Our English teachers taught us that complex sentences use conjunctions – a “joiner” word – to bring two thoughts into a unified whole. Not only do complex sentences help us sound more intelligent, they also help us shape our lives because how we connect our thoughts can have a profound effect on our happiness.

For example, when a client says, “I want to meet someone but I know I never will” they are unhappy in the moment and see a future filled with unhappiness. If they say, “I want to meet someone and I know I will” they are filled with hope in the present and optimism for the future. If they say, “I want to meet someone so I went out” they are actively doing something that might change their present condition. It is not the connecting word alone that matters – it is the thoughts that are logically connected by the word we choose. It would not make sense, for example, to say, “I want to meet someone so I stayed home alone.” The so demanded an action to accomplish the goal stated in the first sentence.

In other words, being aware of these connections – and choosing to make more effective connections – is a fairly simple way to change our perspective. Let me give you more examples:

 “If I stay in this job I hate, then I will become more and more unhappy.” A more effective connection would be, “If I look for a new job, then I might find one that brings me more satisfaction.” “If I leave this relationship, then I might be alone forever” could be changed to, “If I move on to a new relationship, then I might find greater happiness.” Similarly, if only statements can get us stuck in the past rather than move us toward a more satisfying future: “If only I had not pushed for a commitment, we would still be together” keeps us pining for a relationship that is over.  Saying, “Although he/she was not ready for a commitment, I’m glad I let my goals be known”, however, allows us to take the positive from the past while moving toward a future in which both parties can find greater fulfillment. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you but I’m worried that I don’t make as much money as you so I will be a financial burden” changed to “I want to spend the rest of my life with you so I was wondering how you feel about the differences in our income” allows greater problem solving and less anxiety/worry.  It keeps the focus on the goal and invites multiple options to emerge.

 Even if can also be problematic. I have heard clients say, “Even if I meet someone now, I’ll be too old to have children.” Here the focus is on unfulfilled dreams and, in essence, provides no path to new dreams or fulfillment. Changing the statement to “Whether I meet someone or not, I will find a way to make some children happier” leads to finding a way to fulfill the original dream in some form (work in a hospital with babies born to mothers on drugs, volunteer to coach or spend time with children who have single parents or are in foster care, spend time with nieces/nephews/children of friends, etc.).

Words are important; they matter. So, choose your words carefully and use them as a pathway to greater contentment. If you seek greater happiness, then you will find it. It will “pop out” at you because your new perspective will allow it present itself.

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9 thoughts on “If/Then

  1. You know something Dr. Diane….I always get something out of you thinking. This time
    you validated a decision I made this morning. Left my job and will begin to seek one
    that will again bring delight and satisfaction.

    Thank you again for choosing to share your words with us.


    1. Loved the use of the connecting word you chose. By connecting leaving work with the word “and” your goal of obtaining a job that will bring you delight and satisfaction became not only possible but probable.

  2. Great post, really important to understand the power of our words that become thoughts and perhaps actions.
    It is also motivating.

    Thank you

  3. I 100% agree with this topic. words are a powerful weapon that can either help the problem or make the problem worst. I personally always question myself and catch myself using negative terms such as ” but” and “never” and changed them to “and” and “will”. I had to take an exam for my job and I was telling my self that I WILL pass and be better at what I do. with the positive words I passed.

    – Kandis

  4. Dr. Urban reading If/Then made me think of Roger’s Humanism theory. For example, when you stated, “If I stay in this job I hate, then I will become more and more unhappy. A more effective connection would be, “If I look for a new job, then I might find one that brings me more satisfaction.” with Rogers theory he used words of encouragement like I will. If people use the word should, it doesn’t actually mean you will take action on something. Like when talking about a relationship if a person were to say ” I should leave this relationship” they will never take action but if a person says I will leave this relationship it’s a different perspective giving them a hole to take action. With Rogers theory, the person is the one responsible for their actions and consequences. Words are very powerful they can tear a person apart if used incorrectly but I love this theory because it reminds me that I have to be careful what I say to others and even myself. maybe if I am more encouraging I would not have to doubt my self when completing tasks. it will also help me make healthier and better choices in the future.

  5. Dr. Urban after reading “If/Then” it really makes you think about they things we say about ourselves. If we say something that’s negative then we aren’t going to do anything in hopes to better what we said. We are always going to see ourselves of not being able to do something. But if you act positive when talking about you doing a certain thing or achieving your goal then you will have a better chance of actually going out and getting it done. By changing certain words that we use it can really go a long way. For example “I should” and “I will”. If you say “I should really study for that test” there is a high chance they are not going to study for the test, but if you say “I will study for the test” you are taking action and already telling yourself that you are going to do this. After reading this little article I have realized how important your words are to a person and you can easily tear someone down from just one word or sentence. From reading this it reminds me to be more cautious with what you say to others but more importantly yourself. If I becoming more confident and stoping doubting myself it might help when better in my life, with school, friends and my future. This article can really help change a way a person thinks when talking and it can change them for the better.

  6. Hi Dr. Urban! Like one of the previous commenters, all of this made me think of the points brought up in humanism, and how the language we use – both to ourselves and to others – can change everything about our lives. As someone who has battled low self-confidence (as I’m sure so many of us have!), and anxiety related to my self-image, it was amazing to me to see how easily my perspective changed if I just changed my words.

    I had a therapist years ago, who really made such an impact on me. I remember I was expressing a deep fear about social situations, and whenever she would ask if I ever saw myself speaking in class, approaching strangers, or talking to someone I was romantically interested in, I would immediately shake my head and say, “nope, I can’t”. And she did exactly what you – or even what Roger would suggest – and would call me out everytime the phrase “I can’t” left my lips. Instead, I would say, “Maybe I’m not ready to do that right now, but I want to be able to do it in the future. What steps can I take to achieve this?” (Which would probably more of a cognitive/shaping method, but it was extremely effective!)

  7. I strongly agree with this idea that the way we choose to connect our words, greatly can determine our perspective on life and situations. Although I agree with this, it can be very difficult for some people who are depressed or hopeless to find these positive word connections. For example, a friend of mine has had many failed relationships and always blames herself whenever a relationship does not work out. She uses many of the negative sentences that you have mentioned. She has a very hard time finding rational statements about her past and future because she believes the past was her fault and therefore the future is destined to repeat. I am trying to make her change her perspective by changing her statements but she is very stubborn and does not believe any optimistic statement that I suggest to her. I believe this approach is strongly related to the cognitive branch of psychology because it has to do with changing the way you think and how you perceive your reality. A person can simply say these positive sayings but not truly believe in them because they do not believe in themselves and view the world has a cruel force of nature that is out to get them. Therefore, I believe in these techniques that you have written about but I do not believe it is as simple as it seems to repeat these sentences in your everyday thoughts and truly change the way you think. I believe they may benefit some but in some cases, they may even anger those who are very unhappy with their current situation because they feel as if they are lying to themselves if they make every sentence into a positive one without any assurance if it is really true or not.

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