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Changing the way we think and feel can be as simple as A-N-D

Updated: May 8



What’s the most impactful word in the English language? To me, it’s “AND.” 


You read that correctly. That conjunction you usually gloss over in a sentence, without even realizing it’s there? Yes, that one. It’s an extremely powerful word, especially when it replaces the conjunction “BUT” in a thought, feeling, or judgment. Individuals and couples alike can learn to improve their emotion regulation and interpersonal communication - all with the simple, yet powerful, intervention of replacing BUT with AND.


Let’s take a few examples. 


Consider the following sentiment at the end of a long day: “My day started off well, I was on time for work, made several productive business decisions, had an enjoyable lunch with some co-workers, then began an interesting new project, BUT on the way home I got stuck in horrendous traffic for an hour-and-a-half.” What is the implication of this recap?


Now consider a reflection of the same exact day, only phrased slightly differently: “My day started off well, I was on time for work, made several productive business decisions, had an enjoyable lunch with some co-workers, then began an interesting new project, AND on the way home I got stuck in horrendous traffic for an hour-and-a-half.” Notice a different tone?


While only one word has been changed between them, the implications of these two sentences are completely different. The former indicates that an entire day of productivity and enjoyment can be disqualified or overpowered by 90 minutes in horrendous traffic. The latter, by contrast, allows all of the events of the day to speak for themselves, free of any sense of invalidation. In the end, my day was nuanced: there were parts that I enjoyed, and there were aspects that bothered me.


Here is another example, this time about one’s significant other: “My partner is smart, resourceful, kind, and generally fun to be around, BUT sometimes they can be really self-centered and emotionally unavailable.” What conclusion does this assessment reach?


Let’s try that again with a different conjunction: “My partner is smart, resourceful, kind, and generally fun to be around, AND sometimes they can be really self-centered and emotionally unavailable.” Now what is the sentiment?


As before, replacing BUT with AND allows a partner to possess multiple characteristics without the pressure of needing to decide which traits outweigh the others. My true opinion can be that there are aspects of the relationship that I value, and there are others that are challenging. My significant other - like my day - is sophisticated, rather than monolithic.


To be clear, using AND instead of BUT is not necessarily an exercise in reducing negativity and looking for silver linings. The converse of our earlier sentence, “I got stuck in horrendous traffic coming home BUT the first half of my day was productive” gives the impression that one has no right to be upset about their commute because there were good things earlier in the day. This, too, can be invalidating. Using AND in this sentence (“I got stuck in horrendous traffic coming home AND the first half of my day was productive”) allows one to embrace the various emotions experienced throughout the day as true experiences, free of any need to reduce the day to a single judgment. When thinking about relationships, too, there is no pressure to ignore negative qualities simply because one’s partner has likable traits as well. Instead, we are working toward judgments that are as nuanced and sophisticated as the people themselves. 


So, try it out for yourself. Catch yourself using the word BUT when you speak, text, or think - and then try reframing the exact same idea through the lens of AND. See if you notice a difference in tone or impact. Retraining our brains to experience life dialectically may take some time - AND it is totally worth it!


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