How many of you out there are golfers? For me, golf has progressed past the game stage and now manifests itself more as an affliction or addiction for me. It is a summer way of life and a bit of a metaphor. I learn so much about myself on the golf course. How to stay within myself. How to try less and achieve more. How to strive to improve instead of struggle to compete. How to respond instead of react.
This weekend I was walking down the fairway with one of my more philosophical golf group members and we were talking about how our subconscious gets involved. For those of you who aren’t golfers, it is important to know that while the golf swing looks simple, it really isn’t. There are a lot of things to think about, and the paradox is that if you try to think about them when in the act of swinging, things often go horribly wrong!! So it boils down to a game of instincts, muscle memory and proper preparation.
It was this space of preparation that Craig and I were talking about. In the preparation for a shot, golfers will be looking at where the opportunity is and where the trouble is as well. For example, you always want to know where the trees and the ponds are. So if there is a pond on the right, in preparing for a shot a golfer might say to themselves “don’t hit this to the right”.
Well It turns out that our subconscious isn’t all that good at interpreting negatives. And because a golf swing can’t be deliberately executed once it starts it is really a subconscious act. So when we say “don’t hit this to the right” what our subconscious actually hears is “hit this to the right”. And then what that golfer’s golf partners hears right after that is “why did you hit it to the right!”. It is amazing how often this turns out to be true. If we actually say to ourselves “hit this ball to the left” we are far more likely to do exactly what we want.
That got me thinking about whether this happens in other parts of life. For example if we say to a relative “you shouldn’t smoke”, do they actually hear “smoke”. Research would support that this is true, and that by saying don’t smoke you can actually increase someone’s urge to smoke.
If we say “don’t be nervous” before a big presentation are we more likely to get nervous?
By thinking “don’t let this meeting become contentious” do we actually increase the odds of that actually happening?
If we remind ourselves “don’t forget to do XYZ” have we lowered the probability of it actually getting done?
Sport psychologists often talk about visualization. About sitting quietly before a big game/race/event and imagining how the whole thing will unfold in exactly the manner that the athlete desires. Could we do that in all aspects of our lives including work? What would it take? It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. What if we formed a habit of phrasing everything in terms of the outcome we want and deliberately avoiding framing what we don’t want. Could we make that “inner us” called subconsciousness work for us?
What might happen for members of our team if we extended this to them in our daily interactions? Can we help our team prepare by asking the right questions or framing support in a positive manner?
Can we say “You’ve got this presentation nailed. Go in there with the confidence that you’re going to wow them!”
How about “You’re really good at facilitating meetings. Everyone will follow you when you take your usual collaborative approach“.
Regarding tasks, how about a question something along the lines of “When you have completed XYZ, how will these innovations benefit us?”
I actually do believe that there is a place for what author Jim Collins in his book Great by Choice likes to call “productive paranoia”, or the art of understanding what could go wrong. But the point of the exercise is to anticipate those things and then take positive action designed to steer around pitfalls. We address them by saying “when we have completed this plan, that potential roadblock will be behind us”.
So how about you? Are there any examples in your life where your subconscious has omitted the “don’t” when you frame things in the negative, resulting in less than optimal outcomes? Do you have experiences where framing the positive has resulted in exactly the outcome you desired?