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6 Words You Must Not Say

By Debbie Hensleigh October 24, 2021 Mindset

Long ago, a friend told me her fiancé had given her a huge gift. He was multi-lingual and had many dictionaries. He told her he went through every one of them and removed the word “divorce.” Removed… from every single one.

Just one word. She had a difficult family history, and his simple act of reassurance was pretty gigantic in her learning to trust this young man she had agreed to marry. They are still married… 30-plus years later.

Limiting Beliefs

A workshop I teach is about the importance of identifying “limiting beliefs” and replacing them with statements that affirm the truth about yourself.

Years ago, I partnered up with a colleague for a morning phone call. We were in a coaching class that had us identify our own limiting beliefs, then to write affirmation statements to address each of those beliefs.

Most mornings, for 7 years, my distant affirmation partner and I had a quick phone call to hear and encourage one another’s affirming statements. We each saw great progress in our personal and professional lives as we changed the words we used.

Words have power. Here are some words that are best not said if we want to live lives of intention and joy and purpose.

Swear Words

I have a personal mantra that is “only use swear words when it is entirely appropriate.” I long ago decided to remove those kinds of words from my usual vocabulary. I remember reading that using common curse words shows a lack of creativity.

That was a challenge I accepted – to be creative in my use of words. Plus, when my kids came along, I found out pretty quickly that whatever came out of my mouth would soon come out of theirs. That was pretty motivating.

But beyond the obvious, I am talking about words that can halt growth or discourage creativity or damage relationships. Words that are easy to say but that have little concrete meaning or contribution.

Such words become a habit so that we don’t even think about saying them or what their meaning is even while they keep us from realizing our true potential and sources of joy.

Here are six more words to avoid.

I’ll Try

Our son Joel has Down Syndrome. He has been over-weight (obese) for much of his adult life. At age 40, he weighed 205 lb. At 5’6”, that was a concern.

Active in Special Olympics, he had to quit basketball because of knee pain. His ability to manage the heat for softball was in question. Other potential health concerns were lingering near the surface, waiting to appear.

Once the “stay at home” order was issued in our state, Joel, my husband, and I settled into our home in the woods. Nothing much to do but take a long walk daily. No Taco Bell nearby. No pop or soda in our house. Pretty soon, Joel started to lose weight.

Today, six months later, Joel is 35 pounds lighter. As a result, he feels and sleeps better and has more energy. He is even more cheerful at work, I hear. He is back living mostly on his own Monday thru Thursday, but has agreed to avoid restaurants to stay safe.

As we talk about his continued weight loss, he will often say, “I’ll try.” Nope. You’ll either do it or not. TRY to not buy a pop from the vending machine? TRY to eat less bread/tortillas daily? Or how about TRY to limit late night eating?

I keep reminding Joel that to say, “I’ll try” is to allow for failure. Saying, “I WILL” more often ensures success.


To say I can’t do something is abdicating choice and, maybe, responsibility. Helping our first grader grandson with virtual schooling, I am hearing “I can’t” much less as he discovers the joy of being able to read for himself. It reminds me to love learning.

I CAN figure out how to enjoy a Zoom call. I CAN make do with what I have on hand without daily shopping trips.

Also, I CAN take my 1.5 mile walk most days. To say I don’t have time for it is not technically true most days. Avoiding the word “can’t” for me is an exercise in honesty.

Saying “I didn’t get out for my walk today” has much more integrity than “I can’t get to my walk today.” And, it is motivating to realize that I CAN get that walk in, if I want to.


This is an early marriage counseling lesson, right? Don’t say, “You ALWAYS leave your dirty dishes on the table.” (etc., etc.) Likewise, avoid “Never,” as in “You NEVER pick your towel up from the bathroom floor.”

Telling myself that I never remember to call my aunt, or that I always say the wrong thing, or that I am never on time, or that I am always late does nothing to help me change things I want to change.

Saying it (even in my mind) fortifies the power of the negative in my brain. I remind myself that I am in control of most of my life. There is very little that is always out of my control or never in it.

If Only

I have always (well, mostly) been something of a realist, focusing on what is actually possible, and choosing to live on purpose and with intention.

IF ONLY does not promote living in the moment, accepting the inevitable, resourcing desirable outcomes, or avoiding regrets. IF ONLY tempts to dismay or to fantasize or to abdicate responsibility. Replace IF ONLY with “SINCE this is here, I have a new opportunity.”


“But” is a verbal eraser. Whatever was said before BUT is gone and bears no meaning. “This looks good, BUT I think it would be improved with….” will be heard as, “It’s not good enough.”

“I’m sorry I’m late, BUT traffic was bad,” tells others that I won’t take responsibility for keeping others waiting and that I am not sorry at all.

“I love my grandson, BUT he is a handful at times” might be more positively stated as “This one is a handful AND I love him to pieces.”

The words we say have power in our own lives and in the lives around us. Some words we only hear inside our own heads, and those might be the most dangerous of all as we age. Find the words that you would be happier NOT saying. See how your attitude and perspective changes as you replace them with word you choose instead of the ones you are simply used to hearing.

Do you have parasite words in your vocabulary? Do they doom you to live by limiting beliefs? Which words are you better off NOT saying? Please share your thoughts and words below.

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The Author

Debbie Hensleigh is a serial entrepreneur and business coach who is intent on living life on purpose. She is a speaker, writer and leads workshops on intentionally designing your best ThirdThird, from ages 60 to 90. Building on the FirstThird (learning years) and the SecondThird (earning years), the ThirdThird can be the best Third. Please visit Debbie’s website here

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