Home > Challenges, Goals, Leadership > Don’t think of a pink giraffe with blue spots

Don’t think of a pink giraffe with blue spots

What happens when I say that to you?  yup, it’s pretty much impossible to NOT think of something that’s drawn to your attention.  That is where your focus goes.  Also your unconscious mind doesn’t hear the word ‘don’t’ and only hears the rest of the instruction.

“Don’t forget to call me”, “I want to lose weight”, “Mind the kerb”.  All of these contain embedded commands to do exactly what you don’t want.  So this may explain why people don’t do as you ask (or think you asked!), why you don’t achieve your goals and why you fell off your bike  – because your thinking and language is ‘problem focused’ or ‘away from’ rather than ‘outcome focused’ or ‘towards’.  You’re not alone – this error is made by large organisations too: ‘don’t walk on the grass’, ‘don’t forget your green bags’.

Problem focused thinking can also be hugely demotivating – I once worked for a Director who was an absolute master of it – he took us all away to a conference which I think was meant to motivate us to greater things – but by the time we’d heard about what would happen if we didn’t up our game, how the team numbers would be cut, how our budgets would be reduced, how our status would drop we were all feeling thoroughly depressed and the confidence and optimism we’d arrived with just melted away with his words.

Some organisations have a whole culture of problem thinking, constantly looking for things to stop doing eg saving costs or failing to celebrate achievements before moving on to the next thing.  Learning from mistakes is fine – but do you also learn from what went right?!

This type of thinking is so contagious – I’m finding it really hard to write this post whereas I find they normally flow very easily!  I hope you’re not finding it as difficult to read – oh no! I mean “I hope you’re finding it easy and enjoyable to read”.Focus on the outcome you want

So what do you do instead?

  • As ever the first step to changing your thinking is to be aware of it – notice it yourself or ask a colleague or coach to draw your attention to it.  Do many of your sentences start with “I don’t want to…”
  • If you have a problem to solve ask yourself  “what do I want instead”? for instance, change “I don’t want to get bogged down with this” to “I want to be really focused with this”.
  • If you have a goal express it in the positive – not “I want to reduce customer complaints” but “I want 99% of our customers to be delighted with our service”
  • Focus on the outcome you want and vision it  “Whatever you create in your life you must first create in your imagination” – Tycho Photiou.

What are your experiences? – please share them in the comments below.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo: © Tomasz Trojanowski – Fotolia.com

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  1. Martin Baldwin
    August 30, 2011 at 09:10

    That is sooooo true and yet I know I fall into it sometimes. I know all too well that the negative always destroys and demotivates. Thanks very much for the positive reminder and help. Its a good encouragement at the start of another week. Thanks for all.

  2. Tom Yohannan
    August 30, 2011 at 09:17

    Tycho Photiou probably can’t help being an optimist, with a name like that, which means, roughly, ‘Luck of light’!

    • August 30, 2011 at 09:38

      That made me laugh Tom thank you! Maybe there is something in that – what’s in a name?! What does Yohannan mean?

  3. Guy Buckland
    August 30, 2011 at 09:53

    Great blog as ever. Funny that I came down a mountain a lot quicker on Sunday than I did last year, because I was thinking, “how can I do this quickly and safely” rather than “I must not crash”

    • August 30, 2011 at 10:14

      So true Guy and thank you. You definitely get what you focus on!

  4. August 31, 2011 at 08:26

    Great post. It can be hard to change your way of thinking but when you do I find it always pays off. First you need to catch yourself doing the bad thinking though and it’s easy to become so self consumed in negativity that you fail to turn it around on the spot.

    Keeping your eyes open for the negative language and thought will really help. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    • August 31, 2011 at 08:41

      Thanks Amanda and I absolutely agree – being aware of what you are doing is a really important step in this – and eventually you catch yourself thinking positively more and more often!

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