Go Ahead and Say You'll Never Do That Again!

What's now considered conventional wisdom in the behavioral therapy is for individuals to be taught to eliminate declarative words from their thoughts and statements. Words like "never" and "always" have been demonized in the behavioral health world and people are taught corrective action to take to interrupt those words when they reveal themselves in streams of consciousness or spoken statements. The wisdom behind this is that these words create exaggerated absolute value that can be hurtful when used in the wrong context, which are how many couple's use them in arguments (ex: "you never listen to me", "you always forget about our Friday night plans when I'm the one making them."). It is true, using declarative words such as "always" and "never" during arguments with a loved one can and will increase agitation and instigate further conflict, they ought to be avoided in these cases. Other bodies of thought on avoiding declarative words have to do with healing damaged self esteem (ex: "I will always be worthless", "I will never be loved by anyone"). For those who have suffered trauma in their lives, statements that include the words "never" and "always" have had an intent of harm and damage in their past, and their ongoing use inside their minds or spoken out loud should be changed. These kinds of words can also take on an obsessive quality to them, for those who suffer from compulsions they can dramatically effect their daily lives (ex: "I will never eat more than 300 calories in a day", "I will always check all door knobs 13 times before and after leaving and entering a room"). For those folks, declarative words should be phased out and replaced with kinder, more flexible words.

Declarative words have immense power. They have the power to disrupt resolution between two people, to keep someone feeling poorly about themselves, and to fuel obsessive actions and thoughts. If they can use all of that power for evil, we have to wonder, can they use all of that power for good? Are there instances when using declarative words can actually cause good things to happen and teach us valuable life lessons? Yes. Think of what it was like when you were a young child and how you learned to do things for yourself. How were you taught to enact daily routines that would help you stay healthy and alive? Did a parent tell you to sometimes brush your teeth before bed and in the morning? Or were you taught always to brush your teeth before you went to bed? Did you learn to always put on your seatbelt when driving or sometimes? How about drunk driving, sometimes or never? Were you told to always avoid exposed electrical wires in your neighborhood or only once in awhile? Sometimes, and even often times it is important to use declarative words when learning life lessons, without the definitive nature of those words, how else would you know how serious a lesson you were being taught was? Had we not developed habits where we always lock the door before we leave or never forget to feed our pets for the day what kind of life would we be living in? So can those words be used to help teach us healthier behaviors to live by? Absolutely.

Using declarative words to enact healthy behaviors or transform unhealthy ones can be simple and effective. Lets start with enacting healthy ones, want to commit to going to yoga weekly? Figure out the financial cost, learn how to afford it, commit to a schedule and tell yourself this is a new life lesson, something you will always do. Sound too easy? That's because it is! Just like you always have your particular shower routine, your bedtime routine, your routine of picking up your kids, feeding your pets, you now always do yoga on Thursdays. You wouldn't ever skip clipping your nails once a week, so you do not ever skip your weekly yoga session. Cue distractions, a headache, or lack of emotion, sorry, this is something you always do! Just like you wouldn't skip out on feeding your pets because you're too tired, you cannot skip out on Thursday's yoga session.

Want to try transforming an unhealthy behavior? This works just as well. Smoking cigarettes, engaging in binge eating behaviors, or isolating and blowing off plans with friends, and many more unhealthy behaviors can be changed with the use and belief in declarative words. Take the preliminary steps necessary to stop the behavior (ex: buy nicotine patch to stop smoking and use as recommended or rid your home of triggering unhealthy foods), and become someone who never smokes, never binge eats, always keeps their word when making plans with friends. Using this technique is all about becoming the person that lives in a world where they never engage in that unhealthy behavior again, it is all about being someone who would never light up another cigarette just like they would never put their hand on a hot stove. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that as long as the belief is there. This isn't to say that those nagging self-sabotaging thoughts won't rear their ugly heads, they will, but because you have learned a life lesson of never doing that particular thing again, you do not have to relapse into that old behavior, that is something you no longer ever do. Many will still find it helpful to have a list of coping tools and self soothing techniques to use in addition to using declarative words which can be a dynamic duo, others will find using declarative words enough.

Now what happens if you put into practice the use of declarative words into your daily life and you relapse on an unhealthy behavior or skip your healthy new habit for the day? Does this mean you failed at your life lesson? Yes, but not permanently, we are human after all, not perfectly programmed machines, and even those fail once in awhile. There will be a day where you forget to turn the burner off on the stove, where you forgot to walk your dog, and a day where you didn't go to your yoga session. There will be a time where you eat too much Indian food that always upsets your tummy, feel tired all day after missing your usual bedtime, and have that cigarette after weeks of quitting. This doesn't give you permission to slip back into your old ways, you cannot unlearn a life lesson that has been learned, you must go back to obeying it, simple as that.

The use of declarative statements will not benefit everyone, those suffering from moderate-severe mental health conditions may benefit from alternative or supplemental behavioral techniques that should be agreed upon with a treatment professional.