Can You Give Yourself Some Approval? by Dr. David Fox

The following is an excerpt from the wonderful new book Comfort, Healing and Joy by Dr. David Fox. I have been using the technique he describes here, replacing my “buts” with “ands,” and have been finding it very helpful! Hope this helps you too…

Perhaps the biggest impediment to patting one’s self on the back is due to that rather nasty word “but.” This word is so short and innocent-looking. Who would think it has the power to tear people down in so many different ways? When you’re not feeling good about yourself, look around hard for the word “but” in your self-talk, such as:

“I worked so hard, but I only placed second.”

“I am nice to people, but they sometimes still don’t like me.”

“I’m doing better and better, but I’ve got a long way to go.”

“I was able to stay strong for a while, but then my heart melted.”

The word “but” erases everything that has come before it, leaving you to focus exclusively on the negative aspects of a situation. Your inner critic only hears, “I only got second place; “ “They simply don’t like me;” and “I’ve got a long way to go.” Whatever you did was just not good enough. It’s no wonder people don’t give themselves enough credit with destructive words like that lurking around in their head!

How can you diffuse “but?” It’s fairly easy if you know the antidote.

The cure to stop using the word “but” is to replace it with the word “and.” You might think that the difference between using “but” and “and” is so insignificant that they convey the same meaning. Think again. Unlike the situation with “but,” when you switch to “and” you can keep both halves of the sentence rather than suffer the consequences of rendering the entire positive half meaningless.

“I worked so hard and I only got second place.”

“I am nice to people and they still sometimes don’t like me.”

“I’m doing better and better and I’ve got a long way to go.”

The worst case scenario is that by keeping both parts, you see both the positive and the negative aspects of it, which leaves you with a neutral feeling rather than a negative one as is the case when using “but.”

The ultimate goal of this easy switch, however, is not to walk away feeling neutral. Even better than neutral, “and” opens the door to the possibility of dropping the negative half of the expression from our attention altogether. Unlike “but,” which seems to compel us to ignore the positive half, “and” does just the opposite by giving us permission to ignore the negative half, in essence eliminating it.

“I work so hard.”

“I am nice to people.”

“I’m doing better and better.”

As soon as you find yourself negating a worthy effort you have made or a good deed you have done, see if you can find a “but” lurking around somewhere, and when you do, immediately replace it with “and.” Once you can focus squarely on your positive efforts, it’s only a matter of pointing them out to yourself. When you’re not burdened by “but,” it’s rather straightforward to say, “I did a nice job with this project.”

Making positive statements to yourself might at first generate about as much excitement within you as tickling yourself. Fortunately, the more you practice giving yourself gentle pats on the back, the more this conscious habit becomes an unconscious, automatic one. Over time as you get used to this practice, hopefully you will find that some very pleasant feelings about yourself start to percolate on their own and rise up into your awareness without much, if any, effort on your part.

What kinds of positive thoughts can you think about yourself? Try these on for size:

“How nice that I went the extra mile for a friend today.”

“Look how I put my best foot forward, even when I didn’t feel like it.”

“I was extra patient with people today and really listened more intently than I usually do.”

The number of opportunities to pat yourself on the back is endless.


  1. I love this! Thank you!

  2. Shulamis Silverman

    This reminded me of the book Battle Plans by Sara Yocheved Rigler and Rebbetzin Heller, excerpted here:

  3. Fantastic advice. It is all too easy to focus on what didn’t go right instead of how we’ve grown in a situation.

  4. I love the book battle plans – highly recommended!! i got it as a gift and its probably one of the best gifts I ever got!

  5. Replacing “but” with “and” is also a great parenting tool!

    Instead of:
    “I love you but I have to go”
    “I want to listen but I have to finish what I’m doing first”
    “You cleaned up nicely but you forgot one thing”

    You can say:
    “I love you and I have to go”
    “I want to listen and I have to finish what I’m doing first”
    “You cleaned up nicely and you forgot to put away one thing”

    It’s all inclusive and kids (at least my own) really respond to it.

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