The Secret Saboteurs
By Terence Watts

You know them better than you think!

You might be absolutely certain you’ve never heard of Arbut and Yerbut but they are super saboteurs and you almost certainly know them better than you think.

They seldom appear together but either one might suddenly turn up whenever somebody is urging you to do something you really don’t want to do with the immortal phrase “What you want to do is…” followed by a less-than-exciting idea. As soon as you even only think about refusing, up pops one or the other as you answer: “Ah but…” or: “Yer but…” followed by whatever excuse to not do ‘the thing’ makes the best sense at the time. Usually something like: “Arbut that’d be no good for me because…” or “Yerbut I’ve heard it’s not all that…” The first problem is you’ve now switched your mind into determined refusal mode where you can’t actually do that thing without loss of face. And that’s something that most of us seek to avoid – especially when the one giving the advice is clearly a top graduate from smug school. The second problem surfaces when surreptitious investigation throws up the fact that actually, you do want to do it after all. Or would, if it hadn’t been that other person’s idea.

The problem is in the ‘but’. ‘But’ is a very odd word that can get in the way of many an idea. Consider your response to that “What you want to do is…” situation. If instead of “Ah but…” or “Yer but…” you were to say something like: “Thanks. Not sure about that but I’ll check it out…” you’ve put yourself back in control and avoided the situation of being told what to do, simply by putting a positive statement after the ‘but’.

That little word ‘but’ is the master saboteur in many other ways. Consider these statements:

  • “I’d love be an internet influencer, but I’m self-conscious.”
  • “I want to set up my own business, but I haven’t got any money.”
  • “I’d like to try for promotion, but I’m frightened of looking daft.”

They all have the same effect – what follows ‘but’ closes the whole thing down so the subconscious can’t come up with any ideas. It’s almost like a verbal poison. But here’s the antidote:

  • “I’m self-conscious, but I’m going to be an internet influencer.”
  • “I haven’t got any money, but I’m going to set up my own business.”
  • “I’m frightened of looking daft, but I’m going to try for promotion.”

Now what follows ‘but’ is the start instead of the end! They automatically move on into ‘how?’ and the human mind being what it is, ideas can begin to present themselves. So, putting what you want after the ‘but’ is essentially a ‘solution-focused’ response, a signpost to finding ways to achieve your goal – and like most things, practice makes perfect, so the more you do it, the better you get at it until it eventually becomes automatic.

There are actually three other words that can trip you up, too – ‘can’t’, ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’. We use them so automatically that we probably never realise that they are effectively stopping us from find the life we’re looking for. When you say something like “I can’t go for promotion,” for example, you are effectively telling yourself you have no choice. On the other hand, if you say instead “I won’t go for promotion, because… I think I might look daft,” you’re confirming that you are in total charge of your life. You are making a choice of your own free will and also bringing to mind the problem that you could decide to resolve later on.

And what about ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’? Now, they need very careful use if they are not to become excuses for failure! “I should get more exercise, but…” invites all manner of excuses to remain sitting on your bottom indefinitely without feeling too guilty. But “I should get more exercise, and…” is a whole different ball game! It cannot be followed by an excuse to avoid it. It’s the same thing with ‘shouldn’t’. “I shouldn’t eat so much chocolate, but…” Well, okay, you probably are beginning to get the idea now – it allows you to come up with all manner of reasons why you will actually continue. Whereas “I shouldn’t eat so much chocolate, and…” means that you would have to do some pretty nifty language-juggling to avoid a sense of unease that would actually encourage consumption of fewer chococalories!

Of course, you might now be thinking; “So what?” to which there can only be one answer: So, what are you going to change first?

©Copyright Terence Watts, 2020