The Power of “Yet”

An executive at a team building retreat is spread out on steep rock slope, looking for his next hold and step. He's wearing a blue helmet, a blue and white stripped t-shirt and rock climbing shoes. Behind him and to the left side, sun lights up a forest of beech or birch.

One Small Word Can Make A Big Difference

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
— Samuel Beckett

Ever have someone dismiss your point, saying, “It’s semantics, just words?”  Or done it yourself?

Be careful. Words map our worlds. If I ask you to meet me in Montreal, but mean Montreux, is the difference just words?

No! Montreal is in Canada. Montreux is in Switzerland. 

Thinking “it’s just words,” we’re not likely to meet.

The words you use can be key to creating—or not creating—the results you want to bring into being. And success in anything.

Take the word”yet.”

During Executive Retreats I ran in the Rockies, execs sometimes failed to complete a practice climb.

“It’s impossible,” they’d say, shaking their heads. “I can’t do it.”

A string of excuses followed, justifying failure—difficult for hard-charging execs, especially men. 

I could have accepted their excuses, or given a “rah, rah!” pep talk, or otherwise tried to manipulate them into trying again. 

Instead, I simply said, “Yet!”

“Yet?” they asked, looking at me strangely. “What do you mean?” 

Describe Reality, Don’t Judge It! 

I’d explain that, “I can’t do it,” was not an accurate description of their reality. 

It was an absolute judgment: I can NOT do that! 

As well as generating negative emotions that distort thinking and action, such a judgment often implies, “I will never do it.” 

That second-order judgment depresses motivation, increases fear, and gets in the way of trying again. 

“All you really know,” I explained to dejected execs, “is you can’t do it, yet.”  

Doing so changed how they thought about the climb. It reduced their fear. Almost always,  they chose to climb again and succeeded. 

During the retreat wrap-up, the team unanimously said the“yet lesson” was the most powerful—personally, professionally and organizationally. 

When I followed up later, the President told me, “We aren’t completely there, yet, but thanks to you, your team, and ‘yet,’ we’re making great progress.”

Yet and You

You don’t have climb rock faces to see how “yet” can help you succeed.

Try this exercise:

First, make a mental picture of something you tried to accomplish but failed at.  Envision yourself trying it again, and failing. 

Then say to yourself, “I cannot do that”—and note how you feel.  

In programs, almost everyone reports feeling: “down,” “depressed,” “hopeless,” or “like giving up.” 

Word cloud on a black background, with words such as defeat, anger, frustration arrayed around the large, white block-lettered word failure. Behind them all, in red, distressed-looking block letters, the word disappointment angles up from lower right to upper left
Stopper Language

Their body language tells a tale of deflation and defeat.

Then, I ask them to visualize the situation again, and say, “I can’t do that, yet.”  

When asked how they feel, most say things such as “pumped,” “hopeful,” “motivated.” They sit straighter. Most grin.

Try it yourself.

See yourself trying and failing with the result you’ve chosen. 

But this time say, “I can’t do that yet,” and notice how you feel. 

Descriptions Change Threats Into Challenges

Graphic with half a red sun poking above grey clouds, with the word YET in bold blue letters below.
A Powerful Word

Adding “yet” to “I can’t do it” turns a judgment into a description, adding objectivity and possibility to the task.

It generates energy for trying again, failing better, and finally succeeding.

Adding “yet” also works for judgments, such as: “I don’t have enough time.” “I don’t have the skills.” “I can’t get myself up for it.” “I can’t imagine it.” 

So, the next time you find yourself frustrated because you cannot do what you want to do, or create what you’d love to create, try adding the word “yet.” 


“I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with the greatest caution.” 
—Wernher von Braun

“Watch your thoughts: they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch you actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.”
—Frank Outlaw

“Sometimes a single word can make all the difference.”
Joyce Meyer

“Words are powerful. Words make a difference. They can create and destroy. They can open doors and close doors. Words can create illusion or magic, love or destruction. … All those things.”
R.M. Engelhardt

Bruce Elkin

Life Design Coach. Personal Life Coach. 25 years experience. Clients on 6 continents. Author of 5 books and ebooks. Cares about the Earth and living in harmony with its natural systems.