Choosing “And” over “Or”

“Big, sweeping life changes really boil down to small, everyday decisions” — Ali Vincent

I love to listen when I’m in a group setting. Often, I hear people saying:

  • “I can get high scores in my exams, or I can have fun with my friends”
  • “I can get into my dream school, or I can pursue my passion in playing lacrosse”
  • “I can backpack across Europe this summer, or I can write my business plan”
  • “I can achieve my savings goal, or I can splurge on my favorite dress”
  • “I can find my dream job, or I can get my family’s approval”
  • “I can run my own business, or I can be healthy”

A Choice that I’m passionate about, that catalyzes possibilities

I have been obsessed with catching myself, and people around me, when I hear the word “or”. The past few years I have come to believe that this choice opens it up, makes it possible to have both. It opens up possibilities for us to reach our goals, enables us to be creative. This choice all in all is the mindset of a creator.

It is a choice of choosing “and” over “or”.

Example 1: Dream job vs. Family

I can find my dream job, or I can get my family’s approval

When I first started working after college, I went into investment banking. It was a well recognized career, well paid, and most Asian families are happy, including my family.

But one weekday night, 11PM at my office cubicle, I realized I was living someone’s dream. Despite being on a “proven career path”, I was not happy. It was not a career that suited me.

I longed to build something that can impact others more directly, that can innovation and challenge the status quo. However, I caught myself saying, “I can find my dream job, or I can get my family’s approval”.

That was a classic OR thinking. It got me scared of taking the next steps. OR thinking makes me feel small, feel like a victim and feel powerless.

What if I can find my dream job AND have my family’s approval?

Lesson 1: OR thinking makes us feel small, feel like a victim and feel powerless. Change in mindset starts simply with noticing it and start challenging ourselves to replace “or” with “and”.

Example 2: Run my own startup vs. Healthy

Three and a half years ago, I started First Code Academy, an education startup that teaches kids across Asia. They say building a startup challenges you to grow immensely; definitely, to me, the past few years did feel like 10 years of learning to me, in terms of intensity and working hours.

For the first 18 months, I did not take any holidays, rarely saw friends, and was obsessed about every single details of the business, 24 / 7. On top of that, my exercise routine also slipped.

I was reflecting on my health and did not feel particularly good about it.

I caught myself thinking: “hey, they’re different. Those fit and healthy people, they have so much time! Being an entrepreneur involves trade-offs, right?”

I can run my own startup OR be physically healthy.

I decided to challenge this.

This time, not only did I notice the OR thinking, but also I noticed the assumptions and excuses behind the OR thinking. I noticed that if I challenge the assumptions like “‘they’ are different”, “healthy people have so much time!”. By challenging my assumptions and examining my excuses, I own the responsibilities of making things happen.

Lesson 2: Whenever I catch myself saying “or”, I try to identify the assumptions and excuses behind that OR thinking.

I can run my own startup AND be physically healthy. Last year, I took it to the next level, and decided, I’m going to take this to the next level, and do my first triathlon.

Barely knowing how to ride a bike, and had intense fear of open water swim, I’ve set myself an audacious and almost frightening goal.

How do I plan my weekly schedule such that I can fit in training schedule with a demanding work schedule?

How would training improve my stamina to work harder?

Through a summer of hard training, I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon.

Lesson 3: AND thinking opens up possibilities and challenges us to set higher goals and live our best self.

More examples

“I can get high scores in my exams, AND I can have fun with my friends”

What if I set aside an hour each day, or start studying earlier?

How do I have fun with my friends and study at the same time? What if I can form study groups with friends and have meals before or after?

“I can backpack across Europe this summer, AND I can write my business plan”

What if I find an internet cafe and dedicate time each day to work on the business plan, while traveling?

How would I take advantage of the time abroad to find new ideas? Research on the business idea?

Whenever I catch myself saying “or”, I challenge myself to think what if I can achieve AND situation? And replace with “and”. Challenge to replace “or” with “and”

What happens when you choose “and” over “or”

AND thinking challenges you to think creatively, opens up possibilities and enables you to have a richer life.

By choosing “AND” versus “OR”, you are no longer limiting yourself to one choice over the other, you are pursuing both important things at the same time. You are not only shooting for high scores in your exams, but also having fun with your friends.

AND thinking doesn’t mean we are refusing to make sacrifices. It is a process of identifying and challenging your assumptions behind the OR thinking. It forces you to ask whether the two things on the sentence is truly what you value, and if so, the assumptions that are holding you back from getting them.

When we are going after what we truly want, we are creative and motivated, expanding our capacities and enjoying the process of hard effort and growth.

The choice of “AND” over “OR”, can be used repeatedly. It is a muscle that everyone can build, first by starting to notice every time you say “ OR”, then by finding creative ways to do “AND”.

All you need is an awareness — Listen to yourself, listen to people around you. When do you tend to use the word “OR”? Is it on the topics of relationships, career, or eating healthily?

Next time you catch yourself saying “OR”, replace it with “AND”. Create your possibilities.