Have you ever been on a diet? Has it ever happened that while you were going toward the fridge, you were telling yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that cake, I really shouldn’t.”
Then your hand somehow got into the fridge. You actually saw it going in there! You grabbed the plate with the cake, took it out, and ate it. What happened?
The cause might just be the same as the last time your spouse left dirty socks on the floor (again). Perhaps your children left the toothpaste open again, even though you told them not to do that a thousand times before. Why is it for them so hard to understand? Why was it so hard to resist to that cake in the fridge?
It turns out, you may have been hypnotizing yourself, and others, and causing everyone to do more of what you don’t want.
Hypnotists Use This All the Time
You probably haven’t heard of Milton Hyland Erickson. He died in 1980, and he was founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. His specialty was medical hypnosis and family therapy.
The thing that made him so famous was that he discovered that certain language patterns tend to be hypnotic to our unconscious mind. He used them to tune in to the mind of the patient to help them recover much more quickly and efficiently than with traditional methods.
Today, we’re going to talk about a particular language pattern that is called the negative command.
Hypnotists use negative commands all the time. Here are just two examples.
- “You don’t have to relax right now.”
- “Don’t become confused as you listen to the sound of my voice.”
By asking the client to not relax, the client will relax.
Smart marketers and savvy salesmen use that phenomenon to their advantage too. Here’s a couple of examples:
- “I don’t want you to buy… (fill in the blanks with whatever they are selling), just try it and convince yourself.”
- “I am not asking you to win. Just play with all the energy you’ve got.”
- “I don’t want you to think of the financial risks you are taking with the other supplier because I don’t want you to worry.”
Pay attention to the bolded parts in the sentences above.
In the first two examples example above, that would be a commands “buy” and “win.” The third example is especially sneaky.
Why am I telling you all this?
Negations Don’t Work
Negative statements are less effective because they, as Milton has discovered, lead your brain to do exactly what you don’t want.
For the same reason, if you are planning to quit smoking, the worst thing you can do is to start telling yourself, “Don’t smoke cigarettes. Don’t want cigarettes. Don’t think about cigarettes!” because all your mind will see is cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes. It won’t work if you’re telling yourself “I shouldn’t eat that cake, I really shouldn’t,” only to see your hand grabbing that cake in the fridge.
Many people are not even aware of how frequently they use this kind of talk. They walk around constantly telling people what they don’t want, never telling them what they do want, and then saying “poor me” because no one understands them.
They are right. It is hard to understand them, and for a good reason.
Talk About What You Want Instead
Not only is it important how you talk to yourself, but it matters how you talk to others, too. It’s just much better practice to tell your spouse, your children and others what you want them to do, instead of what you don’t.
A more polite way that is always going to be well accepted is to replace the “I don’t ….” with a positive statement starting with “I would like you to …”.
Here are a couple of examples.
- No: “Don’t rock on the chair. You’re going to fall.”
- Yes: “I would like you to stop rocking the chair.”
- No: “Don’t leave the socks on the floor.”
- Yes: “I would like you to pick up the socks.”
- No: “I don’t like how much you’re spending.”
- Yes: “I would like to know that we are on track with our savings” (so we can buy a new house as we agreed).
Advantages of Focusing on What You Want
There are two advantages of telling others (and yourself) what you want instead of what you don’t want.
- You avoid misunderstandings. When you only say what you don’t want, other people can only guess what it is that you do want. Because we all have different views of the world and see things differently, the chances of a guess being accurate are pretty slim. Therefore, talking about what you don’t want is the perfect recipe for misunderstandings, and it’s frustrating for both sides.
- It leads to a satisfactory solution more quickly. On the other hand, using a negative statement leads to defensiveness and discouragement.
So, How About That Yummy Cake in the Fridge?
The next time you think “I really shouldn’t eat this cake” say to yourself instead, “I’ll just take a glass of water…” (and maybe have a piece later on).
The key takeaway is this: Our brains aren’t designed to deal with negation well, so avoid it as much as you can.
See? I didn’t say don’t use it. Instead, I said avoid it.
QUESTION: Do you think this is just bunch of baloney? Try on your kids and report back. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.