9 phrases only unsuccessful people like to use, according to psychology

We all want to be successful, but sometimes, our own words and mindsets get in the way. 

Psychology reveals that the way we talk to ourselves and others creates patterns that can either propel us forward or hold us back.  

So, what kind of language betrays a lack of success? 

Let’s dive into ten phrases unsuccessful people frequently use and explore why they’re self-sabotaging.

1) “I can’t.”

Said with a wail of desperation and a furrowed brow, the statement “I can’t” slams closed the door on possibilities. 

It reveals a person focused solely on limitations, rather than finding creative solutions or a willingness to even give it a try. 

Successful people embrace what psychologists call a growth mindset, understanding that intelligence and talent can be developed through effort.

As a result, they tend to remain rather unsuccessful and unable to clamber up to any impressive accomplishments owing to their inability to try.

2) “It’s not fair.”

The world isn’t always fair. Dwelling on this fact breeds resentment and a sense of victimhood. 

Unsuccessful people tend to focus heavily on perceived injustices, creating a narrative where external forces are stacked against them (psychologically known as a victimhood mentality).

Fixating on perceived injustices creates a sense of victimhood and an external locus of control. 

This means you believe that outside forces control your outcomes, which makes you passive rather than proactive.

Although victim mentalities can often arise from unresolved trauma, this mindset unfortunately distracts them from their own responsibility and power to change their circumstances.

3) “That’s just how I am.”

Coming in second is a stark admission of an unwillingness to change or adapt. 

Unsuccessful people may use it as an excuse for negative behaviors, often internally fixated on their own perceived shortcomings (otherwise known as cognitive distortion).

Forget apologizing and owning up to mistakes or shortcomings – they slap you with this phrase and leave you unable to say anything in response.

Unfortunately, strong belief in personal growth and potential for change are key ingredients for success in many aspects of life, which tends to be lacking in those who regularly use these words.

4) “I’ll try.”

While “I’ll try” might sound superficially positive and is not always a bad choice of wording, it hints at underlying doubt. 

It positions effort as tentative and tip-toeing, suggesting an expectation of failure before you’ve even gotten started. No point in getting your expectations up too high!

Successful people tend to replace “I’ll try” with the more definitive “I will”, conveying commitment and a stronger belief in their ability to follow through.

5) “But…”

The constant use of “but” creates a pattern of negating positives and focusing on obstacles.

For example, “That’s a great idea, but…”  

Or even, “I’m sorry, but…”

The sentiment following the “but” often diminishes the preceding statement and can be quite the killer for healthy conversations and actual growth. 

Unsuccessful individuals tend to instinctively highlight problems and limitations and make sure to voice them, while successful ones focus on solutions.

6) “I don’t have time.”

things unsuccessful people do in their free time 1 9 phrases only unsuccessful people like to use, according to psychology

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. 

And if you really wanted to perform or complete whatever you’re thinking about, you’d likely be successful (or at least start working towards that goal).

However, this statement is less about an actual lack of time and more about flawed time management. 

Unsuccessful people may use it to justify procrastination or an unwillingness to commit to important tasks that will ultimately move them forward.

7) “I give up.”

Persistence is often the difference between achieving your goals and settling for less.  

Saying “I give up” reveals a fragile mindset that crumbles under pressure. You’re throwing in the towel and raising your white flag – it’s all far too difficult!

Some people simply believe themselves truly incapable. 

Perhaps owing to repeated mistakes or poor past experiences, they begin to fall into a pattern of learned helplessness.

Having dealt with stress or anxiety one too many times, they’re quick to wash their hands of anything that might place them in a similar situation.

Successful people, on the other hand, tend to reframe setbacks as temporary obstacles and persevere in the face of difficulty. 

You’ll rarely catch them giving up, unless a task is actually impossible or there are other factors at play.

8) “It’s good enough.”

Settling for “good enough” signals a lack of ambition and drive to excel. It is the foundation behind poorly executed projects and half-finished work.

Unsuccessful people may resort to this phrase to justify putting in minimal effort.  

Striving for excellence, on the other hand, consistently pushes your capabilities further.

Aim not for good enough, but something you’re proud of!

9) “What if I fail?”

And? What if you do?

Trying and failing is almost always better than not trying at all, and tends to lead to far less wistfulness and regret.

While acknowledging the possibility of failure is important, dwelling on it excessively breeds inaction and swiftly leads to a mindset of, ‘I better not try at all, just in case I fail.’ 

In turn, becoming so fixated on the possibility of failure often manifests into what psychologists term a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

Unsuccessful individuals who use these words tend to get stuck in a loop of self-doubt and turn that fear of failure into a reality instead of visualizing success.

Final words

The mindset we bring to life has a profound impact upon the outcomes we achieve. 

And the words we use, both out loud and in our own heads, shape this mindset.

The above phrases, such as “I can’t” or “It’s not fair”, feed a pattern of cognitive distortions that lead to a victim mentality, a fear of failure, and an unwillingness to put in real effort.

To shift this pattern, become mindful of the phrases you habitually use. 

Replace them with language focused on solutions, growth, and resilience. 

Choose your words carefully, and let them guide and empower you on your journey toward achieving your goals – whatever those might look like for you.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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