The power of positive formulation

Man has the tendency to formulate prohibitions in a negative way:

Please do not smoke.
You are not allowed to walk on the grass.
Forbidden to jump off terrace.
Don’t eat cookies because you’ll get fat.
Don’t bite your nails

But our brain doesn’t work that way: it doesn’t know the word “not”. So when you are programming yourself not to do something, you are actually programming yourself to do exactly that! The brain is focusing on exactly that what you do not want.

Please do smoke
You are allowed to walk on the grass.
Jump off terrace.
Eat cookies.
Bite your nails.

The most common example is that of (not) thinking of the pink elephant.

This doesn’t only count for the word “not”, but also for prefixes like “anti”, “a”, “un”, “non”. For example, anti-aggression, atheist, unclear, non-violent, …

If we apply the rules of positive sprache (positive speech) we can formulate the same message in a way that our brain can process it and sometimes even on a positive and funny way.

It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see

Let’s look at some examples in two to three stages. (Remark: to be compliant with this post, I’ll avoid the word “bad”)

Good              Please do not smoke.
Better              We would like to help us keep the air clean
Best                There is a special lounge for smokers reserved at floor +1

Good              I’m blind, please help.
Best                It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see.

Good              Don’t put your dirty shoes on the floor.
Better              Please keep the floor clean.

Good              Commuters cannot board in the last two (train) cars.
Better              Commuters need to board in the first four (train) cars.

Good              I am not fat.
Better            I am losing weight.
Best                I have reached my right weight.

Good              It’s not allowed for fitness event participants to use the public shower.
Best                We reserved private showers for fitness event participants in block B.

Good              You are not allowed to walk on the grass.
Better              Please remain on the paved path.
Best                Keep free, the tiny grass is growing.

The goal is to focus on what you want and not on what you don’t want.

Let’s start to practice!

Additional reading

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6 thoughts on “The power of positive formulation

  1. m c says:

    Good suggestions…
    Same story goes for people who say things such as “i’m not saying you are not doing a good job, but…” or “i’m not mad at you but…” 🙂

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