What comes to mind when you think of SMOG?

A thick, heavy, unclean, polluted fog distorting the way ahead…that’s what I think of.

What then is SMOG language? Are you using it unawares?

red10 ‘s Kirsten Campbell explains here about the “Should”s, “Must”s, “Ought”s and “Got to”s that can really disempower.

How SMOG can create stress and sense of overwhelm

If I say to myself, for example:

“I really must get all my emails done, I really ought to get on top of it”

where does it sound like the control for my life exists – inside or outside of me?

Yes, OUTSIDE, almost like there is some list of how to be in the world that I ended to comply with, or like I am a puppet on a string.

I just made that sentence up and as I wrote it I started to feel stressed like it was true!

It comes down to two key reasons:-

  1. As human beings we want to make sense of the world around us and language is one of the key ways in which we do that. Our brain tends to believe what we say; it doesn’t immediately know if it is true or not.
  • This is seriously disempowering language as it implies there is no choice, which is in itself fundamentally disempowering. What we truly want is choice and options.

On a similar vein one of the most frequently said disempowering things I hear is “I can’t” when most often that is not really true and not what someone actually means. Often I discover they meant one of:

  • “I don’t know how to”
  • “I am not willing to”
  • “I am scared to”

These all have very different meanings and they give us options on how to respond.

What are SMOG alternatives?

As an alternative, try swapping the SMOG words out for choose to or choose not to.

For example:

  • I’m going to choose to spend 1 hour on emails
  • I’m going to prioritise and respond to the top 10 urgent / important ones then choose not to do any more than that so that I can go out tonight in the knowledge that I’ve taken care of priorities.

These phrases are so much more empowering and liberating…you can almost hear the sigh of relief as we take the load off.

Have you ever considered the notion that the brain doesn’t hold negatives well?

For example, If I say:

“I don’t want you to think about a 10ft tall pink kangaroo with bright purple polka dots on its fur and swirling green eyes.”

What’s the chance of none of you thinking about exactly that? Pretty low I would say and yet we hear it all the time whether it’s a parent saying “stop jumping on that chair” or “don’t run on the road”… the brain has to imagine the thing before the don’t is inserted and by then its typically too late.

Newsflash: it works exactly the same with adults!

The alternative is to state it in the affirmative, saying “Can you sit still in your chair?” or shouting “STOP!” to the child about to run on to road.

This is much more impactful.

Watch out for rising buts!

Imagine someone is giving you some praise along the lines of:

“You’ve had a really good year and made some significant in-roads…”

What one word are we all anticipating next?


So their sentence continues:

“…but I know you can do better”

This sometimes is known as the BS (I’m not going to spell that one out for you) before the but because often times people then ignore all the positives that came before the but and focus on the negatives that come afterwards.

It can tend to sound like the person is building up to delivering the real message, just like the literal rising of your butt!!

A really simple way to reframe this is to swap the BUT for AND i.e.

“You’ve had a really good year, made some significant in-roads and I know you can do better in these other areas too”

This is almost exactly the same message, however the impact is very different and the 2 statements either side of the AND can mutually exist and be heard as true.

Cleaning Up Our Language

Just like most changes we want to make, we first need to be consciously aware of where change is needed.

I encourage you to start noticing the language you use on a regular basis and where there might be opportunities to clean it up and have a more powerful impact.

We’d love to hear how you get on with that and what impacts you notice.