The Surprising Secret About Your Buts
Read about how your buts are creating silent but deadly barriers to your success, and what you can do to fight back.
Currently, we are in the “will you wipe me?” phase with our son. Every now and then, after he goes to the bathroom, we will hear, “Mommmm…will you wipe me?” Fortunately, he usually calls for mom. Sometimes, when he is trying to trick us into coming quickly, he will say, “Mommmm…I need you”. But when we get there, all he needs is for someone to wipe him.
And then we go and wipe his rear end. It’s part of it, but certainly not my favorite part. I’m glad we only have one additional rear end to wipe. Our other child, gratefully, has learned how to handle this on her own. I am looking forward to the day when Harper has grown out of this as well.
You know that old saying, You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak.
I wonder what the quote would be about butts? You only have one butt, so….
I don’t know. But if I ever come up with the rest of that, I bet it will be funny.
It is doubtful that any of us would ask for more butts. One is enough.
Alright. Enough about butts.
The real question is, How many buts do you need?
Despite the fact that one is enough, we all do a masterful job at collecting as many buts as we can, to the point of squashing many of our new ideas, goals, solutions, opportunities to forgive, or chances to learn, grow, and experience new things.
I would like to pursue this OPPORTUNITY…but…
We could work on RECONCILIATION…but…
There is this NEW CHALLENGE…but…
It would probably be best for me to MOVE ON…but…
The but is small because usually that is how we prefer to use it. We slide it in there, and say it fast, and perhaps even drop our volume a little bit. Silent but deadly, in a sense If it was worth mentioning first, we would mention it first. That’s not how it goes though. The but sneaks in there just enough so you don’t give it too much attention, as if your opportunity and the reason you cannot pursue it are all intertwined. They are married together, so the mere mention of the opportunity, or new challenge, or chance to move on, or reconcile, naturally and smoothly brings up, at the exact same time, the obvious reason that it can’t be done.
If we dare mention our but first, the sting of the excuse or the overcome-ability of most of our buts, would be painful and obvious. We don’t handle painful and obvious very well. We want to feel like things are complex and difficult, so we can spend time pondering and exploring their great complexity. That way, we can think about them, for a long time, as we try and figure out our great challenges before we take action and feel like real problem solvers when we talk about our buts. When we slide a but in there after the fact, it softens the blow, takes the sting out, and makes the excuses more easily digestible. And that’s the way we like it.
Sometimes we try to act exasperated, or disappointed with our buts. This is is just a ruse. In a strange way, we can feel a little better about all the buts we are carrying around if we act like they are out of our control and beyond our reach. There’s nothing we can do about these great burdens. This is just how life is. Maybe one day, but, well, you know. Our feigned exasperation allows us to sell the buts more easily to ourselves and to others.
Imagine if I approached it this way:
“I’m too tired to spend quality time with my kids.”
That guy sounds like a jerk. At a minimum, that guy sounds like someone who needs to figure out a way to spend some better time with his kids. They’re his children, his legacy. What’s more important? Too tired? For your kids? Are you kidding me? When we mention the problem first, without the softening of the but, it really stands out, and it is clear that we can and should take some steps to make it right.
What happens if you highlight your excuse, by stating it first?
“I’m too angry to forgive her.” I need to address my anger.
“I’m too scared to make a change.” I need to figure out what I’m really afraid of, and if I am willing to fight through it.
“I’m not willing to ________ in order to ________”. Okay. If I’m unwilling, then I need to stop complaining.
Saying the excuse, or problem, or struggle with reality first puts it out in the open, rather than hiding it behind the but, and now we can feel the sting of it. This approach doesn’t allow us to hide, or pretend. Our preference, mostly, is to hide and pretend.
Which is why we like to approach it this way instead:
“I really want to spend quality time with my kids, but I’m just so tired after a long day at work”
Now we are cooking. This is where we get sympathy, and understanding, from ourselves and others. People can agree with this sentiment, empathize with the struggle, feel our pain, feel sorry for us, and help us feel better about not moving forward. We are all tired after a long day of work. I mean, we have to get our rest. Isn’t this just how life it is? We’ll squeeze in time where we can, later maybe, or this weekend perhaps. We want to, but, well, you know.
The after-the-but portion of our statement is not necessarily a lie, though, it could be. In this example, I am tired at the end of the day. What is problematic is what the but does to us, to our goals, to our relationships, to our success, and to our overall narrative. They mask responsibility. We use them to hide from solutions. They are used like a comma, in the sense that they move the sentence forward and there is a bit more to the story (presumably). In reality, without us realizing it, they are treated like a period. Once we sneak the but in there, the story (or pursuit, solution, true seeking, or progress) is usually over.
What would happen if you stopped talking before you got to the but?
“I want to spend quality time with my children.”
You should do that.
But Bryan, (see what I did there)…
Okay, here is the conversation without the but, with the excuses/reasons/reality (all could be present from time to time) still intact.
“I want to spend quality time with my children.”
“Yeah. I’m just so tired at the end of the day that it is really challenging”
I understand. What would it take for you to set aside the tired and spend quality time
with your children, if that is truly something that you want?
And now, we are working on solutions. No buts.
But Bryan, I do have one but.
Okay. If you are unable, or unwilling, to quit the buts cold turkey, limit yourself to one. When we get into conversations like the one above, we fight hard against this solution finding that I’ve offered. Instead of, “well…” and then a search for solution, that “well…” is followed quickly, and sneakily, by another but.
“Well, I could make sure I get to bed sooner, so I will be more rested, but I really like to watch the news before bedtime, and then I get all worked up and it’s hard to go to sleep.”Okay. What would life look like if you exchanged watching the news for more rest so you could spend more quality time with your children.
Here’s another potential solution. Think about your precious buts. KEEP THEM!!! You can have them BUT, you have to switch the sentence around.
“I am really tired at the end of the day, but I want to spend time with my kids.”
And, boom goes the dynamite.
Just saying the sentence differently highlights the power of the but. The post but portion of the sentence is powerful. You see? All those excuses that have been tagging along with your quiet little buts are stronger than you realize. When you flip the sentence, suddenly, you are admitting fatigue but, you are now expressing a desire to do what is important anyway!
Maybe you think I am trying to be a keyboard hero, in my comfortable little coffee shop, making up my own conversations, so I can choose the questions and the answer, offering brilliant solutions without anyone to challenge me.
You could be right.
But, you could be wrong.
It’s likely you are thinking your situation is more complicated than that. I’m making it sound easier than it is.
You might be right. Your situation might be more complicated than that. Maybe you really do need to spend more time pondering a solution, thinking about how to handle this. Or maybe this thing really is out of your control, beyond your reach, and this is how life is going to be.
But you might be wrong.
While you are doing your pondering, I would encourage you to at least give this concept some thought. Think about some of the things that are really important to you, that have some buts that have been getting in the way.
What happens if you leave the but out?
What happens if you start to look for a solution instead of a but?
What happens if you flip the sentence around?
What happens if you make some sacrifices instead of making excuses, for the things that you say you want to do?
What happens if you take responsibility for figuring it out, rather than collecting a drawer full of “justified” buts and missed opportunities?
I’m pulling for you.