What was going through your head when you read the headline?
I'm sure - you had a big pink elephant in your mind!
How do I know that?
It's impossible to consciously NOT think about something - you just can't. And the more we try, the more we have in mind what we really don't want to think about.
The pink elephant is a frequent guest in conversations with my clients. For he is exceedingly good at demonstrating a fundamentally important peculiarity of our thinking. A quirk that sometimes makes things much more difficult for us than they should be.
For example, when we want to change a behavior of ours. And put a lot of effort into it. Yet we fall back into the old pattern over and over again.
Why is that?
There are several things that contribute to this, but one important reason is our thinking. If we don't control it. Because then it can cause damage and in the worst case we achieve the opposite of what we had intended.
How does that work?
Let me show you.
Try NOT to think of a pink elephant right now.
Now think NOT about a pink elephant for at least 2 minutes and see what happens.
And? What happened? Did you get it right?
I think not.
Because it is not possible.
There are two different theories as to why this is so.
One theory is that many parts of our thinking work exclusively with images. Especially our subconscious.
So when we hear the term "pink elephant" and are asked not to think of a pink elephant, we still imagine a pink elephant because, after all, our brain cannot create a non-image to a pink elephant. Even if we imagine a pink elephant crossed out in red - we still see a pink elephant.
The other theory is called "ironic process theory." This assumes that the instruction not to think of a pink elephant triggers a corresponding mental control process that checks whether we are really not thinking of a pink elephant right now. The ironic thing is that it makes us think of exactly what we didn't want to think about.
But is it not at all important why exactly it is so.
Importantly, all studies agree that it is not possible to mentally comply with such a negation.
Why does this matter?
Because we all think in such negations all the time in our everyday lives.
Want to see examples?
I must not gain weight under any circumstances.
I finally need to drink less alcohol.
I simply cannot fail this test.
To a child: Don't fall down!
To a partner, "Don't be mad at me, but......"
What images do you think this creates in your head or in the head of your counterpart?
Failure during the test
The very things that yes, you did NOT want!!!
And that's the crux of the whole thing.
By thinking about things we don't want, we reinforce these inner images more and more. This makes it more and more likely that we will do the very things we wanted to avoid: gain weight, drink alcohol, fail the exam, fall down, and be bad.
And that is an important reason why we often find it so difficult to follow through with the changes we have resolved to make. Because in doing so, we are constantly thinking about what we DON'T want.
The solution to this is simple: focus on what we want STATUS.
In our example above, that would be:
Enjoy a slim and athletic body
Drink more fresh water, juice spritzers and delicious teas
Successfully pass the exam
Hold me well
Saying to your partner "You know I love you, that's why I want to tell you......"
In this way, we strengthen over and over again the things that we value, that are important to us, and what we would like to have more of in our lives.
Because what we think about, we make stronger.
By the way:
If you have children this is one of the most valuable life lessons you can teach your child!