Don’t think of a black cat. What did you just think of? A black cat of course! You see in order to make sense of that sentence your brain has to figure out what each of the individual words means, what it looks like, what it feels like and so on, before it can try not to think about it.
Your brain does not understand negatives. If I say “don’t think of a black cat” what your brain hears is “think of a black cat!” When you say to a child “don’t worry, this won’t hurt” how do they react? They freak out don’t they? And quite rightly so, because you’ve just mentioned worry and hurt in the same sentence.
But we talk to each other and ourselves like this all the time don’t we? We say things like:
- Don’t think about chocolate
- I don’t want to feel stressed any more
- I wish I wasn’t so anxious
- Don’t give up
- I don’t want to fail
- I wish losing weight wasn’t such a struggle
And then wonder why we keep sabotaging our progress all the time.
Look at the key words in those sentences: chocolate, stressed, anxious, give up, fail, struggle. If you mention struggle your brain thinks about struggling. Do you really want to be encouraging your mind to focus on those things?
And this principle works whether you think in words or pictures. If you think about what you don’t want and you create images in your mind of what you want to avoid, then you’re programming your mind to lead you straight towards it. You get more of what you focus on and if you focus more and more on chocolate and struggle, then that’s what you get more of!
If you went into a bar and the barman asked “what do you want?” and you said “I don’t want a coke. And I don’t want a red wine” what’s he going to say?! That’s like shooting a gun and looking at what you don’t want to hit at the same time. Or driving a car whilst looking out the side window. What you resist persists and if you spend your time trying to avoid what you don’t want, then you’ll get more of that.
So make sure that your language and your thoughts are focused on what you want more of. Keep asking yourself the question “what do you want?” until you get an answer that is phrased in positives. So instead of “I don’t want to feel angry” say “I want to feel calm”, instead of “I don’t want to keep eating chocolate when I’m bored” say “I want to take control of my state in healthy ways and I want to make choices that make me lean, fit and healthy!”
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By David Godfrey