Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want To Go

A young rancher needed to increase turnover and was preparing a bid for a large lease. When he discussed his proposal with his Executive Link board he explained, “I don’t want to come off as too inexperienced. I don’t want him to think that I don’t know what I’m doing.” Someone on his board offered some great advice. She suggested, “Rather than focus on the impression you don’t want to make, describe the impression you do want to make.”

Business coach and author Robert Kriegel agrees. Robert wrote one of my favorite books of all time, If it ain’t broke, break it! I had the privilege of having lunch with Robert about a year ago. He gave me a perfect example of how powerfully ineffective it can be to focus on the negative. He instructed me, “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” A silly instruction for sure, but what is the image that immediately came to mind? You guessed it, a pink elephant.

Robert explained that the mind works in pictures. When someone says don’t do something, most people immediately form a mental picture of that thing they aren’t supposed to do. 

Before a race, world class track athletes picture winning the race. They don’t picture watching someone ahead of them break the tape. Of course, if picturing success were enough, they’d be handing out gold medals to nearly every Olympic athlete. But the odds of winning are next to nothing if they can’t picture success.

Most of us mentally rehearse our own defeat by spending way too much time anticipating the worst. Robert believes that thinking about what you don’t want will often make it happen.

In a paper Robert wrote about overcoming his fear of heights he describes meeting with a friend who builds high-rise buildings in Manhattan. The friend told Robert that if he wanted to overcome his fear of heights he should join him the next morning at one of his construction sites. Summoning his courage, Robert met with his friend and they ascended to the 33rd floor of a building under construction. His friend told Robert to look down. As he looked down he began to feel dizzy and get sick to his stomach. His friend then told him to look across to the next building. The dizziness and sickness quickly disappeared. Then his friend told him, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.”

 “I don’t want weeds.” “I don’t want debt.” Whether it is the health of a pasture or the health of our business we tend to focus on what we don’t want. We should focus on what we do want.

Back to the real world and the young rancher going after the big lease,  I hope he will focus on what he wants, not on what he doesn’t want. His chances of success will improve if he prepares for the negotiation with a positive attitude and by showing that he has the knowledge and experience needed to effectively run the place.  I look forward to an update at his summer EL board meeting to find out what happened.

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