Goals, Blue Elephants and the Magic Question

When partnering with my clients, supporting them to achieve their dreams I am humbled to be sharing that sacred space with them - especially when their eyes light up as if they have realised something for the very first time.  And, one thing I hear often, just before we get to that lightbulb moment, is “I don’t want X!” 

Too often we focus on the ‘past’ or our ‘story’ and what we’ve already tried that hasn’t worked.  When we haven’t been successful yet, it’s easy to focus on the X that we don’t want and use that as our reason or excuse for not being successful.  However, when we focus on the unwanted X it can be tricky to set a goal because the goal will often become “I don’t want to X because I don’t want Y to happen”.  When we are in this space, as I have been from time to time, I find that we usually end up getting exactly what we don’t want.  So how does that happen?

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the idea that it’s impossible to think of that X that we don’t want, without the brain getting a picture, feeling or soundtrack of X.  And, when we create pictures, soundtracks or feelings of the X we don’t want, our brain, being the obedient organ that it is, will willingly oblige and provide us more pictures, soundtracks and feelings of X including the stories of how we didn’t get it and why it didn’t work last time.  So, when I say to you ‘don’t think of a blue elephant’ many of you will think of a blue elephant before realising that you’re not meant to be thinking of a blue elephant.  And that’s how the ‘don’t touch – wet paint’ statement results in fingerprints on the wet paint.  I’m sure you can think of other situations where the messages we’ve been given, or the ones we give ourselves start with a ‘don’t’ and then we go and do exactly what we’ve been told not to do. 

Here’s what happens … when you think of what you don’t want, you have to think about the past, about the times when you didn’t get what you wanted.  And some of these events can be raw and very real still.  And this past-focused thinking doesn’t create an energised, inspiring future-oriented goal.  What happens is we end up creating more stories in our minds of what we don’t want, increasing the chances that we’ll get exactly what we want to avoid.  And we have the capability of doing this all day long.  When we process our interpretations of what is going on around us in the same habitual way, and if we are used to past-focused thinking and failure, we continue to receive it.  I have never seen a 100 metre athlete win a race while looking over their shoulder.  The winners always have their eyes focused on the finish line and their thoughts and mental soundtrack are on ‘replay’, playing over and over the pictures, sounds and feelings of how they will cross the line first. 

When someone tells me about a goal or an outcome that they don’t want, I figure that they may have been unsuccessful before and may have been getting a whole bunch of stuff they don’t want.  If they really do want a different outcome, I’ll ask the magic question that will shift their focus from the past to the future, and what it is they do want. 

So what’s the magic question?  I ask them, “So, if you don’t want a blue elephant, what would you like to have instead?”    It helps to create a picture of what could be possible, and once that picture is created, it’s much easier to focus on success.  Looking toward what you want to achieve by creating a mental picture, soundtrack and internal feeling of what it would be like when you achieve that outcome, we find our focus shifts.  If you’d like to set goals or outcomes for yourself, your family or your business and you want to succeed, remember to ask yourself, ‘what would I like to have instead?’

So what is it that you’d like to achieve?  (Remember to ask the magic question)!

by Barbara Jaques 

13 June 2016