It’s probably not news to you that the words you use have a big impact on how you perceive the world (and how you feel about the world and yourself), but today I want to focus on two of the most powerful words in the world: I am.
Every time you think or say, “I am” or “I’m not,” you’re defining yourself. We, as humans, love defining things. The world is a pretty crazy place, and knowing what we are helps us cope with the chaos. But, while definitions have the power to clarify, they also have the power to limit. This is especially true when it comes to the words I am.
Because these two words are so powerful, it’s important to use them carefully. I’ve discovered that, in order to make the most of them, to use them for clarity and not as a crutch, we have to make sure we’re being very conscious and purposeful in how and when we use them. It’s a process that takes practice, because it it involves a bit of complex duality: using I am for what’s unconditional and avoiding I am for what’s conditional.
Why is this important? Because what follows I am is powerful and creates your reality. If I am isn’t used carefully, it can become a very chicken-or-the-egg situation, in which is becomes difficult to differentiate what you actually are versus what you’ve continually said you are. To avoid this, I recommend keeping these two things in mind:
USE “I AM” FOR UNCONDITIONAL TRUTHS
With the words “I am,” you define yourself to the world, and, when used honestly, offer a valuable definition of who you are.
Consider the truth of the words, “I am a [mother / brother / friend / coworker / etc.].” There is no doubting that you’re one of those things. A statement like “I am a mother” is a fact, and not something that only applies sometimes. As Alexandra Franzen put it, people say, “‘I am a mother,’ not ‘I do mothering’ or ‘My goal is to do mothering seven days a week.’ Who you are is not something you try to do.”
When used in this way, I am is a definitive and concrete definition of yourself, but defining yourself in relation to family is an easy one. Most of us have no problem being 100% clear on that. The waters get a little murkier when it comes to other I am-worthy statements. For example, when someone asks me what I do for a living, sometimes, instead of stating, “I am a writer,” I might hedge the statement with, “I write about positivity and self-love.” At first glance, they seem to convey the same message, but not using I am part makes it less definitive and concrete.
Not using I am for things that are unconditionally true lessens the validity of how you identify yourself, and that’s not the message you want to send to the world (or yourself!). Getting the hang of fearlessly using I am can be a challenge, depending on how you usually speak about yourself, but you can practice by thinking about how you’d answer the following questions:
What do you do / study?
I AM (your career or major)
What is your relationship status?
I AM (single / married / coupled / etc.)
Are you an only child?
I AM (an only child / sister / brother)
What do you like to do for fun?
I AM (a runner / artist / party animal / etc. )
Even if the answers aren’t what you want them to be — let’s say you’re single and you want to be married or you’re a contractor but you want to be a full-time employee — it’s important to use I am to embrace what’s true in this moment. A vital aspect of self-love is acceptance. You don’t have to be in love with the way things are at the moment, but you should always love who you are because it’s exactly where you’re supposed to be right now.
Using I am for the unconditional aspects of your life is more powerful than you might realize. Not only does it convey who you are to those asking, but it reaffirms these facts internally, making it easier to know definitively who you are. The more awareness you have about yourself, the more you can expand the aspects you like and work on the ones you don’t.
AVOID “I AM” FOR CONDITIONAL TRUTHS
While it’s important to use I am to clearly define what you are instead of hedging a description of yourself (i.e., “I’m a writer” vs. “I write about…”), but it’s just as important not to use I am in statements that are conditional. Most of us use I am in ways that aren’t 100% accurate. A statement might refer to part of who you are — for example, “I am impatient” is really “Sometimes I struggle to have patience” — or it might be completely untrue — such looking in the mirror, noticing you want to lose a few pounds, and saying, “I am fat” when you’re not actually overweight.
Rather than really thinking about what we are saying, we’re often quick to use I am, labeling ourselves in an (often unproductive) attempt at self-definition. To give you a more personal example, here are some of the things I’ve said about myself: “I am antisocial. I am bossy. I am aggressive. I am selfish.” While, at some points in my life, I have experienced these characteristics, by choosing them as labels for myself, I am embracing and accepting them as universal definitions of who I am. These phrases are not absolute truths. Yes, there are times when I act in a bossy manner, but when I say, “I am bossy,” I identify with “bossy” as universal trait, rather than a conditional aspect that I can (and perhaps should!) change.
The more times you say, “I am [insert adjective here],” the more you’ll start to identify with that trait. Sometimes this can be a wonderful thing, such as when you say, “I am brave. I am strong. I am beautiful,” but more often than not, we find ourselves stating things like, “I am overweight. I am unhealthy. I am unhappy.” Though there might be some truth in those statements, identifying with them as who you are — rather than a state you’re in — can make it challenging to truly love yourself. It might seem silly to nitpick at words this way, but there’s a difference between saying “I am unhappy,” and “I feel unhappy right now,” and, small as the words I am are, they end up having a big impact on your perception.
Whether you’re learning to use the words I am more frequently or learning not to use them so often (or both!), keep in mind that how you define yourself is what you become. You cannot control everything in life, but your words are incredibly powerful and you have the power to use them in ways that increase the amount of self-love in your life.