The Latest

It Could Be, Like, Time To Ditch All The Likes

Thank u, like, next.

By Angela Ledgerwood

The Latest

Thank u, like, next.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Have you ever, like, had a conversation with a friend, colleague or stranger that’s been, like, punctuated with so many likes that it’s been, like, hard to follow what they are saying? Like like like.

I interview a lot of people for work – here at Future Women and for a podcast I do about writers and their books. Talking to people is the most delightful part of my job and I think I have a pretty good sense of whether someone’s ideas are landing clearly or not. I also have the not-so-fun task of listening to these recordings afterwards. I cringe every time I hear myself saying “like”, “l mean”, or “you know” – words that constantly pepper my speech and  add zero weight to the conversation at hand. They flow out of my mouth unconsciously, again and again. Not only do they add nothing, they undermine what I do have to say and make me sound unsure of myself. For some reason, whenever I hear myself saying one of these nemesis words, I see myself as a bumbling Dodo bird, blundering along towards extinction or as Homer Simpson when he utters “Do’h!”. (More on the psychology of that another time.) I want Do’h and the Dodo out of my life and I want to be proud of, or at least, calmly neutral about the way I speak. I don’t want these incognito words slipping into my sentences without my permission. I want to stop cringing and I want to sound as assured and clear as the people I admire.

This is where, women in particular, may want to yell at me, “Woah lady, don’t try to curb my voice!” And that’s just it, I don’t want to curb your voice, or mine. I want to make sure that whatever we have to say can be heard. Clearly. Without, like, a lot of, like, distracting likes, getting in the way.

A friend I know charged her daughter a dollar every time she said like. Her daughter is now relatively like-free. But because I don’t have a mum on hand to be my “like enforcer”, I decided the scientific approach might be a good alternative.

Shelley Laslett, Social Scientist and CEO of Vitae.Coach says our habits, including slipping in an unnecessary like, here and there, can be changed because the very nature of our brain is plastic. The principle of neuroplasticity means our brain is malleable and can be remodelled, reorganised and rewired based on our experiences throughout our life. When we consciously choose to change any habit, even like our dislike of like, we use this incredible function.

To help get rid of the like, and perform what Mrs Laslett, who is also currently a Neuroscience post-grad at Kings College London, calls “neuroplastic surgery” try these steps below.  

It All Starts With Awareness

The first step to changing any habit is awareness, says Laslett. You cannot change anything unless you’re unaware of it. To be aware of how much you’re using “like” pay attention to when it comes into your language. To this point, the use of like would most likely be unconscious, but once you call it to your brain’s attention, it will politely remind you when you said it. Boosting this self-awareness activates the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex – all very clever parts of our neocortex, the part of our brains which makes us the most evolved species on the planet.

Image credit: Whiteway/ Getty Images

Introduce Alternatives

Your brain is made up of a series of maps and pathways. To conserve neurological energy, your brain will take the path of least resistance, the most travelled and trusted. To encourage your brain to take an alternative pathway, Laslett reiterates that you must present it with one. In terms of busting that like habit wide open, this means presenting alternative words that could take its place. Some equally as effective words include:

  • such as
  • perhaps
  • yes and
  • similar to
  • or a simple pause  

Action, Action, Action

All change, no matter how big or small requires insights (the desire to change) to be put into actions. “Once you have raised your awareness and provided an alternative option, you need to put this into practice,” says Laslett. “Start by trialling these new phrases in social conversations. These little rehearsals will strengthen these new neurological connections in your working memory (your prefrontal cortex) and encourage the new habit to form.” Now remember practice socially is as effective as workplace practice, because we don’t have a separate work brain and life brain. We just have one brain.

Accountability Is Key

For change to be meaningful there needs to be accountability. Being social creatures, the best type of accountability is social accountability. Finally, Laslett suggests partnering up with a trusted colleague and become each other’s “like accountability buddies”. Agree to kindly call each other out on the overuse of the little like. As uncomfortable as this can be at first, it’s one of the most effective ways to neurologically drive behavioural change. 

Change can be challenging, even a little language change. But take comfort. Your brain has 100 billion neurons. You trust it to keep you alive and unconsciously and automatically digest food. You can definitely trust it to change one word in your vocabulary.  


Main image credit: Fox/ Getty Images