As we learned in my last blog, we know that we are prewired to be negative. It will take practice and effort to overcome our tendencies. Do you remember the old SNL skits making fun of Mr. Rogers looking at the mirror stating out loud positive affirmations about himself. Although it’s meant to be funny, the strategy employed is nothing but. Words have power. Words have consequences. In many ways words have a life itself. There are many studies that prove the power of words. There is one particular study that I found very interesting. They recruited a group of college students to participate in a psychological study. In this study the students were randomly selected into two distinct groups. One group were to function as prison guards and the second group were to pretend to be prisoners. The prisoner group were assigned just a number and were referred only as that number never by their name. The guards were instructed to verbally abuse and degrade the prisoners. It should be noted, it was only verbal never physical. The study had to be halted prematurely due to the negative impact it had on the students that portrayed the prisoners. The body language and personality changes that were visibly seen were significant.

One of the best benefits of being a geriatrician for the past twenty plus years has been hearing all of my patient’s stories. In the midst of listening to their life’s tales one cannot help to learn some valuable lessons. In the far east, the elderly are held in high esteem due to their wisdom and experience. Let me tell you, nothing can me more true. With absolute certainty I have learned more from my patients about life than any other source. Listening to how they have dealt with challenges in their lives ranging from relationships to finances have enriched my life. Amazing people. Tom Brokaw wrote a book called “The Greatest Generation” and I could not agree more. They understood about negativity bias not from reading a book but by living through it eighty plus years. It is amazing what they had to endure and how they have become a better person living through it. One of my patients told me she wakes up every morning with a positive thought and goes to bed each night the same way. It was a decision she made. Another patient told me that he made a conscious effort to say something nice to a person everyday including to himself. An interesting method was adapted by a patient of mine. She would receive a criticism as a compliment. She convinced herself that whenever a person critiqued her, it was their way of showing love by trying to help her improve herself and in response she always said thank you. She told me “it was just a matter of perspective.” What I learned from my patients is that practice makes permanent.

Words matter. Words are impactful. Our first task is to understand the power of words and leverage it in our favor. We begin by familiarizing ourselves with words that encourage, empower, reassure, inspire. Remember, our instinct is to tear down rather than build up. Rather than criticize look to compliment. Make certain words or phrases like “you look nice”, “I’m proud of you”, “you are appreciated”, “you’re so good at” as part of your common vocabulary. Each week I am going to assign homework for us to work on. Please obtain a personal calendar so we can monitor and track our progress. We will do them together and learn from each other. This week, research words of affirmation. It is one of the five love languages and it is very effective. Get intimately familiar with them. Once you research them, our task is to use one of these words every day to another person and to ourselves. Make a conscious effort each and every day to use these words. Please mark on your calendar each day that you were successful in your task. Observe the way others interact with you and vise versa as you begin your assignment. Till next week…..

— Dr. Pak