Processing Negatives

Don’t think of a pink elephant.

What just happened?  You did, didn’t you.  You produced a pink elephant in your mind.  Right?

This is the power of what NLP (neuro linguistic programming) calls the unconscious mind.

In NLP, the unconscious mind is the part of your brain running programs in the background.  It’s the part of your brain that drives your car while you’re day dreaming, and takes instruction literally.  And, according to NLP, it hears everything.  Absolutely everything.

One of the tenants of NLP is that the unconscious mind cannot process a negative.  In other words, if you say not to do something, your mind actually hears “do that thing.”  It can only focus on the thing, not the absence of the the thing.  (Pink elephant.)

This idea has helped me practice more precise language in teaching.  I have seen first hand how much more powerful a statement such as “keep your breath going through this phrase” is, versus “don’t take a breath here.”  Both statements are correct, but one focuses on what you want – not what you don’t want.  And students respond much faster to “do this.”

This language nuance has also helped me in my personal life.  As I notice what is not working or what I don’t want, I jump more quickly now to what I do want.  I focus on the pictures and feelings I want my mind to notice, and therefore see more of them.  It is brain programming.

Whatever we concentrate on, talk about, stew about, debate over, we get more of.  And that is worth considering both personally and globally.

NLP also talks a great deal about how the “unconscious mind” acts like a five year old child.  It is pretty literal, says the NLP camp.  Like a child, it takes whatever you tell it to heart and doesn’t fair well with sarcasm.  Again, it’s literal.  If this is true, my poor unconscious mind has suffered.  I dearly love sarcasm.

But, to err on the side of caution, what if there really is a part of our brain that takes what it hears literally?  Isn’t that a reason to be more careful around strangers and students?  Personally, the answer is yes.

For example, I recently heard a fellow teacher say, “here is our next victim,” in reference to a student who just walked into the room.

Bwahahahaha, we will have our way with her, our next vic . . . wait.

Maybe introducing the word victim in a voice lesson makes everyone (for one tiny, fleeting moment) flash a picture of . . . well . . . a victim . . . up on the screen of their minds.

Just to be safe, I’m going to stay out of those waters and do my best to pick the words I want my students thinking about.  Not what I don’t want them associating with.

I know this teacher friend of mine was joking!  He absolutely loves his students.  All of them.  Walking into a voice lesson can be scary, and this was the sentiment being conveyed.  Not a big deal to most people, but I’m uber cautious in case someone’s mind is flashing that idea up on the screen of its awareness somehow.  Just in case.  You know, just in case.

Now, also realize, this is just one model for choosing language.  And there are as many people as perspectives on things like this.  I’m sharing a way of approaching thoughts and words that helps me teach and live, and helps me stay ultra positive while doing both.   Like, if I could shoot rainbows out of my eyes I would, kind of positive.  That’s the goal.



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