We all have things we know we ought not to do, for instance smoking or looking at our emails right before sleeping, yet we consistently weaken at the powerful urge to satisfy our (damaging) craving.
Many people fail to change their behaviour because they focus on what they are not supposed to do, rather than focusing on which positive actions to take instead (Markman, Harvard Business Review, 2017). Setting the goal not to reply to work emails in bed is based on the presumption that you will manage to stop yourself every time you are tempted to do so.
Setting ‘negative’ goals – where you focus on actions you will no longer take – tends to fail for two reasons. Firstly, when you set a negative goal, you constantly have to be alert and vigilant in an attempt not to end up doing the thing you are trying to avoid. This is both a tiring and unsustainable strategy due the sheer amount of distractions we have in our daily lives, as well as the powerful draw of defaulting back to our bad habits. Secondly, the part of your brain responsible for habits only learns a new habit when you perform an action, not when you don’t, therefore you cannot create a habit to avoid an action (Markman, 2017).
On the other hand, ‘positive’ goals – where you focus on what actions you are going to take – are a great deal more powerful and sustainable. If you are constantly using the words such as ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘shouldn’t’ in your goal setting, think again. Get rid of the ‘n’t’ and restate with words such as ‘can’, ‘will’, ‘shall’. This simple action is likely to accelerate success.
Where we place our focus is key, and as writer and leadership speaker Robin S. Sharma wisely said: What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.