Self-Talk Shifts: Changing "But" to "And"

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Shifting your patterns of self-talk can be a subtle and effective way to minimize stress.  There are several ways you can alter the way you talk to yourself (and, subsequently, the way you feel about yourself and your life) by making small changes like refocusing your attention from negatives to positives, recognizing and correcting your cognitive distortions, shifting the way you attach meaning to a situation (also known as cognitive reframing), or even substituting certain words in the place of more "loaded" or negative words.


One such substitution involves the word "but," as in "no if's, and's, or but's."  Actually, I have no problem with "and" or "if," but there are some circumstances where "but" could be changed to something better, like "and." Or "but" could be left out of a sentence completely.  When people use the word "but," they are usually using it as a disqualifier--this situation is good, but...I agree with you, but...  Sometimes you can change the way you see things for the better if you change that "but" to an "and," or eliminate it altogether.  Here are some examples:

In Negotiations

When in discussions, negotiations, or conflicts with others, "but" can undo a meeting of the minds and create distance.  When you say, "I see what you're saying, but..." you are discounting your validation of what the person said with the point you make next.  If you share your ideas with an "and" rather than a "but," you still maintain that the other person's point is valid, but you add your own perspective on the issue as well, not as a negation, but as additional information.

 When you don't discount the other person's perspective, they are more likely to listen to yours, and you are closer to a win-win resolution, or at least a mutual understanding and the feeling that both of you are being heard.

In Gratitude

Focusing on the positive, on what you have to be grateful for, can bring a shift in perspective that relieves stress and even increases your chances at success.

 (Read here to see how.)  When you acknowledge the positive in your life, and follow it up with a "but," however, you are discounting all of the good that you were just trying to keep in focus.  For example, "It's a beautiful day, but it's raining," sounds more positive as, "It's a beautiful day, and it's raining."  The information in the statement doesn't change, but how you feel about it, whether you see the rain in a more positive or more negative light, does shift with the switch from "but" to "and."  Here's another example, "He's a great guy, but he has a lot of opinions," versus, "He's a great guy, and he has a lot of opinions."  Don't these opinions sound more positive and less stress-inducing in the second statement?  

When Saying No

While setting boundaries and saying no can be necessary for stress management, that doesn't make it easy.  It can be difficult to say no when you would like to be able to say yes, and don't want to disappoint anyone.  In situations like this, statements like, "I'd like to help, but I'm just too busy," sound softer as, "I'd like to help, and I'm just too busy."  In the first statement, the focus falls more heavily on the "just too busy," where the second statement's emphasis is subtly shifted more on the, "I'd like to help," part.

 Whether this is a statement you're making to another person or two yourself, it can feel more caring and less negative with an "and," and it leaves open the feeling of more possibilities.  Perhaps next time, the sentence seems to suggest, or perhaps other types of support can work.  The point is that in many cases, "and" creates a subtle shift that can minimize the stress of a situation.  Don't forget to take advantage of it.

Read about other minor changes you can make in your self-talk that can improve the way you feel about your life.

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