Read time: 3 minutes

The Little Engine That…

Scott Palasik

Do you have a personal challenge that you think has kept you down? We all have them. We all have things that we might not like about ourselves. Parts of ourselves we find hard to accept or work through. Things that we wish we could change. Things that we have maybe (just maybe) worked really hard to change and we come back to thoughts that keep us from moving any direction. WELCOME TO BEING HUMAN!


Am I hitting a chord yet? Probably a minor chord or a major chord. 


For me, stuttering has been that thing. The thing I have worked on, have gotten frustrated with, fought with, and have also learned (over many years) to occasionally hug and appreciate (“occasionally”, not always). 


However, going back in time I used the word “always” and so many words like it over and over. Words that kept me trapped and not moving forward.

Kelly Wilson, one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term "word prisons". This refers to language that does not allow us to be psychologically flexible. Words that inspire us to not move. A word or language that does not present us with options of behaviors. Always is one of those words. 


Here are some other word prisons:

  1. Never
  2. Must
  3. Have to
  4. Won’t
  5. Everyone
  6. No one
  7. All
  8. Nothing


Let’s explore word prisons a little more to show you what we mean “keeping us trapped.” For me, I used “always” in many ways. Here are some examples of conscious thoughts I had daily, sometimes several times a day:

  1. “I always stutter,” 
  2. “I always sound dumb,” 
  3. “I will always talk weird.” 


When we look at the examples above, what options was I creating? The answer, very few options. Exactly one option for each example. If I did not “always stutter” or “always sound dumb” (this is a perception, not a fact),” or “always talk weird” (another opinion, not a fact), then I failed at that thought.

Those thoughts kept bringing me down further and further with my self-worth, self-esteem, and with so many areas of my life. 
I used many other word prisons like:

  1. “I will never find job”
  2. “I must talk fluent”
  3. “I won’t ever date because of stuttering.”
  4. Everyone thinks I’m not smart because I stutter.”
  5. No one will be my friend.”
  6. All people think people who stutter are less human,”
  7. Nothing will ever help me.”


Does any of the language above sound familiar with how you might be approaching your own challenging thing? I bet it's very familiar. 


Reading the above examples, what options did I leave myself? This kind of language wasn't helping me create options to think and act. What it did was perpetuate remaining stuck where I was and the negativity I was fostering. 


Instead of using word prisons, you might try using can or could.  That's right!

The word that the Little Engine that Could  repeated over and over. That Little Engine used “can” because it left him options. It was honest language. He didn’t say, “I think I will.” He didn’t say, “I think I must” or “I always will.” He said, “I think I can!” He wasn't sure if he would or not, so the language he chose reflected that honesty. 


So if we took the examples above and replaced the word prisons with can or could, how do they sound now:

  1. “I can/could stutter,” 
  2. “I can/could find job”
  3. “I can/could talk fluent”
  4. “I can/could date because of stuttering.”
  5. People could think I’m not smart because I stutter.”
  6. People can be my friend.”
  7. “Others could think people who stutter are less human,”
  8. “Something could help me.”


Now when you read the thoughts, they provide a level of hope. They open doors of options for thoughts and behaviors for the future. They are also honest thoughts of events that might happen and might not. The moment I started to practice dropping word prisons was the moment I began to see life as possibilities, rather than impossibilities


Further Act To Live Blogs and Podcasts will talk about fact vs. opinion language! Look for those in the future. 


Remember, by developing HONEST and kind language, we can give ourselves permission to move in any direction we wish. Be well. Be you.

With compassion, kindness, and mindfulness boating,

Scott Palasik

Co-host of the "Act To Live Podcast"

Author of "Let’ Walk Together: The Act To Live Podcast Blog"



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About the blogger

Scott Palasik, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Scott values compassion and kindness toward himself and others. He values honesty and the power of creative expression. With these core values, Scott chose to pursue a life of helping others with communication disorders as a skilled Speech-Language Pathologist. 

As a person who stutters, Scott has seen the ups and downs of struggling with daily communication and what comes with trying to manage the negative perceptions both internally and externally about communication disorder. 

With 3C, Scott hopes to spread the idea that we can all support each other with education, collaboration of ideas, and to help us all build social capital for an accepting and caring community of communicators.

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