I discovered something remarkable quite by accident one night as I was conducting a workshop on goal achievement. I discovered the power of negative thinking. As the people in the workshop struggled to list their goals on a piece of paper, I ran out of patience.“How will you get what you want if you don’t know what it is?” I asked the room, half of which still had empty sheets of paper and empty facial expressions.
“Okay,” I said, “Let’s put these goals away. I want to try something different. Take out a new sheet of paper and do this. Write down what you don’t want in your life. List every major problem and source of discomfort you have. All your worries. All the negative things you can think of, even if they haven’t come into reality yet. Even if they are just things you don’t want to happen in the future. Take your time and be thorough.”
What I saw happen next startled me. The entire room’s energy level picked up, and everyone in the workshop was writing and writing and writing. It wasn’t long before some people asked if they could use a second page.Something strange and electric was filling the air as people aired their fears and grievances. Pages were flooded with ink, and hands and fingers had to be shaken out so people wouldn’t cramp up from writing so much. When I called an end to the exercise, the room was buzzing.I had obviously let something loose that wasn’t there before. At that moment I got my first true look at the power of the negative.
Actually, I had seen it before. When I took the time to look back over my life, I realized that saying no was always a stronger stand to take than saying yes. Saying no is drawing a line in the sand. It is taking a stand. It is putting your foot down. It is passionate. It is powerful. Compared to saying no, saying yes is wobbly and wishy-washy. I said yes to at hours and drinks of alcohol in my life. But it wasn’t until one hung-over suicidal morning when I said no that my life got completely turned around. When the cave man drew the line in the dirt outside his cave and said no to the saber-tooth tiger, his family was finally safe.Saying no is powerful, because it comes from the deepest part of the soul. There are some things we just won’t tolerate.
Once we fully understand the power of those no’s deep inside of us, we can use them to motivate ourselves like never before.In the workshop I was telling you about, once the people filled their papers up with what they didn’t want, we got busy converting problems into goals. You don’t want to go bankrupt? Then let’s get a prosperity plan going! You don’t want to weigh as much as your two best friends combined? Then let’s get a nutrition and exercise program going! Any no can be converted to a powerful yes.
So if you’re stuck without any truly motivating goals, dreams or commitments, then go negative first. Figure out what you absolutely don’t want—what you absolutely fear and dread and refuse to let in to your life—then convert it to its opposite, positive form and see what happens. You’ll be more motivated than you ever dreamed you could be.
I have used this in one-on-one meetings with people who wouldn’t open up and tell me what they wanted. I simply asked them to tell me what they didn’t want to have happen and we were off to the races. Once you know what that is, you can convert the conversation to exciting plans and objectives. This explains why so many successful people had difficult upbringings, sometimes living in the harshest poverty. They connected very early to what they didn’t want. The rest was clear sailing.
The next time you lack passion when thinking of what you want, try turning it around. Ask yourself what you absolutely don’t want, and then feel the energy building in you to overcome that problem.That energy you’re feeling is the deepest and most primal form of motivation.