What If Thinking


Have you ever stopped to consider the nature and power of the words you use? If you have, you too may have noticed that the words ‘I shouldn't' are most commonly uttered during or just before you go on to do the very thing that you (apparently) ‘should not' have done? The sampling of the chocolate again (in case the 5th piece tasted different to the first four.

Or, perhaps for you, it's quite the opposite - for you, its when you think or say the words ‘I should...' which become a precursor to you NOT following through with your own advice or values map as it were! As in, ‘I really should go for that run/finish this now/say how I feel' - It's as if the words which so often are meant to motivate or direct positive action serve the very opposite purpose!

In fact the very use of the word ‘should' depicts that more than one internal reference map is running concurrently, and more often than not, indicates that you are co-existing in two planes of existence - the one you are in (now - the indulging or not exercising) and the one you also recognise but choose not to act on, (the ‘best practice world' which you choose not to act on though need to pay lip service to). So, congratulations, you are living in an alternate reality - interesting and impressive on one level if you think about it, but very rarely conducive to successfully navigating two worlds - you cant be in two worlds at one time and so navigating by two maps is similarly not useful, nor motivating.

Think this doesn't apply to you? I invite you now to pause and recall the last time you used the ‘s' word (that's right ‘should') and identify what you were trying to motivate yourself to do AND what you were focused on at that time - go ahead and make a picture in your mind of the situation - what did you see, taste, smell, feel, hear that prompted the illicit but well intentioned ‘s' word? What thoughts and pictures went through your mind? As you reconstruct this memory, let me share a recent experience I had, and you can compare it to your own.

It's the weekend and the sun is shining - streaming in through the windows of my sitting room as I sit (appropriately) relaxed and basking in the warmth of the sun. Its 5pm on a Saturday evening and I am contentedly munching on a bag of salt and vinegar chips, (my favourite) dipped in home-made dip no less, and washed down with a cold beverage. Ahhh, this is the life! The only problem with chips however, and I don't know if you've noticed this, is that they're rather ‘moreish'? Do you like how we do that with our language? Words are the consumables of our mind and we can do anything we choose (subconsciously or otherwise) with them. Through my words I put the onus on the chips. That's right, perhaps you've done it before to - we actually blame the chips - those inanimate not-at-all-intentioned, yet somehow disingenuous and most cunning of foodstuffs - the potato chip or crisp. They are moreish - It's not my lack of will power you understand - it's the chips, they are moreish! So what is one to do?

Beautiful what we do with our words. Anyhow...

I know when I made the dip and liberated the bag of chips from the pantry that I did not intend on polishing off the lot, yet as I respond to the moreishness of said chips, I notice that between my husband and I, the ratio of chips to bag is dwindling alarmingly fast, as the chips succumb to the select - dip - munch routine that is chip eating. In fact it is only as I put my hand in the bag to get another chip, that I notice that I have to reach my hand much further down to locate one, in fact I have to cradle the bottom of the bag with my other hand to acquire a chip at all now!

As I exert this extra effort I hear a voice in my head, it pipes up each time my hand heads unerringly for the bag and it says ‘I shouldn't',

yet my actions continue: select - dip - munch - hmmm
The next time I reach down into the bag, the voice sounds again ‘Oh, I really shouldn't select - dip - munch - hmmm

The voice is having little impact on the chip eating process, and I start to get interested in the strategy I have used to create this so called ‘unwanted' outcome... I turn my focus to the experience I am creating as I eat. As I look at the chips I can see the salt and flavour on the crunchy snack; as I eat, the salty, vinegary taste of the chips explodes on my tongue - tasty and tangy; and the sound and texture of the crunching is overwhelmingly satisfying - this information is processed in my brain and it responds - yummm - good - more!

All of this is being combated by a single lone voice with a measly, somewhat impotent set of non-sensory guilt-based words that do not evoke a positive image or association or the urgency required to halt the behaviour. Instead all my senses are tied up with focusing on things that drive the current behaviour - none are aiding and abetting the ‘s' word statement - the alternate reality me who recognises the undesirable part of this behaviour!

Why? When you get right down to it, in that moment - I really want that chip. Because in that moment, the chips are far more real and satisfying than any benefit I may gain from not chomping that chip. So the chomping continues - select - dip - munch - hmmm and as it does, the waistline no doubt gives a corresponding sigh of defeat, but it is well and truly drowned out by the select - dip - munch - hmmm of the moment.

And in this story lies the reason ‘should' does not motivate. Let us first look at what motivation is. Motivation occurs when we see something we want and do not yet have and we perceive the ability to bridge that gap and fulfil that goal. This means that motivation, by definition is defined by what we pay attention to and the associated beliefs and feelings we have to a given object or action.

In my case chips were associated with feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment, while the very concept of ‘should not eat' had no such positive associations. Even though I know, that chips are not the healthiest of snacks, even though I knew that dinner was only an hour or two away, in the moment I had perceived of something I want - I had made a picture in my head of what it would be like, taste like, see and sound like to enjoy chips and dip and I successfully put actions in place to realise that dream.

On the other hand however, it is far harder to put in place a picture of enjoying and achieving something through inaction - what senses does one call on to do this? What does it taste, smell, feel, sound or look like to do nothing? And what does one get from nothing? Now there's a conundrum! Moreover, to successfully NOT eat the chips I have to first believe that NOT doing something is DEFINITELY going to lead to a positive outcome. AND I need to find a new strategy to do something else to deal with my desire for instant gratification.
For all of these reasons ‘should' and ‘shouldn't' simply do not cut the mustard - they are not sensory based - nor are they empowering. Should in this case begs an important question; and here's a useful tip for you - I call it ‘what if thinking'. Two powerful words, which, when employed with a positive, curious attitude can open up whole worlds of understanding and new possibilities. ‘What if thinking' can be embodied with a simple, powerful question - ‘what will happen if I do?'

By challenging myself with that question and really stopping to imbue the answer with vivid sensory embellishment to make it real, I put myself on the path to finding my own inner motivation to step away from those potato chips.

Let's try it now. Sensory stimulus from the chips triggers the voice in my head which says ‘I shouldn't' so this time I challenge the voice - I respond. OK, what will happen if I do? Now lets follow that thought process...

What if I do eat the potato chips? Let's imagineer the answer together ... What will happen if I do? I see an image of myself having eaten the chips then standing in front of the mirror the next day, turning sideways, back and front, trying and failing to find a ‘good angle' and feeling bloated and miserable - I link those sensory stimuli back to this moment with my hand in the bag and make the association. So that is what will happen if I do, I know, I've done it before. I can make the ‘outcome' picture as bold, and the feelings and sounds as real as I want by using the power of my memory and imagination. Suddenly the next chip doesn't seem so attractive and my hand drifts away from the bag. l.

I can then take the next step and ask myself the opposite question ‘what will happen if I don't' eat those chips? And now I make a picture of myself looking slim, trim and feeling energetic and positive, looking in the mirror and seeing all the good angles! Hearing the compliments from others and enjoying the feeling of satisfaction and achievement from sticking to my resolution to get in shape. I can imbue these emotions and pictures to the idea of relaxing without food, or even to doing something positive to get me there more quickly, - for example going for a walk or run to get the endorphins flowing. Now, not only am I not doing the ‘unwanted' action, but I have integrated a strategy to deal with the need for instant gratification - now I have a complete solution.

The key point you can take from this article is that until we imbue our thoughts with useful associated senses that make the statement attractive and real, they are unlikely to be able to combat the ‘real' senses our body is already experiencing. In addition, it's worth recognising that the words ‘I should' are far less powerful than your other thought option which is ‘I will'. And that's exactly what it comes down to - your will. What will you do now with what you know?

Empowered thinking is a simple process and it starts with you clarifying what you want and making the choices and putting in place the strategies that will lead you there. Empowered thoughts create empowered actions - Happy thinking everyone!'

Jaki George-Tunnicliffe 



Jaki George-Tunnicliffe is a high-energy, engaging speaker, training consultant and facilitator of excellence. In 2006 she founded Fusion At Work Ltd – a training company dedicated to empowering and developing people to drive results, and is now based in beautiful Northland. She dedicates her time to helping businesses large and small to empower their people for greater workplace synergy and higher performance. She travels nation-wide delivering training and keynotes on creating workplace synergy and working together through change.

You may also like:

Filed under Performance Evaluation. Posted by The Corporate Toolbox on