When you get in taxi at the airport, do you say, “Don’t take me to the park”? or perhaps, “Don’t drive me to the petrol station”? Probably not, yet how often do you hear people say what they don’t want? Whether it is, “I don’t want to fail my driving test”, or, “I don’t want to be anxious”, or even, “I don’t want my dog to run away in the park”. When we hear or use statements like that, there can be an unsaid expectation that the listener will fill in the gaps and understand what the speaker actually meant. However, unless we are mind-readers, we generally need to guess. Even if it is an informed guess, when we guess at something, we are using our own knowledge, understanding, interpretation and biases. This can lead to an inaccurate guess and misdirected action following that. Taking the “I don’t want to fail my driving test” statement. Possible guesses might include: I want to pass my driving test any which way possible”, “I am going to avoid sitting my test so I won’t have to worry about failing”, even, “I want to have the best test the examiner has ever had”.
Inaccurate communication in any situation is unhelpful (you might get the oddest drink at the bar if you simply tell the barman what not to give you). However, when you are working with a client, it can lead to all sorts of challenges to the effectiveness of your work with them. It is quite common in a consultation (client intake) for a client to say “I don’t want to be…”, such as “I don’t want to be anxious”. Just for a moment, think about what you would want to be if you were not anxious. This could be “bold”, “brave”, “calm”, “confident”, “composed”, “controlled”. “in control”, “cool”, “quiet”, “relaxed”, “assured”, “content”, “peaceful”, or any other ‘opposite’ word. If you fill in the gap in the client’s communication, and decide that the client means they want to be peaceful, you could do some lovely work around developing inner peace. Yet, at the end of the session, the client may give you feedback that ‘it didn’t work’. For the client, they may have been thinking of (but didn’t say) becoming more confident. For them, in the context they were thinking of, confidence was what they actually wanted to be, not peaceful. Wherever you hear a “I don’t want….”, it can be useful to clarify with the client, exactly what it is that they do want. This way, your work will be more effectively targeted.
This concept also works very effectively with self-hypnosis. If you teach a client self-hypnosis, it can be helpful to explain to them the importance of focusing on what they want, rather than what they don’t want. Otherwise, they could end up reinforcing the problem, rather than moving towards the desired outcome. An uninformed anxious client may, with the best of intentions, do self-hypnosis to be ‘less anxious’. To prevent reinforcing something which is the opposite of what they want, it can be helpful to explain about the Law of Concentrated Attention. Where thoughts flow, energy goes! The more they focus on something, the more likely it is that it will happen.
Imagine that you are getting ready to give a presentation, like a free “Introduction to Hypnotherapy” to a local group. This will be a great way of getting your name known, and can enhance the perception of you as an expert, so no pressure! Your thoughts may be focused on what could go wrong. You might be worrying about forgetting the key points of your talk, or stumbling over your words, picturing the blank faces of the audience when you ask for a volunteer for a demonstration, even feeling the stress of giving a demonstration of hypnosis. You might tell yourself you are being realistic. However, you are diverting some of your mental energy and effort, onto reinforcing outcomes that you don’t want. Furthermore, the more you think about those (potential) issues, the more you are associating them to that event. When you do finally arrive at the meeting, your mind will think ‘Oh I know what to do here, I have practiced this… I will forget my talk, stumble over my words, and feel stress’. What can be more helpful and far more effective, is to recognise any foreseeable challenges, and then rehearse how you will overcome them successfully.
Whatever you wish to achieve, instead of focusing your effort and energy on what you don’t want, it is far more effective to focus on what you do want. We hope this short blog on positive language and how to get what you want has been helpful, and if you have any questions relating to this blog, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks