A common theme I see in clients, particularly those who feel burnt out at their jobs, is a feeling that they lack control. This can escalate quickly to a place where clients feel like they have no agency and choice in their own lives.

Coaching can bring a client back into the power of their choice, but first they must see that their current perspective assumes a lack of choice. One way I use to identify this lack of control is by listening the the language a client uses. Language is incredibly powerful and gives us insight into a client’s perspective.

The base of much of Tony Robbin’s work and philosophy is centered on the notion that our emotions control and determine the quality of our lives. Changing our language is one of 3 paths he teaches for changing our emotions. The words we assign to an experience determine the meaning of our experience. Before we can change our language we must acknowledge what consumes most of our current vocabulary.

Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People offers simple cues for witnessing our language to understand the degree to which we are proactive or reactive.


Reactive Language

There's nothing I can do. 

That's just the way I am.

He/she makes me so mad.

They won't allow that.

I have to do that.

I can't.

I must.

If only.


Proactive Language

Let me look at my alternatives

I can choose a different approach

I control my own feelings.

I can create an effective presentation.

I will choose an appropriate response.

I choose. 

I prefer.

I will.

When we are reactive, we absolve ourselves of both responsibility and the power to invite personal choice into our lives. Responsibility is our ability to chose a response. When we assign our response to a circumstance outside of ourselves, we become reactive. When we own that response and actively choose it, we are proactive.

Begin to build awareness about what your language suggests about the degree to which you are proactive. Listen to your inner stories and examine them to root out the language embedded within them.

When you notice reactive language that suggests things are fixed and cannot shift or that an external circumstance or party is limiting your life and opportunities, consider shifting your language.

Begin to ask yourself the following questions:


What options you do have?

What you can choose?

What do you prefer?

What will you do?