Words are important. We use them to shape our future and to direct our thoughts and our actions. We all probably know that. But did you know that your verb tense makes a difference too? I will always remember the lesson that the ICU attending physician gave us. Once in a while a new resident doctor (in training) would go through a patient’s labs and say, “His potassium is low, so we are going to give him some IV potassium.” The attending physician who was in charge would say, “You know what to do. Why isn’t this already done? When you report to me I want the IV to be going already.” The residents only made that mistake once!
The wiser, older doctor wanted the resident physician to use a verb that was past tense. “His potassium is low, so we gave him 40mEq of potassium this morning.” Ah, much better.
Here are three verb tenses for you to compare, exemplifying the way that your verb tense can make or break your effectiveness at work and in your relationships.
Past Tense: (It’s done!)
- Honey, I fixed the toilet you asked me to fix.
- I have already planned for this situation, so no problem.
- I saved up some money so now I can afford this.
- I already addressed this issue with my kids.
- Boss, I completed the project you needed.
- I read my Bible this morning.
It is wonderful to be able to answer that way!
Present Continuous: (This means that I have done it already and will continue doing it, or at least that you have set it up in the past and will complete it in the future.)
- I am meeting with them daily until we get this fixed.
- Three times a week I am spending 30 minutes in prayer and reflection.
- I am meeting with the realtor at 5pm today.
- I am sticking to my exercise routine very consistently.
- I am making progress!
Most of the important things in our lives require ongoing and consistent effort. Have you set up the routines, systems, and habits to sustain them?
Future tense: (Not yet, but eventually!)
- I will get that done.
- Tomorrow I will start eating healthy.
- As soon as the summer is over, then I’ll get serious about this bad habit.
- When I retire, then I will sleep.
The future tense is used for predictions, goals, and promises. Speaking in the future tense is not wrong, but it is easy. To slightly modify the Seinfeld rental car (sorry, one bad word) example: “Anyone can just make promises. The most important part is keeping the promises.”
Before you make a promise, make sure that you are considering whether you have enough time (limited resource) to follow through. If your mouth is writing a check, make sure that it’s not going to bounce! The future tense can get old, if you only hear words and never see any action. Don’t become the guy who always says they are going to do something and never follows through. To avoid that fate, here is the biggest key for safe use of the future tense:
If you are making a promise, write it down.
And if you are making a goal, write it down.
An exact and careful use of words is one sign of a disciplined and balanced person. A person of integrity will have actions, words, and character that are all in alignment. Make sure that your words are a reflection of the person that you want to be – use your verb tenses carefully!
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