Three Little Words That Can Dumb You Down

By Tom Hoobyar. Visit his website at: Street Smart CEO

Article Word Count 978, average reading time 3.9 minutes.

The words we use either encourage us to be creative and optimistic or they shut us down, give us a smaller view of possibilities, and weaken us. The words we use define our personal reality to ourselves as well as to others, and they have a very real effect on what we allow ourselves to think. The words we use are the way we tell ourselves what we deserve from life.


Have this ever been said to you? “This is a good idea, but –”

Get it? When I said “This is a good idea” you were probably sorting for some time when you got complimented on an idea.

Then I said “but –” and you had to cringe a little.

We’ve all been taught that no matter what someone says, if they add a “but –” we know to brace ourselves, here comes the little twist that takes away most of the meaning from the beginning of the sentence.

Happens all the time, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that you and I would NEVER do that to others, yet people sure do it to us on a constant basis.

And what’s even more interesting, people do it to themselves! Just listen the next time a discussion comes up about what someone wants, for example:

“I’d like to lose weight, but –”

“I’d like a promotion, but –”

“We could go see your parents on Saturday, but –”

Interesting, huh? What follows “but” is almost always either something that wipes out a compliment, or an excuse for why people can’t get what they want.

So here’s a little tip for you. What happens to these sentences if we substitute “and” for “but”?

“This is a good idea, and –” Sounds like the idea may even be used, doesn’t it?

“I’d like to lose weight, and –” And here’s how I’m going to do it!

“I’d like a promotion, and –” And this is how I’m going to get it.

“We could go see your parents on Saturday, and –” And we can have dinner by the river on the way home, or we can stop at the new shop I wanted to see on the way there, or whatever alternative comes to mind.

“But” limits possibilities, and tells you what’s wrong and WHY you can’t do something. “And” includes more choices, and leads to thoughts of HOW you will do something.

They are the language of two different worlds, two different ways of life.

Which world’s language do you prefer??

Which leads us to the next “little word.”


The problem with “why” is that it leads to “because.”

When you ask “why?” You are almost demanding a story that will explain “why” things are as they are. And you’ll answer that question with a story of why things are that way, whether they are really like that or not!

“Why can’t I get a break?”

Because I already decided that I will never get a break, so I must be a loser.

“Why are people such rude drivers?”

Because if I accept the assumption that “all people are rude drivers” I can complain and whine and be miserable instead of just dealing with the fact that some people don’t handle traffic pressures very well.

“I just don’t understand why you would want that –”

Because if you want that and I don’t want you to have it and you can’t persuade me to endorse your choices, I get to control you.

Okay. When I said you were a loser I was just speaking on behalf of the subconscious of people who think this way. The question “why” is useful to two year olds, and perhaps detectives on a case or scientists in the lab.

Not so much for adults.

You want to know what’s an even more useful word for most of us, most of the time?

The word is “how.” As in, “How can I create a break for myself?” Or,

“How can I best deal with a rude driver, if I encounter one?” Or,

“How can what I want have any impact on you, and what can I do to ease that?”

Again, two different words from two different outlooks. “Why” invites you to accept whatever the stated reality is, and then demands that you make up a story that explains it. Probably a waste of time, unless you get your jollies making up stories about unimportant stuff. “Why” turns your view to the past, looking for causes and people to blame.

On the other hand, “How” is an action word. It looks to the future. “How” can I get what I want?” Or, “How can I mesh my desires with another person’s desires?”

Good question. And it leads you in a direction of action. And actions are the stuff of life.


“I should have done it differently.”

“You should do it like they do.”

“What should I do?”

This time I have no suggestion for an alternative word. I just have a caution about this one.

We all have a little parent’s voice in our heads, treating us like we’re still wearing diapers. And this word is surely a parent’s word, telling us what we “should” do.

“Should” and even worse, “should have” will make you miserable. They are the words of dissatisfaction and helplessness and regret and guilt.

Try this. “I want” instead of “I should.” Even if you add the same ending, you get more power — more ADULT power, from saying “I WANT to do it differently next time” or, “I WANT to be on time” Instead of “I shouldn’t be late.”

Think about the words you use — both to others and more importantly, to yourself.

Especially these three thought-stopping little words.


Tom Hoobyar

About Corey

I am a lifelong student of NLP.
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