“In order to say no to something, your brain must first make an image of the thing you don’t want and then negate it. The problem is that at this point you’re already heading in the wrong direction.” Richard Bandler
Thinking about what you don’t want is problem thinking whereas thinking about what you do want is outcome thinking. Problem thinking arises when we focus on the thing that’s happening now which is of course the thing we don’t want. So the only way we will change and experience more of what we do want is to move away from the present problem state and towards the compelling outcome.
There are two directions in life, forwards and backwards, towards and away from. When Bandler and Grinder developed NLP back in the 60s they found as they studied successful people that they were all ‘towards’ orientated. They didn’t waste their time and energy on what they didn’t want but focused on getting what they did want.
‘Away from’ thinking focuses the mind on the present unsatisfactory situation that they want to change. When we try to get our brain to focus on what it doesn’t want, it gets confused. Think about some of these goals, have you ever had goals like these?
“I want to give up snacking”.
“I must get rid of all the junk in this room.”
“I’ve got to lose weight.”
“I don’t want to come last.”
“I hope I don’t fail.”
“I better not catch his cold.”
“I don’t want to be late.”
Have you ever told yourself ‘I mustn’t forget to…………’ and then found that you did indeed forget whatever it was. Your brain is saying ‘forget …..’ whereas if instead you told yourself ‘remember to……’ you’d have a lot more chance of being successful. On leaving the house for work my husband often tells me ‘don’t forget to………..’ and consciously I have to reword it ‘I must remember…..’otherwise I know I’d forget. It happens sometimes with children doesn’t it? You say ‘Be careful not to fall!’ and then they do just that. It’s because subconsciously they’ve heard the instruction to fall and they’ve focused on that word.
When people are focusing on the problem and being in a problem state there can be fear about what they’ll do when the problem’s fixed. What will they focus on next? Will there be a void in their life? Some people worry that they won’t know what to do with themselves when they are no longer worrying about this thing. This is another very good reason for focusing on something enjoyable, something they do want or who they want to be.
At the time of writing this we are going through a pandemic with thousands dying. Whole nations are confined to their homes, people are off work and incomes slashed. It is very easy to think about what we haven't got and what we can't do. But this thinking will not keep us safe. Instead we need to change from
I must keep away from other people to I must ensure I have a 2m space around me
I mustn't forget to wash my hands to I must remember to wash my hands
Focusing on what we do want rather than on what we don’t want is a matter of thinking first what we really want, imagining what it will be like and taking it on as our identity. This moves us from a state of problem thinking where the focus is on what we don’t want and moves us along the road towards what we do want which is our compelling vision for ourselves.