What's Your Word?

Every morning I ask myself the same question. This question represents a lot. It represents everything that drives and motivates my thoughts and actions. It represents the reason why I do what I do for myself and others. The question I’ve asked myself every morning for the last 20 years is: “How can I enjoy even more freedom today and help others do the same?”

I worked with my business associate Robert Stuberg to craft that question. What I wanted was something to help clarify, refine, and focus my current situation in terms of my highest values at the start of every day. This question does that, so I’m still using it 20 years later: “How can I enjoy even more freedom today and help others do the same?”

This one simple question represents so much because it contains my favorite word, “Freedom.” And that word has so much significance and power for me because I know exactly what I mean when I use it. I’ve considered all its meanings and connotations in the dictionary sense. Even more important, I’ve sought carefully to understand and unpack all it suggests to me, all the thoughts and images I associate with “Freedom.” Today I’ll talk about the power that comes from taking some time to understand the relationship between your favorite words and your deepest instincts and drives. 

One of the exercises I like to start workshops with is to ask the group to write down the first five things that come to mind when they hear the word “freedom.” It’s a short exercise, about 30-45 seconds, just long enough to write five words.  

Then the group shares the words they wrote down. Depending on the day, the words I usually share are “predictable,” “choices,” “opportunity,” “happiness,” and “independence.” 

I have done this exercise at least a thousand times, and only a couple times has no one asked about the first word I associate with freedom: “predictable.” 

This is because to many people, at first blush, “predictability” is the opposite of freedom. Many people think of freedom as an escape from routines, schedules, and the same things happening in the same order. And I can relate to that. 

But for me, after exploring the words I use to think about and discuss by my values, predictability was revealed to be one of my driving instincts. You see, if I have predictable cashflow, relationships, lifestyle, partnerships, and so on, I can enjoy even more freedom. I can plan my life according to what I want to do. I can live my life less reactively. I can manage my time and energy to make sure there’s plenty of it when I want to use it. All of these benefits of predictability as it relates to freedom inspire me to create more of it for myself and to help others have the same. 

To understand this important but somewhat counterintuitive connection between freedom and predictability, I had to investigate what it was about “Freedom” that moved me. I had to explore and bring my unspoken assumptions to the surface. And at every step I asked myself, “Why?” repeatedly, until I got to the core truth. I’m glad I did.

We live in a world full of language. But to find clarity and make changes in your thinking and your life, it’s important to think beyond the day-to-day surface of language and recognize that words only refer to things in the world. The rest of their significance resides in why we choose them.   

Words only shorthand and stand in for the things we are talking or thinking or writing about when we use them. This connection between words and what we really mean by them presents an opportunity for us to understand ourselves. We can follow our words deeper, beyond the their surface and sound, down to what they represent, the reasons we like, resonate with, and use these words, and even further, to glimpse the unspoken instincts, desires, and drives beneath it all. All by patiently exploring and questioning your associations.  

So, I encourage you to get out a pencil and paper now and start thinking about your favorite words. Make a list and choose the first word that appeals to you. Think and write freely about what that word means to you. Why does it move you? Why is that? Really take the time to explore and question and ask “why?” with each of your answers until you  get to the heart of all that this word represents to you.   

You might be thinking, “Why is this so important?” But the deeper you can understand the “why,” the more clarity you will have about your driving instincts. And this will help you as you pursue your daily, monthly, yearly, and lifetime purpose. 

To some, this may seem elementary. To others, it sounds like too much work. But as I sit here in Italy writing my thoughts, I have a big smile on my face, because what I’m sharing with you really does work. I hope you’ll try this exercise. And I hope you’ll find a morning question, too. 

Tell me how it goes if you do.