Taking Two Words out of Your Vocabulary Can Change Your Life

Taking Two Words out of Your Vocabulary Can Change Your Life
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 13 October, 2022

It makes sense if you think about how, without realizing it, we all use set phrases, unaware of how they shape the way we think and look at reality. So naturally, if you change the way you talk about reality, you might also be able to change your life.

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

-Robin Williams-

Bernard Roth is professor of engineering at Stanford University and academic director of the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design. He wrote a book called The Achievement Habit.  It talks about different linguistic formulas that lead to either success or failure. In this article we’re going to tell you about two of them.

Take but out of your vocabulary and change your life

The word but is an adversative conjunction. That means that it puts two ideas together, opposing each other, whether to add a detail to a statement, give it more depth, or contradict it. If we look at it from a psychological point of view, we usually use this word to justify things, put them off, or not do them.

but, one of the two words you can take out of your vocabulary to change your life

One place we really use it a lot is in phrases like “Yes, but.” Those two little words are really about self-sabotageIt’s what people call “putting a but in things.” That is, we make unnecessary or imaginary obstacles to get in the way of us doing anything.

What professor Roth suggests is to take the word but out of our regular vocabulary. He says that you can change your life if you get rid of it because not using it forces you to change your perspective. The goal is to replace those buts with the conjunction and

So, for example, instead of saying “I want to end my relationship, but I’m afraid of being alone,” you would say, “I want to end my relationship and I’m afraid of being alone.”

But how would your life change just by changing how you say things? Roth says that when you say but, you give yourself two mutually exclusive paths: you take one or the other. On the other hand, if you use the conjunction and, you’ll see both realities at the same time. 

You won’t have to force yourself to chooseYou can look at your options without having to decide, so then you can see things more objectively and not feel like you’re at a fork in the road.

Exchanging have to for want

The second big recommendation professor Roth makes is to exchange the expression “I have to do…” for “I want to do…” When you say “I have to do…” you immediately put yourself in the realm of obligation.

That’s very discouraging, even on its own. It means that you might want one thing, but you have to do something else, even though you don’t want to. So using have to starts you off in an emotionally uncomfortable place.

A woman and an empty speech bubble.

Bernard Roth says that if you do something, it’s never because you’re truly obligated to. Somehow or another you’ve chosen to So by getting rid of the expression “I have to do…” and replacing it with “I want to do…” all you’re doing is accepting responsibility for the life you live.

How to take have to out of your vocabulary

  • Switch “I have to finish this work by tomorrow because if I don’t I’ll lose my job” for “I want to finish this work by tomorrow because that way I’ll keep my job.”
  • Replace “I have to be patient with my partner, because if I’m not they might get upset and leave me” with “I want to be tolerant with my partner because it’s a way I can deepen our relationship and feel good about it.”
  • Exchange “I have to exercise because I’m gaining a ton of weight” for “I want to exercise so that I’ll feel more comfortable with my body.”

Every time you switch have to for want, you immediately have to replace your negative outlook with a positive one. At the same time, you’re lifting a heavy emotional burden off your back.

So that’s why you can make a huge positive change in your life if you take these tiny words out of your daily vocabulary. Why don’t you try it for a month and see how it goes?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.