The “Yeah, But…” and the “Ugh…”

Three words that destroy your motivation… “Yeah, but” and “ugh”.

I hear these words and read these words so frequently. I don’t think people truly realize the power their words have on their own mental health. And if I could pick any words at all to try to help clients to stop saying (or writing), it’s “yeah, but” and “ugh…”.

Like many people, you may not have ever given these phrases a second thought. Most of us are guilty of uttering them in moments of frustration. However, if you find yourself saying things like this frequently, you might notice that your motivation and your mood are struggling.

Negativity and the Brain and Body

In short, the science behind what those types of words do to your brain goes a little something like this: complaining releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Higher levels of this stress hormone make you more likely to have decreased immune functioning and puts you at higher risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Likewise, when your cortisol levels increase, the “happy chemicals” your body naturally produces (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins) will decrease. This makes you more susceptible to depression, anxiety, panic, and substance use disorders. Add this all together and you have a cocktail that will keep you stuck and, quite literally, make you sick.

Yeah, but…

If there are two words that will have me as a therapist, friend, or family member (rudely) interrupt you to stop you dead in your tracks, these are the words. When we say “yeah, but” what it tends to tell our brain is “stay closed… don’t be open to adaptive ideas… stay in the negative moment… stay stuck.”

For real. Yeah, but… keeps you stuck.

The person in the toxic relationship reaching out to vent (or for help) “yeah, but when they’re nice they are awesome!!” (Translation to brain: they are horrible to me most of the time but I’m scared to make a change or cut ties… so I will convince myself to stay in it.)

The person in an unhealthy work environment: “yeah, but it pays the bills and I don’t know where else I could work.” (Translation to brain: I’ll put up with it destroying my mental health instead of finding something new… because I don’t know if somewhere else will pay the bills.)

The person who wants change: “Yeah, but it’s always been done this way…” or “Yeah, but I’ve tried other things like that and they didn’t work…” (Translation to brain: it’s hopeless).

The person who won’t give trust a try with a seemingly trustworthy person: “Yeah, but I’ve been burned before…” (Translation to brain: I need to isolate.)

(Insert so many more examples here).

So what should you replace the “yeah, but’s” with??

“I’ll keep that in mind…”

“That’s another way of looking at it…”

“I feel stuck and need to brainstorm options…”

“What in this situation is within my control?”

When a “yeah, but” happens, it’s usually a way to stay in self-defeat mode because change is scary and sometimes excruciating. And THAT IS OKAY to know that about situations at times. When a client says “yeah, but” to me frequently about specific situations, I often have them write out a pros and cons list of keeping things the way they are vs. making a difficult change. I have them focus on both long-term and short-term pros and cons. Typically, the short-term pros of staying in an unforgiving situation do not outweigh the long-term cons of it. When we can visualize the road map of positive change, we often are empowered to make that change.


This is a shorter segment and is right to the point.

Instead of saying “ugh” say “I don’t like this.”

“Ugh” does not provide any forward movement. It’s like a punctuation mark of a situation.

“My house is so messy…. ugh!” vs. “My house is so messy… I don’t like this.”

If I end with “ugh”, I’m likely to just sit in the situation. If I acknowledge that I don’t like a situation (with my words and thoughts), I am more apt to take a step to change the situation.

What if my loved one says these things all the time?

When your loved one is stuck like this and vents to you frequently about situations, after the venting session ends (venting isn’t always a bad thing), ask them:

“How can I help you with this situation?”

“What have you already tried to decrease this stress?”

“Are you wanting to vent it out or are you asking for my guidance?”

Sometimes, we give unsolicited advice and guidance and that further complicate the person’s emotions. However, if the chronic venting is weighing on you, let your loved one know that it is difficult for you to hear about their stress without offering help or guidance to alleviate the stress. Express to them that sometimes you’re not so great at leaving venting at venting. Give them your support, but don’t take on their stress.

If you are the chronic complainer, ask yourself the same questions. Find someone you trust and ask them to help you to reframe your “yeah, but’s” and “ugh’s” into more adaptive language so that you can get out of situations that keep you down.

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