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I have a friend. He’s pretty smart, having first graduated from Harvard and then finishing his graduate studies at
Which was why I was surprised when, in asking his son to do a task, he told him, “And make sure you don’t spill any of the water?”
He had asked his seven-year-old son to bring me a glass of water. It was filled very close to the top. What do you think happened? Yup, he spilled the water. Almost as soon as his father asked him not to spill the water.
I have a co-worker who has recently met a woman with which he’s considering marriage. He came to me with some concerns. I noticed, as the conversation progressed that he was talking in terms of how things could go wrong, rather than how they should work.
I’m not looking to make a value judgment; we all have different ways of processing things. I’m not here to judge anyone . I am going to simply point out how our mind works.
Language is a very powerful aspect of change. Almost every parent and in almost any conversation, you will hear people say things like, “Don’t do it,” “Don’t think about it, or the famous parental admonition, “Don’t you dare say/ do that!” This is why punishment, as a parental tool, fails miserably.
If I were to tell you right now, “Don’t think about Eddie sodomizing you,” what immediately happens in your mind? Well (your protestations notwithstanding), you find yourself thinking about Eddie sodomizing you. The same thing happens when you tell your child, “Don’t spill any of the water.” The way our brains work is that in order to erase a negative (i.e., “Don’t let Eddie fuck you in the ass… ”), we first have to think about it. Our brains don’t know how to put things into negative language. In order to know what not to think of, our brains first have to think of it.
We all have people in our lives who, with good intentions, tell us what not to do. What they are actually doing is putting our attention exactly in the direction they didn’t want us to go. A few examples include, “Don’t say ____ anymore,” “Don’t worry,” “Don’t panic,” “I don’t think you’re stupid.” Using negative language is also something we do to ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t think about something and we do. Other examples include: “I won’t do that again (usually preceded by, “Dear God!” LOL), “Don’t piss me off,” and “Don’t smoke,” just to name a few. We tend to think of what we don’t’ want to do, and then do it anyway.
Part of changing our habits is changing the language that supports them. We can take our negative thoughts and state them in the positive. Instead of saying what we don’t want, we can instead say what we do want. Try it.
Think of a negative statement you’ve been making to yourself, and experiment by turning it into a positive one, right now…
Yes… NOW! LOL!
Instead of saying to yourself, “don’t worry,” try asking yourself “How would I like to feel?” Instead of saying, “don’t smoke,” try saying, “I would like to be smoke-free.” This not only feels better, it actually begins creating the mental conditions (making the synaptic connections) that reorients your brain and prepares you to achieve more of what you want, by focusing on the positive things you want in your life.
We’re now at the end point of January and, statistically speaking, about 80% of the people who made New Year’s resolutions have stopped trying altogether. What I want to say here is that the vast majority of people who achieve change in their lives experience difficulty and fall off the wagon, sometimes many times, before they eventually get it. If you smoked a cigarette, try being smoke-free over again; see how long you can be smoke-free. Very few people get it the first time, people, so give yourself a break, and focus on the positive things you want in life.
Another reason people fail at making lasting change, is that they make too many resolutions! Sheeesh! Try to focus on one thing like eating healthy, or being smoke-free. Just one thing at a time, people. When you try to do too much at one time, all you do is create a stressful environment suited for failure, not success. So, maybe you can go back, look at your list, and form a more realistic strategy. It’s ok, really, be easy on yourself, you’re trying to do something noble – create change – be your own best friend and give yourself some credit.