Just stop it, will you?

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by Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.

Which is easier, starting or stopping? It depends on the driver and the vehicle, right? There’s also the angle, the incline and just plain gravity to consider. Okay stay with me.

We’ve been talking about how to keep motivation and inspiration going and some of the ways we might lose these critical elements of living a fulfilling life. We talked about what gets you up in the morning, how what you read and put into your brain affects how well you maintain motivation and inspiration.

Now let’s talk about one kind of motivation in particular—the kind that helps us reach goals.

What comes to mind? Sweaty athletes? Some demanding voice in the background half-shouting, “You must believe in your dreams”? Sylvester Stalone? Maybe not. Maybe you think about tasks and checklists or quitting smoking or losing weight. How do you keep motivated to make that—or anything—happen? Assuming you’ve set reasonable goals, positive statements and affirmations can help.

Emphasis. On. The. Positive.

Here’s why.

The brain recognizes positive statements, says Manassas-based hypnotherapist and educator Tim Horn. Social scientists, linguists and language development experts agree. The mind tends to ignore negative commands, sentences and phrases that say what NOT to do. In fact, if you tell yourself, “Don’t give up,” your brain could do one of three things:

  1. It disregards the negative command and does the opposite. So instead of hearing “Don’t give up,” it hears, “Give up.” Not very useful, right?
  2. The negative statement triggers rebellion, so you do the opposite of what was commanded. “Screw you, voices. I’m giving up.”
  3. Your mind becomes confused, not knowing which words to focus on, so your motivation and behavior become erratic or inconsistent.

If you want proof that what I’m saying it true, think back to a time when you’ve tried to stop or quit something. “I’m not going to eat chocolate anymore.” The next day, you find yourself daydreaming about chocolate. The next day, you give in and chow down. Why?

Your brain focused on chocolate, Horn would tell you. It didn’t hear “not.” It heard, “yummy stuff of the gods.” Chocolate took the wheel and drove you off a bridge into a fudgy ocean of cocoa addiction. So you gave in, ate the chocolate and then flogged yourself for having no will power.

The thing is, it wasn’t about will power. It was about words.

What if instead of focusing on chocolate, you asked yourself when you were most likely to eat chocolate? What if you discovered it was when you were tired? Great! Then you say, “When I’m tired, I’ll take a power nap.” No mention of chocolate needed, right? You follow the positive command: you nap instead of eating chocolate, you feel rested and you feel like you’ve taken a step towards your larger goal.

Well done! You’ve put yourself in the driver’s seat. You have control. Now you’ve set yourself up for a positive spiral that keeps motivation going. “I did great yesterday. I know today I’ll do great, too!” That’s inspiring! And all because you used the right words.

Under the bridge,

in the dim and din,

the wrong words sound right,

blurred creatures of night.

Drive the car down,

around the winding utility road.

Park. Flick on the high beams.

Watch them scatter.

Until next time,


This article is part of a series from my forthcoming book, Get Happy, Dammit. Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved. Learn more at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.

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