Simon’s Mental Trick to Beat Self-Sabotage

Imagine a professional golfer standing over an eight-foot putt to win a big tournament. “Don’t choke,” she tells herself under her breath. “And do not pull the ball left of the hole.” 

Now, you probably don’t need to be a mental coach with an advanced degree in sports psychology to predict what happens next: Her putt sails wide left of the hole. 

The golfer has committed one of the most common psychological mistakes known to affect their performance: Negative framing. This phenomenon isn’t limited to professional athletes, of course; it affects all of us, whether we’re focusing on the negatives at work or in life. 

By fixating on what could go wrong, we inadvertently increase the likelihood of those negative outcomes becoming a reality. Negative framing can hinder our confidence, impair our decision-making, and ultimately sabotage our success. 

As Simon explains, “negative framing, such as ‘don’t forget your lines’ before a presentation, or even ‘don’t eat on the couch’ if you’re trying to kick that habit, tends to focus our attention on the very thing we wish to avoid. It’s this sort of thinking that holds us back, dashes our productivity, and makes it much harder to achieve our intended goal.”

So how do we reframe our mindset to be more goal-oriented and productive? The answer is surprisingly simple: focus on the positive and adjust your mindset with positive framing. 

How to Apply Positive Framing to Your Daily Life

In contrast to negative framing, positive framing directs our focus towards the desired outcome, increasing the likelihood of achieving it. So, let’s revisit Simon’s examples. Instead of saying, “Don’t forget your lines,” tell yourself to remember them. Instead of scolding yourself, “don’t eat on the couch,” say, “eat at the table.”

You can try this in almost any situation and it applies to groups, as well. For instance, if you’re a teacher who says, “Do not talk over Jane,” the class is unlikely to quiet down. However, if you say, “I want to hear what Jane is saying,” the students are more likely to lower their voices. 

Similarly, pilots are trained to focus on where they want to go rather than the obstacles they wish to avoid. Skiers navigating through trees concentrate on the path, not the trees themselves. This shift in focus from obstacles to pathways is a powerful metaphor. As Simon says, “If you focus on the obstacles, all you will see is obstacles. If you focus on the path through the trees, all you will see is the path through the trees.”

By consciously choosing how we frame our thoughts and instructions, we can significantly impact our ability to navigate challenges and pursue our goals. Whether we’re engaging in conversations with friends, guiding our children, or setting personal goals, shifting our focus from the “don’ts” to the “do’s” can make a significant difference. It’s about keeping our gaze on where we want to go, rather than fixating on the things we’re trying to avoid. 

So, as you take your next steps, remember that spotting the path through the trees could be your ticket to hitting your stride and unlocking your true potential.

For more advice from us, consider exploring The Optimism Library, which contains the best recordings of our online classes covering personal and professional growth.

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