How "but" allows other people to kill your joy


Are other people killing your joys a little at a time? When you look at the picture above, you might be someone who says, "Spring at last! What a great day!" But what if the person next to you replies, "At least it's finally sunny again. But won't it be great when it's warm too?"

Look back at what I did there. Even in the example, the "but" steals away the joy in the moment. And then I layered in another "but" in the quotation. Two buts in one sentence is a lot of crossing out what came before. In NLP and hypnosis courses, people are often taught to avoid the word "but" because it creates a cognitive problem. It's complicated to understand something and then have to go back and cross it out and revise your understanding.

It's not just a thinking problem. It's also a feeling problem. You don't want to be the person who crosses out someone else's joy. When you look at this picture of spring, you know that the trees will bud and then come out into full leaf. You know the ground will turn green. It's implied by the picture and by the time of year. So you're not adding anything to the conversation when you turn a great day into something that will be great in the future. Everyone knows the leaves are coming.

All a "but" does is take away the joy of this moment, when things are great the way they are. That's quickly woven into a pattern with all the other things that are 'not good enough' as they are now. And that's why it's so easy for other people to deflate us. A single "but" becomes a whole pattern of evidence that the world is not already good enough and neither are we.

You have two tasks. The first is to notice how a 'but' impacts you, and counteract it with a refocus on a brilliant detail. A brilliant detail is a small example of the thing that you were enjoying. In the picture above, it might be the deep blue of the sky. When you hear the "but it's not warm" you reply (maybe out loud), "just look at that blue sky." You don't contradict: you focus in on something  that maintains the state you were enjoying.

The second task is harder. You have to stop contradicting other people unless it is absolutely necessary. "I'm going to cross now" might require a "But stop! There's a car coming." Most of the time,  our conversations are not a matter of life and death. You can notice difference without calling it out. When someone says "what a beautiful day" you can zero in on something that supports their joy "it's good to get outside" instead of stating the obvious "but it would be nice if it were warmer."

Or, as your mother might have told you, if you don't have something nice to say, you can just say nothing at all.

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