Pay No Attention to the Pink Elephant.
At a recent retreat of senior-level managers, we started the day with a yoga session. What a positive way to open a meeting, don’t you think?
The instructor arrived early, set up the room, and greeted the participants as we entered. We were doing the initial breathing exercises when she said, “Forget about all the emails piling up in your inbox. If you’re worried about what might happen later in the retreat, let that go.”
Her intention was exactly the opposite of the outcome! When we tell our minds what not to think about, that’s pretty much all we can think about. The experience reminded me of a coach that I had who was keen on neuro-linguistic programming. This coach often says wittily, “Forget about the big pink elephant with white spots.” Well, of course, what do you imagine we think about whenever she says this? Did you picture a pink elephant with white spots, just from reading this? It’s impossible not to think about what’s being described, even if only for a split second.
This is a valuable lesson for coaching employees and for improving performance. Rather than telling employees what not to do, tell them what to do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t turn in the report late again,” ask, “How will you meet the March 15 deadline?” Instead of saying, “Don’t be cranky with the customers,” say, “Think what this customer means to our business and greet her with a smile.”
It’s a small adjustment, yet it will reap elephant-sized results.