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This Word Self-Sabotages Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again – time to set those New Years Resolutions.

Yours might be to eat healthy, to eat less sugar, or to exercise more.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these intentions, however you might be self-sabotaging yourself before you even begin working towards these goals. Here’s why.

The way we talk about ourselves changes the wiring in our brain and changes our behaviors.

I often hear people talking about their health in a negative way. They want to change something about themselves, eat in a certain way, do more of this, less of that… and before completing their sentence they throw in a defensive “but…”

but… I have 20 pounds to lose

but…. healthy food doesn’t taste good to me

but…. I have no time to cook

but… my family isn’t supportive

but… I have a hard time staying motivated.

When you put it all together:

I want to be healthy, but vegetables don’t taste good to me.
I want to eat less sugar, but I have a hard time staying motivated.
I want to eat healthy during my pregnancy, but I have no time to cook.
I want to do more Pilates, but I have 20 pounds to lose.

These are all potentially true statements and there’s something wrong with each of them. Can you spot it?

Don’t worry. It took me a while to pick up on this as well. (And we all subconsciously do this!)

Each of these statements includes the word “but.” Yes, it’s grammatically correct. So what’s my problem with it?

Using the word “but” psychologically negates the first half of the sentence. The word “but” says “I can’t” or “this is too hard” to your brain. Quite simply, this word self-sabotages your New Year’s Resolutions!

This has been studied in the realm of motivational interviewing and is something I picked up from some advanced training I did on the topic.

During this training, we were asked to role play various counseling situations and try to handle it as best we could—as if it was a real person spewing their guts and verbalizing all the ways they couldn’t fathom changing their habits. Although everyone in the group had learned to avoid using the word “but,” it just came so naturally!

I also resisted, because connecting two unlike fragments with “but” is more grammatically correct than “and.”

(The lovely folks who reviewed my book, Real Food for Gestational Diabetes, had to point this out numerous times! Obviously my approach to nutrition coaching has rubbed off on my writing!)

When we change out the word “but” for the word “and” check out how the tone of these sentences change.

I want to be healthy and vegetables don’t taste good to me.
I want to eat less sugar and I have a hard time staying motivated.
I want to eat healthy during my pregnancy and I have no time to cook.
I want to do more Pilates and I have 20 pounds to lose.

Suddenly, these two thoughts or feelings can exist simultaneously without competition.

It’s okay to want to eat healthier and have trouble eating enough vegetables because you don’t enjoy the taste. Those are both true facts in your life at this moment.

One is not better than the other. One does not undo the other.

Instead of wallowing in “whoa is me, I can’t do this” land, you can subtly begin to see your challenges in a new light.

So, let’s say you want to eat healthy during your pregnancy and finding the time to cook is a challenge…

When you think of solutions, start with the word “and,” like this.

“I want to eat healthy during my pregnancy… ”

and I will consider finding a way to make extra meals in advance, so I don’t have to cook as much.
and I can purchase some healthier pre-made meals at the grocery store.
and I can focus only on cooking the meals that are quick and easy in the kitchen.
and I can get my spouse, family, or friends to make me/us dinner a few nights a week.
and I can find delivery or take-out restaurants that offer healthier options.

Do you see the shift?

The Grammar Police are probably already on their way to slap my wrists… and that’s ok!

Now I’d love to hear your New Year’s Resolutions or health goals where you replace “but” with “and” in the comments section. I’ll start!

“I want to make more home-cooked, real food meals and sometimes I don’t have the energy to cook.”

Until next week,
Lily

PS – If you re-read this post carefully, can you spot all the places where I grammatically should have used the word “but” and instead inserted the word “and?” Can you see how that automatically puts a positive reframe on it?

PPS – If any of you identified with this statement, “I want to be healthy and vegetables don’t taste good to me”, snag a FREE copy of my popular ebook “How to Make Vegetables Taste Good: Eat Them Because you Want to, Not Because You Have to” below.

Veggies: Eat them because you want to, not because you have to

Your guide to making vegetables taste seriously good

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

9 Comments

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  1. I love using “and” instead of “but” when talking to clients. It’s amazing how little shifts like that can totally change your mindset! And as we know, mindset change needs to come before behavior change. 🙂

    • It always amazes me how well this works, Laura!

  2. Great post. I can’t stand “buts” too. It makes your intentions seem insincere. Like there’s always an excuse waiting in the wings…

  3. Oh those “buts” will get you every time! Thank you so much for this spot on post, Lily!

  4. Huh. I had never thought about it like this but it is so true. All about learning to live with possibly conflicting truths – the healthy meals is a great example.

  5. “We’ve all got a big but,” — isn’t that what Pee Wee said? Haha! Great post.

  6. Lily – this newsletter was specifically for me – you picked up on all my hiding places! And thanks for some of the ideas to overcome. PS: I enjoy your letters.

    • Glad you’re enjoying my email newsletter, Magdalena! 🙂

  7. Hi Lily,
    Thanks for this post. I have struggled with setting realistic goals for myself and now I realize I’m been sabotaging them by thinking of all the ways that I can’t achieve them. For this year, my goal is to eat more mindfully (after reading your excellent post on calories and your other one on knowing if you’re truly hungry).

    So here goes…
    I will practice eating more mindfully in the new year – AND – I know I may be tempted to return to the comfort I get from calorie counting.

    Here’s to stepping into a new way of living! Thanks for all you do. 🙂 Keep blogging!

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