Yes, the title of this post includes Big Buts and that’s not a typo. Why would I write about Big Buts, Butts, Butz or any other word that sounds the same? Well, I talk to a lot of people and a lot of the people I talk to seem to be controlled by Buts. After hours of listening, I’ve concluded that it’s very common for Really Big Buts to keep us from thriving.
Huh? Well, I know one person who says she wants her 25-year-old daughter to move out of the house and she’s given her a date by which to vacate, BUT that date has come/gone/morphed into a later date that’s come/gone. Why? Because she wants her to move out, BUT not enough to enforce a boundary, establish and enforce a consequence, ignore protests, and/or change the locks.
I have listened to a man who is behind on all his bills and feeling enormous amounts of anxiety rant, rave, yell, and whine that something has to change or he will crack, BUT he won’t consider selling his high end car with it’s $750 per month payment.
There’s the man who says he cannot stand the industry in which he currently works, BUT who will not consider taking a lesser title or small salary cut in order to transition to an industry with which he’s not familiar.
Then there’s my neighbor who at age 49 already has a pacemaker and defibrillator installed in his chest. He says he wants to work out regularly to get in shape, BUT he consistently skips more days per week than he participates.
So what’s the deal with all these Buts? From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the behavior of each of these folks guarantees that they will not get what they say they want. If you’ll listen, they can tell you exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Here’s I’ve heard them say: “I don’t think my daughter can make it on her own without my help.” “If I buy a cheaper used car, I’ll end up spending more in maintenance than I’m spending on my car payment.” “I have a Masters degree and 20 years experience. I should be in management.” “It might rain tomorrow, so I don’t think I’ll meet you to walk.”
Once they’ve made these initial statements, I’ve listened for hours as they elaborate at length with details supporting their initial statement: “She has anxiety. What kind of mother would I be if I force her to move out?” “I already downgraded once. This car costs less than the one I had.” “I didn’t work my butt off for the last 20 years to have to have a peon job.” “I know you’ll probably want to go to the gym if I don’t walk, so I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to decide.”
And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on.
We all have blind spots that keep us from seeing how our behavior contributes to what we describe as our problems. Believe me, I’ve had some Big Buts in my time. So what have I learned about removing the blind spots so that we can get the outcome we desire?
First, we have to summon a tiny bit of courage. In order to make the most progress in the least amount of time, we must be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves. When we notice that there seems to be an area in our lives that we repeatedly SAY we want to change, but which stays the same over a long period of time, it is time to ask ourselves some tough questions.
The first question we must ask is, do we REALLY want what we say we want? If we determine that we do, then we must ask what we believe we will have to give up in order to get it. If we’re not willing to give up whatever it is we think we’ll have to give up to get what we want, then it is time to own that decision, change our rhetoric, and stop struggling. That’s one way to rid yourself of a Big But.
If we determine that we want what we say we want, and we believe that we are willing to give up, for instance, being too proud to temporarily take a lesser job, then we may have just solved our own problem by recognizing that our pride has been holding us back. Another Big But was just eliminated.
When we determine that we want what we say we want, BUT over and over our decisions lead us to a place where we can see no other option than one that keeps us stuck, we are dealing with a Really Big But. A Really Big But usually means that the process of getting what we want stands in direct opposition to the coping mechanisms we developed at a time in our lives when we believed we had no power but to figure out how to cope with the situation in which we lived.
Without consciously recognizing it, we behave as though getting what we want means giving up our power or our ability to deal with life. Our emotional survival feels threatened. Subconsciously, we sense that getting what we say we want will require us to go back and heal the wounds to which our coping is attached so rather than follow a path of change, we immediately dismiss new options in favor of relying on our long-ingrained coping patterns.
So when I have a Really Bit But, how do I get rid of it? Exercise, of course. I like to play a game I’ll call – But, I’m Curious. Here’s how it works:
A few years ago, I decided I wanted a better work/life balance. I understood that I needed to find a way to really get away from work – including the work that was always going on in my head, BUT I also had lots of very real deadlines, financial pressure, and a drive to excel. I tried to get some down time in the evenings, but whenever I was in my office or my house, I seemed to be constantly running a To Do list through my head. I was struggling to turn off the running mental list even on the weekends. I’d been trying and failing for months while complaining to 20 of my closest friends about needing a break. Finally, I started decided to replace my long-standing But with a new one.
Here’s the next question I asked myself – I see that I can’t seem to get out of work mode when I’m at home, BUT I’m curious what would happen if I spent a weekend somewhere else?
Hmmm. I had gotten my attention in a different way. Well, maybe I should give it a try and see. I did some research on inexpensive cabins at nearby state parks and decided I would spend one weekend per month away from home. It wasn’t much and at first I had trouble being still when I was away, but ultimately my work habits changed in a very real way.
Using curiosity to get me started makes change sound like an adventure. Besides, I’m just asking myself a question because I’m curious. Any answer to that question is okay. Anything I learn about myself in the process of answering it is good information to have. That feels like a very safe and easy way to be honest with myself. If I learn that my first plan still leaves me stuck, I just get curious about something else and see where that leads.
Another thing happens when I play But, I’m Curious. I learn more about my relationships because when I shift, everyone around me is forced to shift.
But, I’m Curious can lead you into the areas you need to heal, but as long as you stay curious throughout the process you will find the healing path that works best for you one step at a time. Imagine feeling free from having to cope. Imagine having the confidence that you can handle anything that comes along. Imagine believing that you are only limited by the choices you make. You CAN find a way to fix what needs fixing, BUT you have to really want it!