“Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will set the course for my entire life.”

That’s not exactly how that phrase goes, but it should be because it’s true. Words have power and it’s not just the words we say out loud. Sometimes, the most powerful words we say are the ones we say inside to ourselves.

I’ve spent the last year writing a book about, “Overthinking.” One of the things that came up in the research was that words shape our thoughts which in turn shape our actions which in turn shape our results. Your grandmother tried to tell you this years ago when she said, “Garbage in, garbage out,” but we didn’t listen. Sorry Memaw, you’re still the real MVP!

With that idea fresh in my head, I started listening to the words my family uses and I was surprised to find out how many of them were negative. Overall, we have a fun, lively house full of positivity but often our “first words” are negative.

When I come home from a business trip and my wife asks me how it was, the first thing I say is, “The flight was delayed, Detroit was freezing and the guy sitting behind me on the plane kicked my seat the entire time.” Those things might all be true, but they sure are negative. I’ve walked in the front door and immediately set the stage for more negativity by leading with it. I did that so many times that I must have passed on that habit to my kids.

I noticed one day that if I ask, “How was school?” my kids don’t naturally lead with the positive. They say things like, “We had a sub who didn’t teach us anything in math, my science teacher gave us a huge project without any warning and the lacrosse field was a muddy mess.” Again, those things are true, but they sure are negative.

I decided to change things after observing this pattern for weeks. Now, my family puts a priority on positive first words. We all try to share the good things that happened first. If I jumped on an earlier flight home, I lead with that. If my public speaking client gave me great feedback, I lead with that. If my youngest daughter got an A on a math quiz, she leads with that. If my oldest daughter had a fun band practice, she leads with that. If my wife had lunch with a dear friend, she leads with that.

We don’t sugarcoat difficult things or ignore the negative, we just don’t let that define our conversation anymore. The best part is that when you expect to share positive first words, you tend to look for them. It trains you to see the good in any given situation instead of the negative.

It’s a brand new year. You’ve got 12 gloriously blank months to fill with whatever you want.

Keep an eye on your first words.

Start the year off right with a bit of positivity.