Here’s a really quick activity. First, I want you to clear your head. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, now, DON’T think of an elephant. What came to your mind instead of an elephant? Anything? Or did a huge elephant fill up your vision? Here’s another one. On your device, computer, or smartphone, fire up Google Maps. Type in “not New York.” Or try “not Honolulu.” What suggestions are you given by google? Anything that’s not in New York or Honolulu?
What do these exercises have to do with goal setting? Well, all too often the way we state our goals is an automatic set up for failure. How many times have you tried to quit smoking, lose weight or stop eating junk food. Your goal was likely stated in this fashion “I will not smoke any cigarettes all day” or “I will not eat any junk food.” The problem is our brain isn’t so smart. When we say to ourselves “I’m not going to eat that donut,” all your brain hears is “donut, donut, donut.” Until finally, you grab the donut and shovel it into your pie-hole, feeling guilty and wondering why you don’t have the willpower to not eat the donut.
It’s because it’s not about willpower. It’s just the way we think. The quick solution to this (it is a little more complicated, but this goes a long way to helping you with your goals) is to think about what you are going to do instead of eat that donut. Take the time to think it out and fill your brain with the idea. “I’m going to make sure that (enter coworker’s name here) eats that donut and I will have that banana that I packed for myself.” And not only say this to yourself, but fill your brain with how delicious your banana is going to be and how happy your coworker will be that he/she gets to have the last donut. Not only are you going to have a delicious, healthy snack, but you are going to make someone else’s day, too!
Can you see how thinking about what you are going to do instead is more effective than “not donut.” There may still be times that you just freaking want to eat the donut and that is okay. But if you are really motivated to change a behavior, change your negative thought to a positive replacement.