Categories: Brain

Don’t think of a blue elephant! 

By  Lysette Offley

Ha! Got ya!

You did, didn’t you!

Of course, that’s the way our brains process information. You can’t deliberately not think about something. Because, in order to do ‘not blue elephant’ you have to do ‘blue elephant’ first!


Well, that’s a problem when you tell yourself not to eat cake or not to smoke a cigarette or not to argue with your children. Your brain first gets the instruction, ‘eat cake’ or ‘smoke a cigarette’ or ‘argue’ before it remembers ‘not’!Don't think of a blue elephant

And who can resist cake when it’s all you can think about, like a musical earworm that won’t go away?

It’s just too hard, isn’t it? No wonder when you’re trying to cut your calories or quit a habit, you keep finding yourself repeating the very behaviour you’re trying to stop.

But there’s an easy way the make the change you’re looking for.

Just make sure you talk to yourself in the positive.

I don’t mean some bonkers positive thinking, where you keep telling yourself, that despite evidence to the contrary, that everything’s fine and dandy, I mean to direct your automatic unconscious mind in the direction you want to go, not away from the thing you want to avoid.

Don't think of a blue elephant - coffee cupThink about the difference…

You get in your car and tell yourself you want to get away from the house.

You could end up anywhere.

But if you tell yourself you want to go to Reading, while you might need more information, directions, for example, at least you’re giving yourself a clear message about the goal.

You know that if you do what’s required, you’ll end up in Reading, just as you wished.

That’s how your brain works.

And just like the earworm experiment, you need to disrupt your thinking.


Breaking up a fight

Don't think of a blue elephant - cat fightWhat’s the best way to stop young children fighting over a toy?

Yes – distract them. Get them interested in something else and they’ll immediately forget the squabble. Simples!

Same with your brain. Instead of trying not to do something, practice doing something else!

Take the cake example. Do some forward-planning. Decide in advance what you’re going to do instead when the cake thought enters your head.

Don’t aim to not eat it, but just interrupt your thought pattern. Commit to doing something else first.

And if that something else has you forget all about the cake, all well and good. So you’re creating no pressure, and definitely, no depriving yourself, because you’re not telling yourself that you can’t have the cake, i.e. ‘Have the cake. Not’. Just do the other thing first.

Just try it and see how it will work for you.

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Lysette Offley

Genius Maker & Founder of Genius Material and The Genius Principles. Working with professionals who need exceptional academic & professional development.

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