Why “I’m not going to do that anymore” doesn’t work

I recently had a conversation with someone that began, “I’m not going to do that anymore.”  Being the action-oriented person that I am, I asked, “That’s great!  How are you going to pull that off?”  The person on the receiving end of the question took a moment and said, “I don’t really know…just not do it I guess.”  Suddenly, I found myself concerned for her ability to be successful in meeting her goal.  For something so important, that answer left a lot of reassurance to be desired.


My next question was, “If I wanted to give you directions to get somewhere, would you be able to get there if the only thing I told you was ‘don’t turn right’?”  At that moment a light came on for both of us.  When we focus on what we’re not going to do, that simply does not give us enough information.  To travel a path, we need an active set of directions.


It is a fundamental law of nature that two mutually exclusive events cannot take place at the same time.  It is also a fundamental law of behavior that people act in the positive, not the negative.  Meaning, when we are not doing something (the negative) we are by definition doing something else (the positive).  So, to harness the power of the laws of nature and behavior, if we want to create success, we must focus on creating the mutually exclusive event.


For example, if you think “I don’t want to be a couch potato anymore”, how about making a commitment to go for a 20 minute walk after dinner every night?  How many walking couch potatoes do you know?  Or, if you don’t want to have stress headaches, how about choosing a stress management technique (yoga, meditation, acupuncture, exercise, etc) and sticking with it for a month?  Or, if you don’t want to continue the same negative relationship patterns, how about identifying specifics actions you can take to attract the person or relationship you want?


The important point here is you can give yourself a road map to your goals by focusing on giving yourself point-by-point directions rather than relying on the “don’t turn right” approach.  With an active road map, you can get anywhere you can imagine.

About drirene

Dr. Irene is a Licensed Psychologist with offices in Boca Raton and Coral Springs, FL. She focuses on helping people manage their stress so that they can live healthier, more productive, more satisfying lives.
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