If You Focus on What Not, You Won’t Know What To

“It is better to dwell
on the beautiful things in life
than the negative.”
— Lailah Gifty Akita

“There is too much negativity in
the world. Do your best
to make sure you aren’t
contributing to it.”
— Germany Kent

If You Focus on What Not,
You Won’t Know What To

Trying to be helpful, do you ever say, “Don’t forget to . . .”?

It’s a natural thing to say. We hear it from others all the time.

But psychology tells us you just might be shooting yourself in the foot.

When we tell someone what not to do, we’re producing a mental image in their head of exactly what we want them to avoid. That’s because the subconscious mind is very primitive (yet extremely influential). Our subconscious is void of negative qualifiers. It doesn’t comprehend not, no, don’t, without, can’t or stop.

Therefore, when you say, “don’t forget your keys,” the subconscious mind registers, forget your keys! And what’s more, a mental picture of forgetting, leaving the house without a care in the world, is formed to show the conscious mind exactly what to do.

When you say what NOT to do, you might as well plan on getting exactly what you don’t want.

Don’t Do What I’m Doing

I know, I’ve been telling you what NOT to do, which is exactly what I’m telling you not to do. (did that make sense??)

Simply put, instead of saying, “don’t forget to . . .” say, “remember to . . .” That creates a mental image of what you want to happen (instead of the opposite).

Here’s another, simpler example. You walk into the living room with your arms full of something and see your toddler has climbed up and is standing on the glass coffee table. Many people would yell, “Don’t fall!”

But not you! Putting an image in his head of falling would be silly. Instead, you calmly say, “I want you to very slooowly sit, and then safely climb down to the floor.”

Isn’t that a better picture to put in his head?

Paint the Pictures You Want In Your Own Head

The same principle works for yourself, too. You’re driving on the freeway in the fast lane, and you’re suddenly traveling very close to the center median. Do you think to yourself, oh! Don’t crash into this wall!!? Would the resulting mental image help you stay calm? Of course not. Now when a similar situation arises, you’ll calmly think, that wall is pretty close—I’ll stay in the center of my lane and carefully transition into the next lane when it’s safe.

Ever been on a diet? Did you think willpower was the answer?

Nope! I’m not going to have any of that cake . . . even though it looks SOOO good . . . I’m NOT going to let it pass my lips!

Now, with that thought, you know how your subconscious will produce a picture of you not only having the cake, but a full-on mental video of the cake passing pleasantly between your lips to your waiting taste buds. That’s going to lead to an outcome you don’t ultimately want.

More effective thought: It’s nice to be here enjoying the vision of me fitting into my clothes so comfortably while displaying my hard-earned fitness and health.

Say NO to Willpower

Focusing on willpower to overcome bad habits (and even addictions) only promotes the likelihood that those habits (or addictions) will continue. It often makes the tendency stronger.

Removing negative qualifiers and stating positive outcomes will lead your behavior to match the mental picture, which is your desired outcome. It’s a matter of where you put your focus.


Give it a try in the next hour: when you hear yourself say (or even think) “don’t,” rephrase it in a positive sense and see if it feels any different. Odds are it will.

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