There can be those rare, positive Yes-Buts like “Yes, I ate that whole piece of banana cream pie, but I was 600 calories under my budget for the week and it was delish!”

More often, the ‘Yes-But’ is a device of the devil. It keeps us mired in unhappiness. Imagine a car stuck in the mud (not a stretch if you live in the northeast, believe me). We spend precious energy spinning our tires, going nowhere but deeper in the muck.

The Yes-But is you. In the mud. Spinning.

Dr. David Burns would say the Yes-But is a type of cognitive distortion. Number 4 on the cognitive distortion hit list in fact: Disqualifying the positive.

The But effectively negates whatever came right after the Yes. It’s as if the Yes never existed. That is what is so devastating!

We use the Yes-But in two ways:

1. To keep ourselves down and off balance. This Yes-But is often a variation on the theme of “Yes I have nice eyes, but my nose is huge!” We basically put ourselves down, slap aside what is good and focus on what we think is wrong, leaving us feeling sad, angry, maybe even hopeless.

2. To keep others down and off balance. When we use the Yes-But in conversation with others we may be avoiding something, like maybe taking responsibility for our own actions.  In my work with couples I hear these kinds of Yes-Buts a lot. There are two major variations:

a. Yes, I owe you an apology. I’m sorry, but…

b. Yes, I accept your apology, but…

Easy to see where neither maneuver is any help in getting a couple unstuck.

Here are three steps to help you quit your Yes-But habit:

1) Catch yourself when you Yes-But. We don’t even know how much the Yes-But has sneaked into our psyche until we start keeping score. Hearing ourselves can be an eye opener. Watch for it in your own thoughts, in conversations, as you text, write emails, any form of communication both internal and external.

2) Keep the Yes. Take the first half of the Yes-But, all the stuff after Yes and before But, and put a period at the end of it. Just stay with that for a minute. Repeat it as a final sentence. Then elaborate on it. Tell yourself more about the Yes. Check in with how that makes you feel.

3) Take action on the But. Now we face the negative part. Instead of sitting on it, what can you do about it? Go into problem solving mode. What can you reasonably do to change it? What can you do to be a better partner, to be a better friend to yourself? Is this an example of small stuff that is better not to sweat?

The really interesting thing I’ve observed is that once we learn to do Steps 1 and 2 the need to deal with Step 3 kind of goes away. In other words, once you learn to stay with Yes, all we’re left with is a teeny, tiny But. And isn’t that what we all want?