Are you Busy? A message to parents

Askdrgcom 1

Are you busy? Probably you are. So first let me thank you for reading this post. You’ve got a lot on your mind and I really appreciate that you took a couple of minutes for our conversation. It might change your outlook about something that happens daily. 

How often does someone ask how you are? At least every day, I’m guessing. Casual conversation, a co-worker, family member, store clerk, someone asks after you, your family, your team. One of the most common answers to that is “busy.” A lot of folks will say something like, “Oh, we’re busy, but good. How are you?” Accurate, and trying to be optimistic. 

This answer, however, ignores something powerful. The words we use to tell our story can actually change (or reinforce) how we feel about our story. 

Words are incredibly impactful on our mood, our memories and the chemicals we release in our own brains. 

One of my boys is in a musical at our community center, and the performances are this week. They’ve been in rehearsals up to 5 hours a day outside of school. Now it’s a daily commitment until it’s over and, truth be told, he’s darn tired. They’re cleaning up the timing, going over the hardest parts and back again, and he came home last night saying just that: “I feel frustrated, down, exhausted, and there are still six more days left!” 

Well, I do listen to my own lessons enough to know that he needs empathy for all those feelings, but I also know that he’s about ready to wallow in the misery of it all and that won’t help either. So I said, “I see that you’re frustrated and down and tired. I love you and I care about how you’re feeling.” He slumped onto the couch and after a minute I asked, “Could you hear a suggestion?” A bit of side-eye, but eventually he said “OK.” 

“What if you said the exact same sentence, but replaced ‘still’ with ‘only’?” 

He was skeptical, but willing. “I feel frustrated and down and tired and there are only six days left.” 

He was quiet a second and said, “Yeah, ok. Weird. That feels better.” 

What he discovered is something well documented in research. The words we use shape our reactions, our outlook and our memories of an experience. 

So, the next time you’re inclined to say “Busy, but…” could you hear a suggestion? 

Try replacing “but” with “and.” Like this: “I’m busy, and good. How are you?” 

A core principle of resilience is knowing that you can feel different – sometimes conflicting – emotions at the same time. Use the power of “and” to speak your truth AND positively impact your own feelings, mood and memories. 

Can you see a place for changing “but” to “and” in your life?

Resilience expert, Deborah Gilboa, MD, (aka “Dr. G”) works with families, educators, executives, and businesses to identify the mindset and strategies to turn stress to an advantage. She is board certified attending family physician and is fluent in American Sign Language. She lives in Pittsburgh with her four boys.