So many people create what they want to avoid. We saw a dramatic example of this in the 2007 movie Premonition. Spoiler alert for any who haven’t seen it: the main character ends up causing the very thing she is trying so hard to prevent. It happens every day, on a smaller scale, and without any time loops.
Someone does not want to mess up the pottery piece they’re working on. They end up crushing it (and not in the Gary Veynerchuck way). They do not want to end up at the register that has a long, slow line. They end up in the worst one! Every time! How does that happen?
Reticular Activating System
Current understanding is that the Reticular Activating System filters out the “don’t” words from statements and gives the person what they asked it for. It’s impossible to “not” something. The part of the brain responsible for steering simply cannot handle impossibilities. It just skips right over the word. It takes the positive version of the statement, the one with the doing.
“I hope this deal does not go south” comes out as “I hope this deal does go south.” Then the person will proceed to do things to ensure that very outcome:
- They neglect to make payment.
- They use a forbidden means of contact.
- They stalk or harass the other. (It’s rude and creepy to follow them on their vacation, Bob!)
- They send food they know the person is allergic to.
- They call the person constantly or call the person’s cell phone in the middle of the night.
- They argue with the expert they brought in.
- They demand special treatment or excessive attention.
- They waste the person’s time.
- They break protocol.
- They manipulate.
- They insult the person.
- They attack the person’s staff.
The deal sours, predictably and inexorably. How could it go any other way? People refuse to put up with all that. Perhaps some saints would keep taking the abuse, but no one else would. Anyone with any sense could see why that deal went south. But that person wonders what went awry and why.
They lament, “It always goes wrong.” They wanted so badly for it not to go wrong this time, and they ensured it would by taking all those wrong actions. Underlying fears surface in fascinating ways. Please know that I’m still challenged by it myself sometimes. The best I know to do is to choose my words carefully and believe that all things work together for good.
Why people do what you tell them not to do
The same thing happens when someone is talking to another person. Rather than their failure to do the thing they’re told being a matter of defiance, it’s probably just a matter of the RAS filtering out the impossible words. Someone might tell their spouse, “Don’t forget to stop by the post office.” The spouse goes to work and heads home. The post office totally slipped their mind. Of course it would. The request was “Forget to stop by the post office,” after all. Mom says, “Don’t ruin your new clothes, Little Johnny.” What does Little Johnny do? He heads straight for the muddiest patch he can find. He does a bang-up job of ruining those clothes, just as Mommy wants. 🙂
Just for fun, go back and zip through the previous paragraphs, omitting the words in red.
How does this specifically relate to you and your writing? The words you choose are important. With poor word/thought choice, people create what they want to avoid. Steer toward what you desire to have happen, and do what you can to ensure that. Also, use common sense and decorum, and avoid insulting a $300-an-hour expert by referring to them as a peddler of cheap goods. If you call them that, not even a saint can keep that deal from going south.