Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Saying More with Less

It started with “I think.” Mantra friend encouraged me to eliminate this phrase from my writing and my speaking. The rationale is that “thinking” something is non-committal. It's passive. Not declarative. Thinking something shies away from taking a stand on what you know or believe.

I'll use the following sentences as an example:

I think Sherlock is the best show on television.


Sherlock is the best show on television.

The “I think” casts doubt about whether I really believe it or not...maybe there's another show I like better. Starting the sentence off with “I think” could mean I just haven't made up my mind yet.

The second sentence is an assertion. Since I am the one saying it, the fact that I think it is implied. I don't need to say it. Sherlock is the best show on television.

Removing this word from my lexicon has changed the way I interact with the world. Is it really possible that one little word can make a difference? Yes, it is.

Mantra friend has been relentless about keeping the “I thinks” from escaping my lips or being typed. Once I texted “I think...” Mantra friend texted back “Wanna try that again?”And so I would rephrase my sentence with stronger, more declarative words. I'll admit, at first it was annoying, but then I noticed that I felt better expressing myself in this new way.

Now it's a word game. We call it WWT for short. It's a war against passive, wishy-washy speech and writing. Mantra Friend has had more practice at it, so I especially like catching when he slips up. His occurrences are infrequent. I am vigilent about keeping it out of my sentences both written and spoken. I back space the word and rephrase in texts. I've even caught my characters saying it and rephrase the words they say!

Shortly after I replaced “I think” with stronger declarations like “I know” and “I believe,” we expanded the banned word list to include “I'm sorry.” (Now we call the game WWTS) To be clear, this does not mean that removing “I'm sorry” means that I do not offer sincere expressions of sympathy or no longer correct my mistakes. The “I'm sorrys” that we've removed are the ones that are especially prominent in the speech patterns of women. These sorrys weaken speech by making us apologetic about things for which we are not at blame. The use of these “I'm sorrys” erode confidence and a sense of empowerment.

I explained to Mantra Friend recently that I listen for violations of WWTS with other people. Some times I mention it, but most of the time I let it go. He asserted that I should correct everyone. I generally have a subtler approach until the other evening.

At my first tennis practice I decided to take a stand against the flagrant use of “sorry.” I was doing a drill with another student and I noticed that every time one of us missed a shot and had to chase a ball, we would say “Sorry.” I stopped and said, “Here's the deal. We're both beginners. Of course we're going to miss shots, and go chasing balls. No more saying I'm sorry. Okay? There's no need to say it. We're learning. It's part of the process.” Christine laughed. “Oh, gosh, we were saying that. I can't promise I won't slip up and say it, but you're right. We shouldn't be saying it.” And so our tennis practice continued without apology. It was glorious, freeing. We had nothing for which to apologize.

The game continues to expand. WWTS has grown to WWTSTG. We've also removed “I'm trying” and “I guess.” These phrases are also passive, non-committal. They do not promote bold, active living.

The “Try” word is a tricky one for me the recovering perfectionist. I have become aware recently of just what large portion of my life has been spent not doing any number of things for fear of doing them wrong or not quite right. My aversion to cooking is one such example. It's agonizing to contemplate, so I'm simply not rehashing it. Instead, I'm writing a novel. I've ordered the rear hatch struts for my Pathfinder and will be replacing them myself this weekend. I am sampling new recipes. I'm going to help paint the nursery at church. I'm training to run a 5k. In all of these endeavors, I am not trying. I am doing. And should something not work just right, I plan to ask for help (especially with the struts.) But removal of this word alone is changing my life. I am challenging myself to do things I previously believed I was incapable of or allowed others to convince me that I was ill-prepared for. No more! This doesn't change the fact that life is still scary and uncertain, but it does enhance that life is also absolutely blissful and intoxicating.

Seeking perfection is a losing battle and a boring one at that. The good stuff happens in the mistakes and the creative ways of correcting them or turning something not-so-right into something beautiful. The mistakes sharpen us, make us pay closer attention, and fine tune us if we let them.

After all, bold, active, unapologetic living is where the best of life is found. It's where raspberry bread pudding gets baked. It's where an afternoon is spent with my best friends – laughing, crying, and making new friends. It's where I prove to myself that I AM a runner. It's where I prove that I indeed have something to say that others want to read. It's where I'm learning that the forties are indeed fabulous.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”
- Yoda


  1. On my commute just hours after posting this essay, I heard a story on St. Louis Public Radio featuring the Mayor of Ferguson. He was discussing that a high-ranking official in Ferguson, who is at the center of the trouble in Ferguson, has stepped down. In his response he said, "I think..." I immediately said to myself, "Well did he or didn't he? You're the mayor. You would know definitively." His use of "I think" was indecisive, non-committal and left doubt in the mind of this listener. WWT is alive and well.

  2. Ok, going to play devil's advocate for a minute. While I do agree that some things deserve "think" to be removed from the description, I do not agree that it should be the rule in general. The term "I think" does not necessarily mean can mean the exact opposite, in fact. "I think" many times can be equally substituted with "I know" and "I believe". Those terms aren't weak but think is? And lack of those words doesn't always show a strong belief or assertiveness, perhaps it could show arrogance and unwillingness to be flexible? For example, "I think Sherlock is the best show on tv" --not a fact, just an opinion. Maybe a strong opinion, but one I wouldn't agree with. A solid THIS IS FACT without the disclaimer of this is my opinion and I'm willing to discuss other shows in consideration for top slot could show non-openmindedness (on a bigger scale than a tv show, of course)

    I do THINK that the word think is a lazy word for a wordsmith like you to use. There are so many other options to mean the same thing. So I would challenge you to branch out to use more descriptive words rather than deleting sentiment completely.

    With that said, I will say, I do love how you have transformed through your words and actions. This is another of those blog posts I love to read! Keep up the good work!

    **a side note**i got super excited for you when I scrolled down and saw "1 Comment" and knew I hadn't commented yet. Then realized it was your comment. Not that I didn't want to read more of your words, but sad face.....comment on the blog folks! Help a sister out! :)

  3. This is the third time I've tried to publish my comments...if that's every reader's experience no wonder no one comments!

    I intended the Sherlock examples to be understood as my opinions for sample sake not as fact. I should have made that clearer. In my experience with my friend, there has not been one occasion when an "I think" could have been construed as other than indecisive and non-committal. It is out of this experience that I wrote this post. The proof is in the pudding. I feel more empowered and stronger in expressing myself without the use of "I think." Also, the radio clip I heard today drove the point home for me further.

    As for readers' comments, I'm letting it go. I appreciate the feedback from wherever it comes and am grateful people are reading. I'm no longer considering it a deficiency. I DO appreciate that you leave comments here and hope you will continue!

  4. I, too, only used the Sherlock thing for example sake. I do take it as your opinion, not as a cold hard fact that I can't discuss with you. :) regardless of your use of "think", I am so thrilled for you feeling more empowered and stronger. Isn't that the point in all of this? I call it a success so far! Brava!