or cigarettes, or the ex, or pizza……
Why is it that when we want to stop doing something, that’s all we can think about?
When you’re on a diet all you can think about is crisps or chocolate or cake. When you’re trying to stop smoking all you can think about is a cigarette – even at times it never used to bother you…
A little experiment:
- Don’t think about chocolate
- Don’t think about cigarettes
- Don’t think about pizza
- Don’t think about a pink elephant, in a blue tree, playing a saxophone
I’m guessing some would have an image of a chocolate eating pink elephant sitting in a blue tree
Others would at least have had the brief though of chocolate, cigarette, pizza and maybe even the pink elephant in a blue tree with a sax
And some will have got stuck at chocolate
This illustrates another fascinating fact (my opinion) about the way the mind works.
You may have heard that ‘the mind can’t process negatives’ (it doesn’t register the NOT in don’t, shouldn’t, can’t etc) we’ll that’s not strictly true…. what happens is that in order to work out what it’s not to think about the mind needs to …..well,…. think about it….
It processes negatives but in a positive way….
OK let me explain in a different way….
What happens if someone says to you ‘don’t touch!’ – what do you say or think?
‘What, what am I not to touch?’
You’re alerted that there’s some sort of danger – your senses are awakened but you’re confused you haven’t got a clue where the danger is coming from.
When they answer – for example
One of two things happens – either you think ‘Which button – there are 10 here?’ or you think ‘why not?’
A little side-step into character
If you’re one of the ‘which button’ people… you do well with authority and would probably be fantastic in a crisis and working in a team.
If you’re, like me, one of the ‘why nots’ it’s possible you don’t respond well to authority – you need to understand, to have a reason and, possibly also need that reason to make sense to you. You’d probably be great at being self-employed and maybe as a team leader but not too good at taking orders that don’t make sense…
Maybe you’re a combination of both a ‘which button, why’ type person….needing specifics and needing to make sense of the instruction first.
Whichever way you respond, you need to get specifics to understand what you are not to touch and to do that you need to think about what you’re not to do.
Back to the chocolate….
If I say don’t think about…. your mind is alert, already thinking… what, what am I not to think about…..
your mind now needs to ‘understand’ chocolate – it goes to it’s ‘filing cabinets’, searches through until it finds a representation of chocolate. It all happens in a split second.
But what’s happened is that it has had to think about chocolate. And then you get frustrated…
‘I told you NOT to think about chocolate….’ and your mind needs to run to the filing cabinet again to check it’s got the right instructions.
So the more you tell yourself don’t think about chocolate, the more the mind has to run to the filing cabinet get the picture out and say ‘oh yes that’s what I’m not to think about’.
That’s why all you can think about is the thing you’re trying not to think about.
What does it mean for us?
Changing a habit
Well when we’re working on breaking a habit often we say ‘don’t do…….’ I’m not going to xxx
Don’t think about xxxx
And then get frustrated because all we can think of is that thing. It can feel like we’ve failed and so we give up.
But if instead we get rid of the negative and say for example
Before eating chocolate I’m going to……xxxx
The mind processes the ‘before’ and thinks OK chocolate is less important than xxxxx
So if for example you say before I eat chocolate I’m going to belly breath for 1 minute….
your mind sees that chocolate is demoted, less important than the breathing and you’ve given yourself the space to make a different choice.
If you do that every time you think of chocolate the mind keeps getting distracted and you think of chocolate less and less.
You’re not telling yourself you can’t have something – which might then fire up the ‘control’ or ‘danger seeker’ in you (see the post on not laughing) – you are just putting something in before… you’re delaying/distracting, and it works.
Oh and you can stop thinking about chocolate now 😀