The Power of Negative Thinking

Just say no.

You’ve all heard this. Popularized by Nancy Regan in the 1980s as part of the “war on drugs” it later morphed into campaigns against violence and pre-marital sex.

The phrase gained a lot of attention at the time, not all as intended.  I remember the drug dealers in Washington Square Park in Manhattan in the 90s were easily identified by their prominent “Say No to Drugs” buttons!

Today the slogan is generally considered to have been useless at best – in large part because it was making unrealistic assumptions about what people could, or wanted to, change.

Which is too bad because a well thought out “just say no” can be a very effective tool for self transformation. The key is to say no to things you can do, but don’t want to.

Here’s an example which I think will illustrate this – and which you can try for yourself:

Most of us create excess tension somewhere in our bodies.  If you have a pretty good idea where you’re habitually tightening up – could be your shoulders, your chest, your pelvis, whatever – you can use it for the little experiment below.  If you’re not sure where to put your attention, put it on your neck.

Now walk back and forth across the room.  When going in one direction, walk as you usually do.  When you walk in the other direction, softly think “I am not tightening my (neck, shoulders – whatever region of your body you have chosen to experiment with)”.

The “I am not” part of this phrase is very important, but feel free to experiment with other words that mean something like “tightening” – maybe tensing, squeezing, compressing or any other similar word you like.  Feel free also to experiment with other activities you do – speaking, chopping vegetables, whatever.  Simply alternate between your usual way of doing them, and gently adding this self-directing phrase.

And remember a key word here is softly – whichever version of the phrase you are use is best conveyed to yourself without any pressure, detailed instructions or expectations.  Last week’s blog has more information about this.

If you feel you’d like more guidance, or want more information about the usefulness of “saying no”, you can listen an interview on the topic here:

and to several other audio interviews about this precess here.

Have fun, see what you notice and please share your experiences here.

Image: zirconicusso /


The Power of Negative Thinking — 6 Comments

  1. I love this post, Robert, especially the fact that you are encouraging us to first continue doing as we are doing (we are free to continue tightening, or whatever the habitual way is), and then we also have the option to think of not-doing whatever the habitual thing is (we are free to “say no”).

  2. Thanks Jennifer. Yes I think there’s a huge advantage throwing away any gains that come about from useful self-directing and then, if you choose, easily bring that self-directing back again. Students are less likely to try to hold on to something that they, can’t in fact, hold on to when they experience how easy it is to come back to it. The attempts to “hold on” almost always result in stiffness – the “AlexanDroid” syndrome.

  3. Really enjoyed this post, Robert. I find “negative directions” really helpful for both me and my Alexander Technique students. It is somehow easier to “not do” something than (e.g. not tightening your neck) than to “do” something like “relax the neck.” The “I am not…” instruction to yourself really seems to help in a letting go, even just a little bit, of whatever it is, without as much temptation to get into that tightening that goes along with “trying hard.”

  4. Pingback: Positive Thinking – Just Say No?! | Body Intelligence

  5. Pingback: Positive Thinking – Just Say No?! – BodyIntelligence

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