It pains me as a word slinger, but it’s images that populate our craniums not words per se. Words are merely the “raw materials of thought,” as David Schwartz puts it in The Magic of Thinking Big. He’s right: we do think through images. Yet words are magical nonetheless, for they conjure up the all powerful images that fill our heads and establish how we feel about something. As such, they have to be handled with care.
“When spoken or read, that amazing instrument, the mind, automatically converts words and phrases into mind pictures,” Schwartz writes in the book first published in 1957. “Each word, each phrase, creates a slightly different mind picture. … The mind pictures we see are modified by the kinds of words we use to name things and describe things.”
When you tell people that a project has failed, the words create images of defeat, disappointment, frustration, anger, and grief. To encourage people to try again, Schwartz suggests you say instead: “Here’s a new approach that I think will work.”
“Suppose you say, “We face a problem.” You have created a picture in the minds of others of something difficult, unpleasant to solve. Instead, he writes, you should say, ‘We face a challenge,’ and you create a mind picture of fun, sport, something pleasant to do.”
Schwartz encourages us to turn resolutely away from pettiness and negativity, and to be “big thinkers” who transmit optimistic pictures in their own minds and in the minds of others. Be careful what words you use, spoken or not. Schwartz’s message resonates because it rings true. His book hasn’t sold more than four million copies for nothing.