I was talking with a couple about the importance of paying attention to the subtlety of language and the husband said, “I’m not skilled at that.” I pointed out that when he said it in that way, he was saying in a fixed way, that he wasn’t skilled, suggesting that he may never be. Instead, I recommended that he use the past tense and say, “I haven’t been skilled at that.” In this way, he’s suggesting that he hasn’t been skilled at working with subtlety in the past, but in the future, it’s possible that he could be.

This is a good example of how language reveals one’s thought process. If the husband perceives himself as being incapable of change—“I’m not skilled at that.”—this can determine his behavior. But if he perceives himself in a particular way in the past, this leaves open the possibility that he could be different in the future. “I haven’t been skilled at that.” suggests that maybe he could be.