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Is It Really Unfortunate?

September 24, 2013

“Unfortunate” is another word that gets used too often. Consider the following two statements:

“I’d like to have a jam session right now, but unfortunately my roommate is sleeping.”

“I’d like to go to the park right now, but unfortunately it’s raining.”

People need sleep. Plants need rain. Why is either of these things unfortunate? Now consider the alternatives:

“I don’t want to have a jam session right now because my roommate is sleeping.”

“I don’t want to go to the park right now, because it is raining.”

The difference between these statements boils down to an internal versus external locus of control. In the first case, you want to do something but can’t, and it is unfortunate. Your desires are unfulfilled, and you are unlucky. In the second case, you are choosing what you want or don’t want based on rational priorities. The reality is the same, but whether you construe yourself as being at the mercy of fate or in charge of your destiny is a matter of framing.

Reality is what it is; fortunate or unfortunate is just a subjective judgment from a limited perspective. (Tweet this)

Therefore, if you go around making things unfortunate all of the time, you will live in a world drenched in ill luck of your own creation.

The way you use language will affect the way you feel. The reason many people feel helpless much of the time is because they talk about themselves as if they were helpless. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: You are about to leave for a lunch date with a friend when your partner, who is painting the house, falls off the ladder and sprains his ankle. When you call your friend do you say

“I’m sorry, but I can’t come because unfortunately my partner just sprained his ankle and I have to help him treat it.”

Or do you say

“I won’t be coming because I am going to help my partner treat his sprained ankle.”

The meaning and the result is the same, but the first statement is fraught with verbal constructions that invoke feelings of self-pity, constraint, disappointment, and conflicting desire, whereas the second statement is a direct statement of fact and choice, and thus feels much more liberating.

Try making these tweaks to your internal and external dialogue, and notice how much more in control you feel:

  • “I’m sorry” – Don’t say it unless you are expressing sympathy or regret for a personal mistake.
  • “But” – Say “and”, or leave it out.
  • “I can’t” – Say “I’m not going to”.
  • “Have to” – Say “I’m going to”.
  • “Unfortunately” – Just don’t say it.
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