Language, Logic & the True Meaning of Words

By: Martin Grunburg

In the last two posts we’ve reviewed the important relationship between habits and goals and how, unfortunately, their intertwined dynamic is still a bit revolutionary in its premise. (Please revisit the last two posts if you haven’t already read them!)

At first, it is semi-hard to fathom that a number of PhDs/psychologists have spent years, even decades, devoted to goal achievement theory (not to mention the hundreds of notable personal development ‘guru’s), and yet they have all somehow missed this significant relationship.

To be clear, while it has been acknowledged sparsely from the perspective of goals directing habit formation, the inverse — habit applied to drive goal achievement —  as a strategy and methodology was not previously published prior to this. Thus, the recognized best practice for goal achievement, something identified as “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, leaves out the concept of habit entirely .

Here’s a great example (article) written for ForbesWoman featured about four years after The Habit Factor was introduced, “The Surprising Activity That Helps You Reach Your Goals.”

Surprise! ; )

What makes it so surprising, you may be wondering? That’s right — you can just jump to their last paragraph;

In business, we often praise goals and demonize habits.  Employees are encouraged to “set an audacious goal” or try to “break a bad habit.” Maybe we’ve had the equation wrong all along. It’s a little bit ironic that the straightest line to achieving our goals may be to turn them into habits

Bold — courtesy of me.

Further, I want to underscore that this is NOT written to critique any of these smart people, but to point out a very important lesson (an inspiring one I think). That is, our language is what shapes our reasoning and logic.

Words mean whatever we’ve been taught they mean, what we associate with their meaning.

As much as I want this to be about habits and goals, there is a much larger lesson at play:

Language. Language. Language.

Language can either free us or constrict our creativity and problem solving.

Take the time to learn what words really mean.

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” ~Confucius

When you do this you’ll begin to see the whole world differently.

If I ask you for an orange, you are not likely to hand me an apple. If I ask you to get in the back of my car, you aren’t likely to get into the front. Simply put, language directs our thinking, our reasoning and our logic. Therefore, the misunderstanding and misuse of words, regrettably, leads us down an incorrect path.

When was the last time you thought in Russian?

Chances are good that you’ve never thought in the Russian language if you don’t speak Russian.

So, if habit was for a pronounced period of time correlated only with negatives — smoking, drinking, drugs, biting nails, etc. — it is not likely to be correlated to goal achievement, and quiet clearly, for a very long time it wasn’t.

Even William James (as noted previously) in his Talks to Teachers at Harvard went to great lengths to redirect this (ironically) habitual thinking when it came to HABIT.

It is very important that teachers should realize the importance of habit, and psychology helps us greatly at this point. We speak, it is true, of good habits and of bad habits; but, when people use the word ‘habit,’ in the majority of instances it is a bad habit which they have in mind.

They talk of the smoking-habit and the swearing-habit and the drinking-habit, but not of the abstention-habit or the moderation-habit or the courage-habit.

But the fact is that our virtues are habits as much as our vices. All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits — practical, emotional, and intellectual — systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

I heard on this AOC podcast the other day an interview with Kabir Sehgal, the author of “Coined,” who investigated word origins to derive their full, true meaning. At around minute 31 he says:

“The word ‘thank’ comes from the word ‘think’ in ancient English, meaning, ‘I’ll remember what you did for me.'”

Prior to that he touches on the Japanese word for thank you, “arigatou,” which translates to “this difficult burden.”

So, I encourage you to learn the origin of words — their etymology and their original meanings — particularly for words and concepts that really interest you and relate to your most important goals and the problems you want to solve.

Sometimes the word itself — its origins and its most basic original meaning — may hold the solution you seek.




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