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Using Negative Words

Estimated Lesson Time: 3 minutes

Being a dad, I have taught my kids many things since their birth, and they have taught me a great many things as well. When my two-year-old son would play with his toys, I found myself saying proactively, and in a warning tone, “Don’t throw your toys,” only to realize that I just put an idea in his little head that was most likely not there seconds ago. Sure enough, seconds later, toys would be flying across the room. I now say, “Play nicely with your toys please,” and get much better results.

This same concept is a well-known phenomenon of human behavior that applies to people of all ages. Phrasing requests by using words such as “don’t,” “not,” “stop,” “refrain from,” and other negative words or phrases require that the request be processed by the conscious mind. Therefore, if we make a request using a word or phrase in the negative, and the person to whom we make the request is not actively listening, or incapable of understanding the complete request, the request is passed directly to the person’s subconscious mind without the negative term. So for example, saying, “Don’t stick the pencil up your nose!” to a daydreaming student enforces this action by entering his subconscious as “stick the pencil up your nose.” Even if the request does pass through the conscious mind, it still enters the subconscious without the negative word or phrase. This is because the subconscious stores images and feelings, not words. The word “not” or “don’t” cannot be visualized and, therefore, is omitted.

Not sure about this one? Try this... Request #1) keep your hands to your side (wait 15 seconds). Now request #2) don’t itch your nose (wait 15 seconds). With the second request, did you feel an urge to scratch your nose? Even if you didn’t, did you find yourself thinking an awful lot about scratching your nose, like more than you have in the last year of your life? Making requests using negative words is actually an inadvertent use of the power of suggestion.

Our goals should be stated not only in the present, but in the positive for this very same reason.

I have healthy, smoke-free lungs vs. I don’t smoke.
I have an abundance of money
vs. I am debt free.
I spend plenty of time with my family vs. I am not a workaholic.

Statements made in the positive are much easier to visualize and remember than statements using negative words or phrases. How can one visualize “I am not a workaholic”? Many studies have shown that visualization increases the length of time information can be recalled. State requests in the positive so that a visualization can be made, and perhaps more important, state the request in the positive so the right visualization is being made.


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 Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):

  • Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
  • Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
  • What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)
    From the Course:
    Personal Development
    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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