I was talking to my daughter this morning over breakfast and she was telling me how she and her best friend were unable to stop laughing in their drama lesson. As she remembered what happened and shared her story with me, she began to laugh once more, and her laughing became infectious.  Soon I was giggling away too, it was delicious!  It just goes to show that spreading ‘good news’ does have an impact, not only on yourself, but other people as well!  Our conversation reminded me of my early days in the theatre.

Back in the 80”s, one of my first acting jobs involved taking a show out into the community: in this particular case, old peoples homes in Sheffield. Our makeshift set was a dress shop, and my character tried on different outfits from different eras. Once I’d ‘donned the frock’, my character would sing a song from that period in history.  It was great fun, and for the most part, it went down very well with the old people who loved to sing along. ‘ Run Rabbit Run’ was a particular favourite!  One day though, I remember singing a Boomtown Rats song, ‘I don’t like Mondays’ and in the middle of the song an old lady tapped me on the shoulder, and in a broad Sheffield accent said, “don’t mind me love  I’m just going to the toilet”, she then proceeded to walk through our set!  We could hardly contain ourselves and got severely chastised by the director afterwards.  The more he said “don’t laugh” the harder it was not to!  It is considered very ‘unprofessional’ of course to laugh, (or ‘corpse’ as it is known in the theatre darling!) and I certainly didn’t do it years later when I appeared at the National Theatre, but the point I want to make here is connected to the word ‘don’t’.

You see, when it comes to an instruction, the brain doesn’t ‘get’ the word ‘don’t’, well,  not initially.  Let me give you an example ……  If I say right now,   “don’t think of a pink elephant”……….  what do you do?  You think of a pink elephant don’t you?  You see your brain has to think about the pink elephant before it can think about not thinking about it!  This is why when our director said,  “don’t laugh’, all we could think about was laughing!

You may be thinking, well so what!  But this is really useful information because if you can understand what the brain does with that word, you can say things differently in order to  get the result you do want. For instance the director could have said something like, “Keep your focus” .

Here’s another example: if you say to a young child “don’t spill your orange juice” what do you think that child is most likely to do?  That’s right, ‘spill’ their orange juice!  Instead you could say, “Keep your orange juice in the cup” Not only is that a clearer instruction but it’s much more likely to get you the outcome you’re looking for (and keep your carpet clean!)

So remember to think about, and say, what you ‘do’ want, because if you end up talking about what you don’t want, you might just get it!

Speak soon ….