How JUST a small word can have a significant impact on your self perception.
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Choose your words carefully.
Language is complex from written to spoken, with different dialects, grammatical rules, different tenses, pronunciations, spelling, and interpretations. We've all experienced miscommunication – we've said something, and someone has interpreted it differently from what we meant. Suddenly, someone has taken offence, and worst case scenario, there are tears and anger – and all from a sequence of words! It just proves the power of them.
One language we 100% govern and which isn't open to interpretation is the language we speak to and about ourselves. Yes – that inner voice. This voice is often critical, and it comes through in the language we use about ourselves. Phrases like "I'm hopeless at this", or "I've never been good at that", "I'll never be as good as that", "I'm just a Mum", and “Why would anyone care what I have to say?”; the list goes on! The power of language will shape what you do, and the more we tell ourselves something, the more we believe it.
One word that I often hear (and am guilty of using!!) in a context that is disempowering and self-depreciative is “JUST." But it’s ‘just’ a word I hear you say! Let’s look at how it is commonly used...
It’s JUST a word
Have you ever caught yourself saying, "It's just me calling"? Or "I'm just a stay-at-home mum/teacher/consultant”? Just is a very commonly used filler. It’s ‘just’ a four-letter word, but it packs a big punch. Just is often used to imply insignificance, e.g., ‘I’m just checking in’ or ‘It was just a 20-minute walk’. It’s a word that minimises everything it follows, a subtle message of subordination which demeans what you want to say.
Take a look at how you use it, how often you use it, and how it makes you feel.
When I did this, to my horror, I found that I was a habitual user of 'just' in both my vocabulary and emails. I didn’t realise ‘just’ (!!) how much I used it in my emails, e.g., "I'm just following up", "I'm just wondering if you have had time to..." I didn't want to sound direct or demanding, but this 'just' implies my request is unimportant, an apology for interrupting them or that I'm bothering them when what I wanted to know was necessary and part of my job. By inserting 'just', I not only came across as inferior to a complete stranger but I was left feeling inferior.
JUST ditch it
Ditch ‘just’ and trust in the importance of what you have to say. By taking out 'just,' there is more power and ownership in what is said.
“It’s just me” (sounds like you are insignificant) vs. "It's me" (and I am happy with me!!).
"It was just a 20-minute walk" (sounds like there is no value in going for a walk) vs. I went for a 20-minute walk (you chose to schedule in a walk which is more than most people do!).
"I'm just following up" (It's not important, but I thought I would ask) vs. "I'm following up" (I need to know how you want to progress).
Look how removing 'just' adds ownership; it adds conviction.
By no means am I suggesting impoliteness with your language or that you become more masculine in your phrasing, but what I am encouraging you to do is really tune in and become aware of what you are saying and writing. See how that word makes you feel and if it is necessary to include it. Nike’s phrase “Just do it” is empowering and makes you feel motivated, but "I'm just doing my best" implies it's not good enough compared to "I'm doing my best".
And the word ‘just’ is only one example! There are so many more; ‘can’t’, ‘should’, ‘have’, ‘hopeless’, ‘sorry’.
Examine the language choices you are making and look to use language that empowers you.