We all have dreams of achieving something great — maybe it’s launching a startup, climbing the corporate ladder, or just being the best version of yourself.
But sometimes, words get in the way, creating mental roadblocks that stifle our progress.
The truth is, the language we use can either propel us toward success or hold us back.
In this article, I’ll reveal 6 common words that successful people avoid like the plague — and why you should, too.
Ready to change your words and your world? Let’s dive in.
Ah, the word “can’t” — a little word with a big impact. I remember using this word a lot whenever I faced challenges that seemed insurmountable.
“I can’t start my own business; it’s too risky,” or “I can’t ask for a raise; what if they say no?”
But what I eventually realized is that “can’t” was just an easy way out, a safety net that prevented me from even attempting to leap toward my ambitions.
Now, let’s be clear: there are times when saying “can’t” makes perfect sense. For instance, if a friend asks you to help them move on the same weekend you’ve planned to tackle a big project, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I can’t, I have prior commitments.”
Here, “can’t” is acting as a boundary-setting tool that helps you stay focused on your priorities.
But when it comes to your own goals, challenges, and the hurdles that inevitably crop up, the word “can’t” is a self-imposed limitation: you’ve already defeated yourself mentally before the real work has even begun.
Instead of “I can’t lose weight” for example, try “I find it challenging to lose weight, so I get to learn a lot in the process.” This subtle shift turns a roadblock into a hurdle — a challenge to be met, not an impassable barrier.
The word “try” may seem harmless at first glance. It’s often used when we’re hesitant to fully commit to something, as in, “I’ll try to finish the project by Friday,” or “I’ll try to make it to your party.”
But let’s dig a little deeper into what we’re really saying.
When we use the word “try,” we’re essentially giving ourselves an out, a loophole that frees us from the responsibility of actually getting the task done.
Now, I’m not saying there are no situations where “try” is appropriate. If you’re learning a new skill, for example, it’s reasonable to say, “I’ll try my best to get it right.” Here, the word denotes genuine effort in the face of uncertainty, and that’s a good thing.
But if you begin to use it loosely, it plants a seed of doubt, not only in your own mind but also in the minds of others who are counting on you.
If you’ll “try” to meet a deadline, you’re really saying you might not meet it. And in the world of business, or in any avenue where success is the goal, vagueness is not a virtue.
Instead of saying you’ll “try,” how about saying you “will,” and then setting up a contingency plan? For instance, “I will finish the project by Friday, and if unforeseen issues come up, I’ll let you know as soon as possible.”
This approach reflects a commitment to action, and it inspires confidence in your ability to deliver.
My grandmother used to say, “you can throw everything that comes before ‘but’ in the trash.” Like, “I’m sorry, but you started it”. Or, “I really enjoyed your presentation, but I think you could improve the slides.”
See what I mean? It has this power to nullify everything positive that comes before it.
Now, I’m not saying never to use “but.” Sometimes, you need it for contrast or to introduce a different perspective.
However, in many situations, especially those that require a sense of collaboration or support, “but” can be counterproductive.
Successful people make a simple switch: instead of “but”, use “and”. Two truths can exist at the same time, without needing to override one with the other.
See the difference when you say “I enjoyed your presentation, and I have some ideas to make the slides even better”?
This simple change is more important than you might think, because words shape not just communication, but also relationships. “But” can put people on the defensive, closing them off to constructive dialogue.
On the other hand, using a more neutral term can open the door to meaningful discussion.
At some point or other, we’ve all said something like “I hate waking up early” or “I hate broccoli.” It’s practically a bonding tactic — misery loves company, right?
But successful people tend to steer clear of this word, particularly in professional settings or in situations that demand a level-headed approach.
Now, it’s not that successful people are devoid of strong dislikes or aversions. We all have things we’re not fond of. The word “hate” just carries an emotional intensity that can cloud judgment and narrow your focus.
Say you “hate” a task at work; that negativity can sap the enthusiasm required to excel at it or find a more enjoyable aspect.
Of course, there are instances when expressing strong dislike is necessary, such as standing against injustice or harmful behavior. In these cases, the weight of the word serves to emphasize the severity of the situation.
However, for everyday challenges or obstacles, using a term that’s less emotionally charged can give you the mental space to find solutions or alternative perspectives.
For example, instead of saying you “hate” a specific task, think about what in particular puts you off it — maybe you find it time-consuming.
Zeroing in on this can lead to a more nuanced view of situations and, ultimately, smarter decisions. And if nothing else, it frees up emotional bandwidth.
The word “maybe” can be a slippery slope to indecision and procrastination. When you say “maybe,” you’re neither committing nor declining, perhaps out of fear or failure or a reluctance to close off opportunities.
But you’re essentially creating a sort of emotional limbo that makes it hard to move forward.
What’s more, “maybe” invites procrastination. You’re not sure if you can make it to a networking event, so you say “maybe” thinking you’ll decide later.
But “later” never comes, and so this “maybe” just dwindles off into the abyss until the person assumes you meant “no”.
So why not just say “no” right away? You’ll come across as someone reliable and who doesn’t string people along, and the other person will know where they stand and be able to make arrangements accordingly.
Or, say yes — the point is, make your decision right now rather than leaving people hanging.
If you really don’t know whether or not you can commit to something or not, “maybe” is still not the best answer — instead, be upfront about what information you need to get before you can give your final answer, and by when you will get it.
The word “wish” is filled with longing and hope, but it’s also a bit of a trap. When you say you “wish” for something, you’re essentially placing your desires in a future that may or may not happen, rather than taking action in the present.
Successful people tend to replace “wish” with actionable words like “will” or “plan.”
Instead of saying, “I wish I could get that promotion,” they might say, “I will work hard to earn that promotion.”
Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s a time and place for wishes. For instance, when you’re blowing out birthday candles or when expressing good intentions for others — “I wish you well.” In these contexts, “wish” can be a beautiful expression of hope and goodwill.
However, when it comes to your personal goals and aspirations, “wish” only holds you back. It implies a passivity, as if you’re waiting for external circumstances to align in your favor.
But the thing about success is, it rarely just happens; it’s constructed day by day through deliberate actions and choices.
The more you wish for things, the less likely you are to achieve them, simply because you’re not focused on the steps needed to make them a reality.
So the next time you find yourself saying “I wish,” pause for a moment. Ask yourself what you could be doing right now to turn that wish into a goal, and that goal into a reality.
The power of words
Words are not just tools for communication; they’re the building blocks of our mindset and ultimately, our destiny.
Successful people are mindful of the words they use because they understand the weight they carry.
Swapping out “can’t” for “can,” “try” for “do,” and “but” for “and” might seem trivial, but it’s these little shifts that pave the way for big changes.
Don’t underestimate the impact of your words. Make the conscious choice to use language that empowers you, and watch how it transforms not just your conversations, but your life.