelings completely changed his pattern of thinking.  The level of pain that he experienced decreased which helped him stay in a more resourceful mental state.  Two years later that man said that he had not felt depressed, not even once, since he agreed to stop using the word ‘depressed’ to describe his feelings.  By not using that word label, he completely changed his experience.

Use your emotional vocabulary skillfully!

Now imagine the effect on your life if you consistently and purposely diminished the emotional impact of your negative experiences and simultaneously intensify your positive experience. Skilled use of your emotional vocabulary allows you to do exactly that.

Life is full of challenges, maintaining your motivation in the face of such challenges has a dramatic effect on the quality of your life.  Will we learn from our challenges, or be devastated by them?  Much will depend on our resourcefulness at the time.  Learning to represent our experiences in ways that empower us is a huge step in the pursuit of personal excellence.

Did this make sense to you?
Did you discover ways to adjust you emotional Vocabulary?
Could you benefit from greater motivation and resourcefulness?
The lines are open!

This is the 2nd of two articles about Your Emotional Vocabulary. If you missed part 1 here’s the link: Harness the Power of Your Emotional Vocabulary.

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If one of your goals is to become a fearless and confident public speaker, this short video has some excellent public speaking tips from world class speaker.


  1. Frank Jovine August 10, 2010 Reply

    I need to adhere to my emotional vocabulary which makes me less angry and I avoid saying something I wish I never said. It must be the Italian in me.

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi Frank, sometimes passionate people have a little extra challenge in this area. It’s a matter of keeping the passion positive. I know you love good food so next time you are leaning toward angry just think of your favorite meal. Doing this a few times can create a completely different response pattern.

  2. Ryan Jenkins August 10, 2010 Reply

    Stellar post!

    I am constantly amazed by the power of the spoken word. Whether it be self-talk (out loud) or from an inspiring speaker. Couple words with music and/or videos and it’s a potent combo for our minds. Creative music videos tend to inspire me like nothing else!

    Great content as always Jonathan!

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi Ryan, it’s a power that is easy to harness once we realize we have it. Sadly, most people never do. I am very audio oriented so the influence is undeniable. Adding a visual component does make a powerful combo.

  3. Sandra Hendricks August 10, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    This is a topic that I am passionate about, and I touched on that I imagine it is an involved issue. It is simple in my mind, and I have a high understanding of words in my own life. I have witnessed an immense difference in my life, because I began being watchful of the words I use with myself and other people. I, like you, understand that this idea works, and it is powerful!

    I conceive though that the definition, we attach to a word can deceive us. Sometimes we have our own meaning and may believe it is a communication of lesser extreme. Take the word mad, as an example. Would you say that it is better to use the word mad rather than the word furious or irritated? I value that it is helpful if we stay completely away from any of them, but sometimes we must say how we feel.

    I additionally think that we use words like mad (that makes me mad), hate (I hate deli foods), flippantly. To me these words represent a mental state and to use them to describe an emotional state is harmful. This is beginning to seem like a debatable issue as I write it so, I will end this comment now.

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sandra, I think of words as switches that turn different influences on or off. As you brought out Sandra, some of those switches should be left off because we don’t benefit from their influence.

  4. Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

    I agree, if we can hear the word in our head the influence is basically the same as when we hear it in our ears.

  5. Sandra Hendricks August 10, 2010 Reply

    I like your idea of seeing words as switches that turn on and off. I had never thought of labeling specific words as emotional vocabulary before either. Your post is making the concept and the importance of it easier for me to describe to others. Thank you Jonathan. I have many people in my life who cannot seem to understand how significant words are to them. So your abstract ideas will enable me to assist them to see what words create.

  6. Farnoosh August 10, 2010 Reply

    Perfect sense, Jonathan. I am going to do this too. I just told my husband how exhausted, how wiped out I feel today and how bad I felt that I skipped my 5:45am cycling/yoga workout because 4.5 hours of sleep just didn’t cut it – but the guilt, the weight, the heaviness, it’s all from what I have been telling myself today – so you know what, I am feeling a bit tired but it’ll pass especially with tonight’s cycling class and a good meal (and a helping hand from friends like you). Fantastic piece of work! Thank you!

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi Farnoosh, truth is, we all get tired but we can always choose how we represent that feeling to our nervous system. We can say “I’m dead on my feet,” but it doesn’t take rocket science to see the negative implications that conjures up. Or we could say, “a little power nap would be wonderful this afternoon.” Now we’ve got something positive and empowering going for us. One phrase paints a word picture of a zombie, the other of being totally re-energized after a brief refreshing pause in our day.

      • Farnoosh August 10, 2010 Reply

        And zombies are not very pretty – I am big into looking my best ;)! Thank you Jonathan. I will work on it AND make it happen!!! Your wisdom inspires me so much.

  7. Chris Akins August 10, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great post. Im not certain I agree that the mind works in pictures. I think that different people work with different modalities. However, I think you are spot on with the rest of your analysis. The way we think (words or otherwise) impacts the way we construct our realities. Thoughts that are not distorted increase our resourcefulness, while those that are distorted rob us of it.

    As always your post inspires deeper reflection.


    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Chris and thank you very much. For what you say? Well, realize it or not you just made my day when you said: “As always your post inspires deeper reflection.” I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Deep reflection is where we sort things out and consider different possibilities. The thought of actually encouraging others to do that is so gratifying. Somehow, I feel certain that you know exactly what I mean.

  8. Lance August 10, 2010 Reply

    Once again, I come here and am enlightened by what you share! Such great (and easy!) things to do, and what a change can happen!

    I almost wish I was feeling a bit down right now, just so I could purposely try this out! (…almost!) This is getting filed into my brain, though – so the next time a moment comes up, I can put this to great use.

    I just love the idea, Jonathan, of how easy this is!!

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hello Lance, thank you my friend. As you’ve probably realized by now, I’m all about easy. There are so many simple yet powerful ways to raise the bar on life, I just love it. One of the things I always wonder is why didn’t anyone ever teach us this stuff when we were children? Think how many road bumps could have been smoothed out along the way.

  9. Hi Jonathan,

    I love this post. We cannot underestimate the power of the language we use. I love looking up word origins to see what they actually mean. Words are often ancient, and they carry an energy of their true meaning.

    We start from direct reality, then use words to describe the indescribable. So being precise about what we actually mean is essential. When we choose a word, it is helpful to ask: does this reflect my actual experience or is it based on a mental drama? Usually, the actual experience is not nearly as challenging as we think it is.

    • Jonathan August 11, 2010 Reply

      Hi Gail, some interesting points you made here like the energy carried by words with ancient origins. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective before.

      I feel that most people tend to spin mildly unpleasant experiences in a way that amplifies the negative. As you said: “the actual experience is not nearly as challenging as we think it is.” How much more empowering it is to put a positive spin on the way we register our experiences.

  10. Sandra Lee August 10, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan, That is a very powerful example from Tony Robbins. Thank you so much for sharing it. I completely agree with you and believe strongly in the healing power of mind. At the same time, I see the incredible rise in childhood illness and adult depression and anxiety, neurotransmitters gone wild, that are now linked to environmental toxins and elevated stress levels. I personally think it is wise to take action of multiple fronts simultaneously. This advice is a perfect place to start working with the mind in a positive way.

    • Jonathan August 11, 2010 Reply

      Excellent point Sandra, yes indeed, “it is wise to take action of multiple fronts simultaneously.” I view every personal growth strategy as a piece of the puzzle, there is no fix all solution to anything. Rather, it is the overall synergy of taking positive action on all fronts that raises the quality of life.

  11. Sean M Kelly August 11, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    There is no doubt that words and the emotions they can evoke are powerful and have changed the course of human history. In fact they still do. There are many words that can be used which make us react like Pavlovian dogs both for the positive and the negative. For example someone tells you “you’re an idiot”, how do you feel? Or someone tells you “you’re a genius”, how do you feel? And of course marketing and advertising are always looking for words which will make us buy!

    However there is another way of thinking about all this and that is to rise above the instant response to words. In other words to become “free” from the power that words can have over us. So instead of allowing our emotions to be on a roller coaster because of what is being said come from a place within ourselves where the words do not control us. If we learn to meditate we learn to go to this place often and it helps us remain in a natural state of contentment whatever we say to ourselves or others say to us.

    At least it’s worth experimenting with!

    Carpe Diem!
    Sean M Kelly

    • Jonathan August 11, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sean, while agreeing with everything you said, I can’t help but feel that you didn’t quite lock into the point of this article. It’s got nothing to do with other people’s words. But rather the words we use to represent our thoughts, memories and experiences to ourselves. The focus is really on self-talk whether verbal or just in our own minds.

      If you didn’t read part one it would probably provide some additional clarity on this. Having said that, I too feel that any practice which helps us remain in that “natural state of contentment” will definitely help us represent the events of our lives in a more emotionally neutral way.

      While meditation is one way to do this there are certainly others. I personally use Holosync brainwave technology and the release technique along with prayer and exercise.

  12. rob white August 11, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    I’m absolutely agree that the mind thinks in pictures. This is the reason I like to include illustrations with my writing… it helps sink the lesson deeper into the subconscious mind.

    I also think it is very empowering to swap out words with negative emotions attached. I used to have a habit of saying “this god d***ed thing!” and swap in “this god blessed thing.”

    • Jonathan August 12, 2010 Reply

      Hi Rob, it only stands to reason that our amazing minds would use the best and most efficient format for processing information. When it comes to data storage, a picture is worth a thousand words.

      At some point in my 40’s when people would ask how I was doing I would reply “pretty good for an old guy.” It seemed funny at the time until I stopped and thought about the message I was sending my nervous system. I changed my reply to “absolutely fantastic” and was immediately empowered by it.

  13. John Duffield August 12, 2010 Reply

    Good morning Jonathan. Just thought I’d add this little “puzzle” to your post. As you so accurately point out, we can effect our Mind/Mood/State of Being with words or even facial expressions. Your Mind feels happier if you make your mouth smile for example. Okay, so here’s the puzzle. Which is better. You make your mouth smile so you feel happy. OR….you’re happy and it makes your mouth smile. Ciao. John Duffield

    • Jonathan August 12, 2010 Reply

      Hi John, most people assume that the connection between emotions and body language is a one way street. Based on your “puzzle” I’m guessing that you know better.

      True, our body language is often an expression of our emotional state. But assuming body language that represents a particular emotion will send powerful signals to our nervous system. The result will be that our emotions will become a representation of our body language.

  14. cathy August 12, 2010 Reply

    Becoming more aware of what your thinking and how you are saying what you’re feeling is life changing. Knowing I could only have one thought (words) in my mind at any time made the single greatest positive impact on my life. I decided if it was only one, it might as well be a positive one.

    And John, I don’t think it matters. Smile first or think smiley thoughts first. Both approaches have worked for me. :)

    • Jonathan August 12, 2010 Reply

      Excellent point Cathy. We can really only focus on one thought at a time and (like you) we can use that to choose which thought gets our attention.

      Welcome to Advanced Life Skills Cathy. It’s great to have you here.

  15. Marion August 12, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan
    I learned about the power of words on mood when I studied NLP.
    Common expressions used when things don’t turn out well such as ” it’s a nightmare” or “it’s such a disaster” fire us up and magnify situations to a greater degree than they deserve.
    I have cut those out of my vocabulary and over the years and I am aware that I handle situations and complain about them much less – leading to a happier and calmer me :-)

  16. Sue August 12, 2010 Reply

    Wow! This is very new to me, and interesting, very interesting. A lot of things aound me make sense now. Thanks Jonathan for a good post!

  17. Nancy Shields October 18, 2010 Reply

    When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change….Dr. Wayne Dyer
    It’s all attitude and outlook…..CHANGE…we can always count on Change in life, how do we accept the changes in our lives????

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