The Wrong Way to Think Could Be the Right Way to Succeed

Much has been written about how a positive approach to goals enables their achievement. It’s true, but a wholly positive approach can also whitewash genuine problems, allowing them to remain unacknowledged, only to resurface later. I’ve found that when I take a wholly positive approach, I end up feeling overwhelmed and under more pressure, both of which frighten me into freeze mode and stifle my creativity. So if I want to avoid this situation, and generate some insights and inspiration to increase motivation, I find it’s useful to turn my to-do list into a not-to-do list.

I learnt about turning perspectives upside down, inside out and back to front from Paul Arden, former executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. He wrote a book titled: Whatever you think, think the opposite (2006). He said (2006, p. 1) “It’s the wrong way to think, but the right way to win”. His strategy is often useful when I need to coach and motivate overwhelmed students to stay on track with their studies. 

Not-to-do ListTo-do List
You don’t need to miss this opportunity.Seize the opportunity 
You don’t need to forget your goals.Remember your goals
You don’t need to lose your focusStay focused
You don’t need to be disorganised.Be organised 
You don’t need to do this on your own.Ask for help 
You don’t need to avoid your problems.Face your problems 
You don’t need to miss classesAttend all classes
You don’t need to be late to class.Be on time 
You don’t need overdue fees.Pay your fees on time
You don’t need outstanding assessments. Submit all assessments 
You don’t need late assessment submissionsSubmit all assessments on time 
You don’t need to make excusesStay motivated
You don’t need to be distracted Stop procrastinating 
You don’t need to let this stop youBe determined 
You don’t need obstacles in your way Overcome obstacles 
You don’t need to give upDevelop resilience
A list to inspire self-reflection, or a list of demands?

A to-do list can sound like nagging, whereas a not-to-do list encourages self-reflection and self-questioning. More motivating and less demanding.

In an ongoing effort to get off my own back, I apply the same strategy to my own life. 

When I need to achieve a goal, rather than trying to self-motivate by telling myself to aim for the goal, I’ll say instead: You don’t need to be aimless. By taking a what-not-to-do approach, I feel inspired to think about what I can do so that I’m not aimless. I still end up thinking about the importance of keeping my goal in mind so that I’m not aimless, but by telling myself that I don’t need to be aimless, I tend to self-reflect and want to know more. I ask myself: What does aimlessness look like in this situation? What makes me aimless? What distracts me? What’s stopping me? How will being aimless sabotage me? 

When I want to be successful, instead of telling myself to be successful, I’ll say: You don’t need to fail. Of course, I find myself doing what I need to do to be successful, but by telling myself that I don’t need to fail, I dig deeper and ask: How do I usually fail? What does failure look like? What causes me to fail? How do I sabotage myself? 

When I want to be organised, instead of telling myself to get organised, I’ll say: You don’t need to be disorganised. And yes, I start thinking about what I need to do to get myself organised, but by telling myself that I don’t need to be disorganised, I find myself wanting to know more: How am I disorganised? What does disorganisation look like? What makes me disorganised? How will a lack of disorganisation sabotage my goals?

Sometimes, after a perception is turned upside down, inside out or back to front, things start looking better. And that can only be a positive. 

Arden, P 2006, Whatever you think, think the opposite, Penguin Group, New York

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