The 5 Scariest Words Ever Uttered (or how to kill a dream in cold blood)

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.” ~ Emily Dickenson

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence — a series of words — that has the power to destroy you.” ~ Philip K. Dick

We live in scary geopolitical times. We struggle under scary global economic challenges.

On a lighter note, October celebrates all things scary as Halloween invites a variety of ghosts, ghouls and goblins to wander the streets in search of tricks or treats.

There are also scary words that scratch and claw, maim and kill, and otherwise torture the life right out of living.

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve collected 5 of the scariest words I know. These are words that are deadlier than they seem. Their poison infects the mind and turns the heart cold and frightened and fragile.

Remember, poison taken in small enough doses builds immunity to its lethal toxicity. But if taken in larger doses will kill you.

So can these words.

So beware and use them cautiously!

5 Words that Maim and Kill

“Of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible — and the most powerful — was the word.” ~ Paulo Coelho

1. “No!”

We are haunted by the ever-present, always lurking, forever devouring, bloodthirsty specter of “NO!”

From a very young age, most of us have been inundated with it. We’ve heard it and seen it and felt its sting as it’s sunk deeper and deeper into our subconscious, into the fabric of our belief systems, into the lining of our thoughts, into the thick of our souls.

We’ve worshiped at its altar and imbibed its negation, breathed its deadening poison and succumbed to its negative mandate. We’ve acquired its self-defeating hostility to possibility and capitulated to its command. We’ve appropriated its finality and adopted its rhetoric and ratified its basic ideology of “Stop!”

The philosophy of “NO!” has thereby stopped dreams dead in their tracks, withered ideas on the vine, ended journeys before they started, thwarted plans and disrupted greatness.

“NO!” has murdered opportunity and buried possibility and dissected hope into tiny fragments of frustrated acquiescence to both internal and external doubt and fear. It mummifies dreams and zombifies hopes into the walking dead of eternal stagnation.

So why do we say it so often – to our children, our associates, our employees, ourselves? Why do we fill minds with the numbing poison of repeated “NO!” to the point of saturation, where “Yes!” can no longer find emotional room to breath?

No more!

Instead, create opportunities to say “Yes!” Drown the ever-insisting “NO!” in a rising flood of Yesses until its deafening cry becomes nothing more than a pathetic whimper echoing impotently in the thunderous applause and resonating joy of “YES!”

2. “Wait!”

Put it off. Not yet. Delay. Postpone. The timing is not quite right. Circumstances are not opportune. We need to be certain. What if we’re not ready? What if they are not ready? What if we’re wrong? What if …

Such considerations are not wholly without merit. But when they are motivated by unfounded fear more than wisdom, lives get put on hold unnecessarily. Dreams are relegated to the background, imprisoned behind the bars of practicality and caution. Goals are indefinitely postponed. Possibilities dry up and fall to the ground and rot unused, untried, unmet and unexperienced.

“Wait!” is often “NO!” in disguise. It’s mantra is “STOP!” and “Not Yet!” It hijacks and backstabs and ambushes and pushes ideas and plans and goals off cliffs onto the jagged rocks of finality even if it’s words are the squishy softness of “Maybe” “Not Yet” and “Later.”

“Wait!” is the perennial act of avoidance and procrastination.

“Wait” is the verbal equivalent of hiding behind excuse.

“Wait!” puts new ideas on ice, new ventures on back burners and projects under dust on shelves, turning plans for the future into regrets of the past. The road less traveled becomes the road never taken. Potential is abandoned and neglected.

And that’s a scary prospect.

So stop waiting. Act! Do! Take your life out of park. Hit the gas. Put it in motion. Let it expand and grow and breath and become what it can, unshackled from the chains of “Wait!”

3. “Quit!”

This blood-curdling capitulation lays claim to most of its victims once a goal or dream or project has already been started. The curtains have partially lifted, the journey already begun when we start telling ourselves we’re not good enough, not equal to the difficulty of the challenge. We trip and stumble over insecurities, doubts and fears.

We worry about failure, so quit so as to prevent reality from verifying our worst fears. Possibility is choked into submission as we blood let potential into something more reasonable, softer, weaker, paler, mediocre, something similar to everyone else, something bunched in the middle of the bell curve of life.

And so mountains are left half climbed, stories half told, books half written, character half developed, happiness half experienced, forgiveness half extended, dreams half dreamt, plans half planned and lives half lived.

Decide intead to quit quitting and start finishing. Be willing to adjust and improve and adapt and alter trajectories as needed, but stop letting fear cut the legs off your dreams.

4. “Careful!”

Slow down! Watch out! Get down! Get off! Don’t run! Stop climbing! You’re going to hurt yourself! You’ll poke an eye out! Be careful!

These are all synonyms for cautious failure and fearful forfeiture of all we can be and learn and do and become. It places us in circumscribed cells of artificially cramped limitations.

And so we wait and look both ways, then look again, then double check and check once more. Sometimes our delays turn youth into golden years of regret and missed opportunity and unmet potential.

The siren song of “careful” lures us into a sleepy defensiveness, a foggy comfort of circled wagons and circumscribed lives of “someday-isms” that pause us in the middle of living, long before the end of the movie has played out.

And so we bubble-wrap our lives into hermetically sealed rooms of risk aversion as we pat ourselves on the back in a sigh of relief that at least we’re safe … for now.

5. “Can’t!”

I can’t. You can’t. It can’t be done. No one can do that. It’s impossible! Who do you think you are? It’s too risky. Stop it!

Why are we so ready to tell ourselves (or let others tell us) that we’re not good enough or big enough or smart enough or the right fit? We’re too quick to give up and give in and stop trying. After all, there are better people for the task than us, we tell ourselves (or others proclaim).

And so we find ourselves stuck in the rut of life, etched deeply into the same grooves we’ve always traveled, unable or unwilling to reach up or out or over, unable or unwilling to innovate, explore, learn, create, or become, unable or unwilling to act.

Instead, we’re acted upon. We become victims to the strength and tenacity of our worst fears. (<– Tweet this!) The spell of immobility and excuse and frustration descends and engulfs and murders us at the heartbeat of possibility and potential.

The very words, “I can’t!” are the incantation that immobilizes and freezes us into rigid form and finished incompleteness.

We are then introduced to the hellish reality that stopping growth is no neutral act. We shrink as we atrophy and retreat and backslide and decay.

So refuse the incantation of “Cant!” Transform it into “I Will!”

And here’s the magic of that transformation: You then will. Or at least you will much more likely begin acting as though you would. And then, of course, you much more likely will. “Can’t!” stops. “I Will!” opens. Both are self-fulfilling prophecies with very different prophesied outcomes. The life you lead will largely be the testimony to the one you finally choose to fill your heart, mind and soul.


“Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ~ Richard Kadrey

The words we use matter. They shape and form the way we think. They thicken walls, heighten mountains and widen canyons and otherwise make obstacles bigger and harder to get through.

Or they diminish and shrink and reduce those walls and mountains and canyons that stand in the way of our hopes and aspirations. Words break or build. They support and encourage or undermine and cripple. They create pathways to innovation or hurdles, roadblocks and obstacles.

Words tend to do what we tell them to. They are obedient things, really. If we tell them to limit, they do their job well, constricting our very movement, fogging up thought, confusing decision, tightening around our necks and piercing our hearts and shooting hot lead into our feet.

Or they expand our understanding and motivate our movement, winging our hearts and freeing potential to rise to new and unexplored levels of possibility.

In a way, words are like copy machines. They produce what we place on the glass under the lid. The words we repeatedly use on ourselves (or others) produce the very nature of the words themselves. Negative words produce negative results. Limiting words produce limiting results. Crippling words cripple. That’s their nature. It’s what they do.

Uplifting words, on the other hand, tend to uplift. Motivating words motivate. Loving words inspire love. Kind words inspire kindness.

So think carefully about the words you habitually use. Then transform them into words that serve to liberate instead of imprison, that lift instead of drown, that build instead of destroy.

Then, perhaps, this Halloween will serve a higher purpose than providing a year’s worth of work for your local dentist. Perhaps we can commit to replacing the scary words that kill and cripple with words that encourage and inspire so that by next Halloween all we have to worry about are masked ghouls and cavities.


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