Self-Reflective Phrases

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
–Chinese proverb






During my time in the NASA leadership development program, I learned to become more self-aware of habits and mannerisms conducive to strong and capable leadership, and those that run counter to it.  This was not a direct topic of the program; instead, it was one that “I stumbled into” as I wrestled with my own challenges of being in Washington, DC away from home and trying to get as much as I could out of the experience.

During the course of this ongoing self-discovery, I became self-aware that I spoke certain phrases, which led to a discovery of my reflected underlying behaviors and self concepts.  I’m sure I’ll discover others as I continue.  Here are the ones I’ve discovered so far:

“I think…”

While I was in DC, I was fortunate enough to attend a speech by President Bush, and I reflected upon it afterwards while walking back to my apartment.  I was impressed with the clarity of his personal alignments and values that he exposed during the speech.  In particular was a phrase he used repeatedly: “I believe…”  I reflected in particular on that phrase, “I believe…”, and alternated that in my mind with one that I catch myself using quite often: “I think…”.  “I believe…” is so much more powerful and non-negotiable in nature, that it deals with the fundamental convictions and character of a person.  It conveys the deepest connection of the alignment of one’s values with the mission of the organization.  In contrast,  “I think…” conveys a state of mind that is open to debate or is not as rooted, is open to suggestion, interpretation, or even persuasion to an alternate point of view.  At times, “I think…” is appropriate because it does accurately reflect my state of mind at that moment.  However, I find I over-use it.  Could it be a crutch to avoid taking a stand or to avoid offending another person?

Now, when my mind shifts into “I think…”, I’ll pause quickly and decide if that is the best phrase to convey my state of mind, or if a different phrase better communicates my state of mind:  “I believe…”  “I want…”  “I propose…”

“I’m not sure…”

This phrase is a more recent discovery.  I am willing to acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers, despite the fact that I feel this drive to have all the answers.  So, I took mental note of each time I said, “I’m not sure…” over a two-week period.  Here are the phrases I arrived at after the fact along with a question concerning my state of mind:

  • “I don’t know…” (and feel like I should?)
  • “I hesitate…” (because I don’t know the answer?)
  • “I am not confident…” (and am holding back out of fear?)

Now, when I am tempted to say, “I’m not sure…” I’ll strive to substitute a more precise statement to represent a truer state of mind and feeling…even if it means admitting I don’t have all the answers!

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Self-Reflective Phrases