Your Emotional Vocabulary and the Power of Words

the power your emotional vocabulary

We all recognize that we get results by taking action – no action means no results because one depends on the other. We are also aware that there are a variety of motivators that can prompt us to take action. One of the challenges in personal development is learning to control those motivators so that we can intentionally move ourselves to take action and produce results at will.

Emotions are the most powerful of all the forces that can motivate us to take action in our lives. Developing the ability to use our minds to harness and direct our emotional power is one of the best ways to insure that we consistently produce our intended results.

The power of words and a very special vocabulary

This is where the power of words can really help. Not just any words, but a special group of words I will refer to as our emotional vocabulary. For the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine that we are going to divide all of the words we know into two different groups. We will call the first and largest group, our functional vocabulary. These are the words we use to communicate thoughts and ideas with no particular emotional value.

The second group, although smaller than the first, is much more powerful. We will call this group our emotional vocabulary. These are the words that we use to communicate our feelings, not just to the outside world but also to ourselves. The power of words lives in our emotional vocabulary.

Our emotional vocabulary is made up of word labels that we assign to our various feelings. We have word labels for intense feelings, both positive and negative, just as we have word labels for less intense feelings that are either positive or negative.

How can you harness the power of words?

Because we use word labels to describe how we feel about the different experiences in our life, changing the label can actually alter the way we interpret the experience. This is how we unleash the power of words. For example, if we have a wonderful experience that leaves us feeling absolutely overjoyed, but represent that experience by saying, “that was nice” then we minimize the intensity and the joy associate with that experience.

“Quite simply, what you say is the single biggest factor that determines your happiness.” -Irwin Katsof

This works the other way around as well. If we have an experience that is only “pleasant” but we label it as absolutely wonderful, it will change our feelings about that experience. We will have fortified that experience with a greater degree of positive emotional intensity simply by changing the word label we used to represent it.

Think about the implications here!

By giving conscious attention to the word labels that we habitually use to represent our feelings, we can amplify the intensity of our positive experiences, and we can minimize the intensity and feelings associated with our negative experiences. This is how we make practical use of  the power of words in our life.

Without being aware of it, many people have unintentionally magnified the negative experiences in their life, and at the same time, minimize their positive experiences. Using our emotional vocabulary in this way will have a disastrous effect because it misuses the power of words to help create an ongoing, unpleasant, negative life experience.

The power of words and you!

We all have positive and negative experiences in our life. Our view of those experiences and the impact they have on us will be determined by the way we interpret those experiences.

Here’s the bottom line, we can control the value and intensity of any experience by choosing word labels that represent those experiences in a way that empowers us. This how your emotional vocabulary can help you harness the power of words.

Can you identify the words in your emotional vocabulary?
Do you use the power of words to empower yourself?
The lines are open!

This is the first of a 2 part series about Your Emotional Vocabulary. In Part 2 you will see how this information can motivate you to take affirmative action.

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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. Farnoosh August 3, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, I have so many words that need to be completely blocked!! “But why did this happen?” – “I am overwhelmed”, “I don’t know how to make time for this”, “Why did so and so do this?” – I know, I am working through it. My poor hubby is the cheer leader but I must recognize the (good and bad) power of my words. I will think more about their power on my actions. And how heavy my own words sometimes make me feel. Gosh this was a mini confession….let’s keep it between us :)!

    • Jonathan August 3, 2010 Reply

      Hi Farnoosh, there are a lot of expressions that we just pick up and use without considering the subliminal message they are sending. We have all done this and can easily slip back into it if we don’t monitor our vocabulary.

      They have proven that the voice we are most responsive to is our own. So when we say something negative or limiting, our brain believes it and tries to adjust reality accordingly. Thankfully, the same thing happens when we represent our feelings with energetic and positive words.

      When someone asks my how I am doing I usually say “absolutely fantastic.” So, guess how I feel for real? That’s it, absolutely fantastic.

  2. Marko August 3, 2010 Reply

    I had the good fortune to meet and implement the power of words earlier in my life.

    I would only add that in addition to the positive power that labels have, power is also in the repetition of these words.

    As the negative labels like “I’m ugly” have much greater power if they are repeated 10 times, so will the positive have greater power if we repeat them several times.

  3. Jonathan August 3, 2010 Reply

    Good point Marko, the more often we send a consistent message to our brain the more established it becomes. After a while it becomes our habit and we don’t need to think about it very often.

  4. Sandra Hendricks August 3, 2010 Reply

    Oh my gosh Jonathan this is such a huge area of self-improvement! If we could only understand it and help other people grasp how relevant it is we could help many people change their circumstances. I like how you defined this concept as “emotional vocabulary”! This idea may help me reach people whom I know, arrive at the value, of how they speak with themselves and other people, thank you!

    • Jonathan August 3, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sandra, it may be a huge area but in reality it is a very simple concept that anyone can master if the just work at it a bit. In the second part of this series I will give some how to examples in hopes of making it crystal clear exactly how to use this Advanced Life Skill.

      We have so much untapped power to change our life experience for the better and I just love simple but powerful techniques like this one.

  5. Kate August 4, 2010 Reply

    Hello Jonathan,

    I think one one the commonest things that anyone can change quickly is their answer to ‘How are you?’ Often the answer is fine, OK, alright, not bad.

    Substiuting thihs for something like I’m great, very well, fantastic, can make you feel different in an instant.

    • Jonathan August 4, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Kate, I think that’s a very important one also. When someone asks “how are you” our own mind hears and believes whatever answer we give. Then it makes adjustments to bring our bodies, mental state, energy levels and such inline with our expressed description.

      The person whose answer focuses on being worn out, feeling sick or depressed, or any other negative response is just reinforcing that state. On the other hand, a positive response will bolster a positive state. My wife’s favorite answer to that question is “absolutely fantastic.” There is considerable positive energy in such an emphatic reply.

  6. Lance August 4, 2010 Reply

    Wow, this is such great, great information! I LOVE this! And – it has me really thinking about the language I use in my life. Over the last few years, I’ve really more consciously been choosing words that empower me to see my cup as overflowing. Still – there are moments where this slips, too. So I’m taking this today as a personal challenge to myself – to really be even more conscious and cognizant of the emotional language I’m using!

    Love this article!!!

    • Jonathan August 4, 2010 Reply

      Lance, don’t worry about the slips bro because it’s really the consistent message that makes the difference. I’d like to emphasize one really important point that you made. We often talk about the glass being half full or half empty. That is a pretty week analogy either way. You said that you’ve been “more consciously been choosing words that empower me to see my cup as overflowing.” Now that’s a much more powerful viewpoint.

      Loved your video on the power of a smile. I am still smiling over it. Thanks for sharing awesomeness wherever you go my friend.

  7. Dia August 4, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Emotions have huge effect on us humans. The only way to control emotions is by controlling our thoughts. Emotional vocabulary as you call it is so important because it decides how we feel about specific situation. Thanks for sharing

    • Jonathan August 4, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Dia, what you’ve stated is so true and yet it is not necessarily acknowledged by the majority of people. Emotions can be our greatest asset or our worst liability. The good news is that we get to choose!

  8. Nea August 4, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan. This post made me think about a new phrase that I’ve been using. “Oh my God, that’s horrible!” I don’t know where I got this from or how it so quickly became a phrase that I use 10+ times per day. A crazy commercial, a stain on my shirt, a song that I dislike on the radio…I’ve been responding by saying that it’s horrible.

    Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. I know that it was meant for me to read your article. I will not be using that phrase anymore because there is nothing horrible happening in my life.

    • Jonathan August 4, 2010 Reply

      Hi Nea, somehow those catchy little sayings can sneak in and grow roots before we even realize it. It happens to everyone, but what’s important is how quickly we uproot them once they finally get or attention. Just replace it with “That’s fantastic” and you’ll be right back on track.

  9. Liza Manuel August 5, 2010 Reply

    Dear Jonathan,

    I totally agree with you. Sometimes this emotional vocabulary can really affect your life so we should watch what we say. Usually, we tell our friends and colleagues “Happy Friday” or “happy weekend” to wish them to have a good weekend. One time I told my co-workers “Happy Monday!” instead. Everybody reacted and said “Why would it be a happy Monday? ” (because for them Monday is the start of tedious work) . Well, I answered like this: “You should be happy because you are lucky that you have work. There are many unemployed people out there who would be willing to be in your place.” ^_^”

    • Jonathan August 5, 2010 Reply

      Way to shake things up Liza! We get programed into these limiting thought patterns without even being aware of it. I mean really, Friday good, Monday bad. That’s telling the mind that only 3 out of 7 days in the week have any value. I love how you gave them sound reasons to adjust their thinking.

  10. Phil August 5, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan –

    This post is great and really resonates with me. I’ve been practicing with positive affirmations and found immense power in them. Using the positive emotional vocabulary to describe myself, my life and my feelings seems to generate new strength I never knew about. I do know that our language affects our experience so using these words in our story is huge. Great advice.


    • Jonathan August 5, 2010 Reply

      Hey Phil, great to see you. To our mind our voice is the most influential. That gives us all a wonderful opportunity to do some meaningful personal coaching each and every day. And yes, it does generate new strength and positive energy.

  11. rob white August 5, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    Great article. One that has always puzzled me is when someone asks. “who’s there?” and we respond, “It’s just me” or “It’s only me”… how about “It’s wonderful me!” It’s very empowering to notice whenever we habitually put ourselves down with limiting labels.

    • Jonathan August 5, 2010 Reply

      That’s a good one Rob and one that could easily get overlooked. Once we become really aware of how we use our emotional vocabulary, it’s amazing how many of those little personal put-downs we start recognizing.

    • Liza Manuel August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi, Rob! I love what you have just said. So, I’m thinking of saying this in response to the question “who’s there?” : It’s the wonderful, magnificent fantastic ME!!! (love the feeling of saying it!) I tried it once, and it really made me feel gooood!!! I’m also thinking of other words to describe myself. I love this post. Really….

  12. Stephen August 9, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan!

    The labels we use for everything matter so much. This was first brought home to me in a big way when I heard Srikumar S. Rao describing how labeling things “good” or “bad” played such an important role in how we react to our circumstances. While I agree with him totally on the “bad” label and have put it to very good use by trying to eliminate all forms of it, I disagree with him we shouldn’t use the “good” labels.

    Very nice job and I am looking forward to the next article in the series.

    • Jonathan August 10, 2010 Reply

      Hi Stephen, I think about those good and bad labels with regard to children. Good girl, bad boy, that is way too much to lay on a kid, especially when it’s about something they did or did not do rather than being about them as a person. (how’s that for a run on sentence?). Anyway, that’s just one area where those labels can be used pretty carelessly.

  13. Debbie July 6, 2011 Reply

    You are right Jonathan, this is very true, “we can control the value and intensity of any experience by choosing word labels that represent those experiences in a way that empowers us.” Anything can be turned in positive with the right words. Thank you for the link and the reminder.

    • Jonathan July 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Debbie, thanks for your continued support. You are appreciated.

  14. Onder December 12, 2013 Reply

    It took me a very long time to figure this out Jonathan.
    As a species. We tend to think with our emotions first before we think with our minds.

    The minute I understood this and became more sensitive to how this plays out in real life, its made it easier for me to judge people when speaking to them.

    I used to feel really frustrated whenever a person would say something and not follow through with their word.

    Then I realised, people simply do things based on their moods. Thats why advertisement companies spend so much time and money trying to emotionally engage people, enough so that they can impulse buy, regardless of whether they get buyers remorse afterwards.

    The same is true with everything in life. Ever had a friend convince you into going somewhere with them when you weren’t initially in the mood? That’s because they were successful at changing your mood and emotion into doing it ;)

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