Mindfulness: Week 3

Mindfulness, Week 3

The Exercise:  Filler Words

“Become aware of the use of ‘filler’ words and phrases and try to eliminate them from your speech.  Fillers are words that do not add meaning to what you’re saying, such as ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘so,’ ‘well,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ ‘kind of,’ and ‘sort of.’  Additional filler words enter our vocabulary from time to time.  Recent additions might include ‘basically’ and ‘anyway.’

“In addition to eliminating filler words, see if you can notice why you tend to use them—in what situations and for what purpose?”


“At the monastery we have found this to be one of the most challenging mindfulness practices we do.  It is frustratingly hard to hear your own filler words and catch them before they are spoken—unless you are a trained speaker.  In the Toastmasters clubs (groups that train in public speaking) there are people assigned to tally filler words during talks, assisting members as they learn to be effective speakers.  Once you begin to hear filler words, you will hear them everywhere, on the radio and TV and in everyday conversation.   A typical teenager uses the filler word like an estimated two hundred thousand times a year!  You will also notice which speakers do not use them, and become aware of how the absence of filler words makes a speech more effective and powerful.  For example, listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, or President Barack Obama’s speeches with an ear for filler words.

“Filler words seem to serve several functions.  They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking or that you are not finished speaking yet.  ‘So . . . I told him what I thought of his idea and then, um, I said, like, you . . .’ Filler words also soften what we say, making it less definite or assertive.  ‘So anyway, I you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with this project.’  Are we afraid of provoking a reaction or of being wrong?  We wouldn’t want a president or doctor who spoke in such a wishy-washy way.  Filler words can become an obstruction to the listening audience when they so dilute the meaning as to render it silly.  ‘Jesus sort of said, ‘Love your, you know, neighbor, as, sort of, like, yourself.’’’

Jan Chozen Bays, How to Train a Wild Elephant, Shambhala, Boston, 2011, pp. 25, 26-27.

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