Oooo check you out; you little rebel! So edgy. Balking instruction, living on the edge, walking down the road with your personal soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. I digress. Focus, Helen, focus. Where was that train of thought going? Oh yes. I remember now: the mind.
The mind is a fascinating little bugger. Did you know that it cannot really process a negative? What if I said to you, “don’t think of a pink elephant” – too late right? That colorful pachyderm is right there in all it’s glory already. This phenomenon is related to the Ironic Process – a cognitive challenge brought about by the musings of a chap named Fyodor Dostoevsky . According to our boy Dostoevsky, it basically happens because in trying to suppress the negative, the brain focuses even more on that very thought which then results in the opposite outcome. Quite the cognitive paradox.
Just think about the instances when this can have some pretty adverse effects in life. Take, for example, the rather MMA-like realm of parenting, or taking care of others in general. When we see a little one heading for something hot, with both hands outstretched, what is our first reaction? We shout “don’t touch that” right? And yet low and behold the warning often goes ignored and thus ensues floods of tears and us saying “I told you not to touch it.” So with this in mind, we should really watch our words if we are hoping for a particular outcome. Easier said than done, I know, especially when it is a potentially dangerous situation. But just try it out. Be aware of what wording you are using. So instead of “don’t worry, you’ll be fine” try instead, “hey, you’ve totally got this.” Or next time someone is stressing out, skip saying, “don’t be stressed” and try “time to get your calm on” or something like that.
Hmmm, maybe it even works on ourselves. So instead of saying, “you shouldn’t have any more chocolate” you can say “you’ve had enough chocolate.” Ok, maybe a bad example. My mind would shoot that one down in a chocolate covered heartbeat. But you get the idea. It is an interesting concept that is definitely worth thinking about and discussing next time the conversation slows. You know it makes sense: ask the pink elephant. Oh, don’t want to think of a pink elephant anymore? Think of a blue rhino. You’re welcome.