Have you ever heard somebody say to another person “Don’t spill that coffee” and seen that exact thing happen, that you know will happen…. which is that they do spill the coffee by accident!
Right now you are laughing because it is funny. It is funny because it happens all the time. And if you are still laughing it may be because you are masterful at getting what you don’t want?
For some reason it seems the more you tell someone NOT to do something, the more likely it is that it WILL happen. Why is that? Sometimes we attribute it to simple disobedience – for example a child testing a parent, when the parent has said “don’t do that.”
However, it is more than just a simple testing of the boundaries. There is a biological, scientific reason for getting what you don’t want and it has to do with the way that our brains are wired.
So why do we always seem to do the very thing that we are told not to do?
Our Subconscious brain struggles to process negatives. In effect it hears and acts upon the command to do the very thing that we DON’T want it to do – i.e. “smoke” or “spill the coffee.”
In fact, the subconscious mind cannot think – it can only ACT or CREATE based upon what is of VALUE. That value is a product of our map of reality and every event we have experienced over a lifetime. The subconscious is actually 100x more powerful than the conscious mind and the subconscious is an AUTOMATIC mechanism. It kicks in and acts about 1/2 second before the conscious mind does – so if your embedded beliefs, attitudes, values etc. are negative, you end up always getting what you don’t want.
If you say to yourself over and over “Don’t spill the drink” or you tell a child “Don’t miss the ball”, you are focusing the attention of the subconscious mind on the opposite of what is desired. Instead of saying “carry the drink safely to the counter” or “hit the ball son”, you have commanded the automatic mechanism to do exactly what you DON’T want. The automatic mechanism of the mind is focusing on missing the ball. It’s not that the mind doesn’t hear the word “Don’t” (or cannot understand it) it’s that the ENTIRE SENTENCE is designed to create the opposite of what is wanted. You have to look at the sentence in its entirety to understand why it will not work to create the desired effect.
That is in fact why many books self help books, DVDs and audio CDs DON’T work to deter unwanted habits and behaviours. Many of the NLP and hypnosis practitioners have loaded their materials with embedded commands like “you will not have any problems sleeping”, “you will not want to have any more cigarettes” or “you will no longer have cravings for fried chicken and beer”. Unfortunately, these programs are doomed from the start. They only serve to further entrench these undesirable patterns.
If you want to change behaviour or get around a problem you must think of new ways to phrase the desired behaviour in a positive way. This requires the removal of all negatives or references to the problem in the sentence. Rather than saying “Don’t mess up the calculations” you could say “Be careful to ensure all the calculations in the spreadsheet are double checked and correct”. Instead of saying to your child “Don’t throw that toy at your sister” you should say “Put the toy down now and come to me”.
Instead of telling yourself what NOT to do, focus exclusively on what you want do to (or have happen). It can be difficult for some to unlearn old patterns and pessimistic language. However with practice and the positive reinforcement that comes from achieving the results that you desire most, you will find yourself speaking and behaving in new and empowering ways.
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