How to Think Better: mindset

I hear a lot of “if only…” and “but, but, but”. What I don’t hear enough of is “and”.

  • If only my husband didn’t travel so much for work, I could go back to school.
  •  If only I had more money in savings, I could pursue my passion.
  • If only I had more time, I could exercise regularly.

And then there’s the dreaded “but”.

  • I’d like to write a book, train for a marathon, (fill in the blank), but I don’t have the time.
  • I’d like to quit my stressful job, but it pays well and supports my family.
  • I’d like to find a better paying job, but the economy is bad.
  • I want a better relationship with my spouse, but we just can’t agree about finances.
  • I’d like to be debt-free, but it’s so difficult to pass up buying a bargain.
  • I’d like to find more fulfilling work, but I don’t have a clue what else I would do.

All those “if onlys” and “buts” are disempowering.

They create and reinforce conditions as insurmountable obstacles, dismiss possibility, and hand the reigns of control over to external factors.

If only…

If only always sounds like someone is waiting for a magic wand or a genie to grant them a wish.

If only is dreamy without action.

If only thinking gets us in trouble when we don’t restrict it to helping us clarify what we want. For instance, I’m all for it when someone says, If only I could start my own business and then follows with, OK, now how do I make that happen? The problem is too many people leave off the second part and stop with wishing.


But is a show stopper. It’s the end of possibility because it discounts everything that came before the “but”.

Think about it: When you say, I’d like to write a book, but I don’t have the time, the part about wanting to write a book gets lost. It’s negated by what comes after. All emphasis is on the declarative pseudo-fact—but I don’t have the time—and there’s no where to go from there.

If you really want something, you need to turn the “but” into “and”, and then ask, OK, now what? What is possible?

For instance, I want a better relationship with my spouse about money, but we just can’t agree about finances becomes I want a better relationship with my spouse about money, AND we can’t agree about our finances. OK, now what? What IS possible?

Consider the difference when we opt for “and” instead of “if only” or “but”.

  • I’ve got three kids, a husband who travels a lot for work AND I can make the time for what matters most to me. How can I do that? What is possible?
  • I don’t have much money in savings AND I can find a way to pursue my passion. What are ways to pursue my passion that don’t require a significant financial commitment?
  • I dislike the stressful job I have that supports my family, AND I will find a way to find more meaningful work that pays well. What step could I take today to move forward?
  • I’d like to be debt-free, AND it’s so difficult to pass up buying a bargain. OK, given that, what is possible? What am I willing to do to become debt-free?

Language shapes our mindset about what’s possible. It can stop us in our tracks and close off possibility or it has the potential to create an opening for us to brainstorm and explore other ways of getting from point A to point B.

Exchange some of your “if onlys” and “buts” for “ands”. What mindset shift does that create?