You tell yourself, “I’m not going to lose my keys anymore.”   “I’m not going to fall on the ice again.” “I’m not going to yell.”

What happens?

You are in a hurry. You need to get your child to daycare early because you have an important meeting at work. As you are hurrying to get ready, you start to worry about rush hour traffic. What will happen if you’re late?  You go to get your car keys and they’re not there.  Where did you put them? Could they have fallen on the ground when you parked the car last night?  You step outside and wham!  You hit a patch of ice and fall flat on your face.  You pick yourself up and run back into the house.  Your child is watching television, oblivious to the missing car keys.  You scream, “I lost my keys! We’re going to be late! Why are you just sitting there?”

Everything you told yourself “not” to do, swore you would not do, you did.  Why?

It’s no surprise that neuroscience has discovered that under pressure, we simply don’t think well or, at the very least, not as well as we could. When we are anxious, worried, or fearful, our minds can’t remember where we put the keys or to be careful on the ice or to speak to our child in a normal tone. It’s as if all of the “don’ts” become “do’s.” 

Brain scientists have a name for it. It is called the “ironic process theory.” It appears that under pressure, we do the exact opposite of what we told ourselves we would not do. That’s ironic!

What to do?

Brain scientists tell us that the fix is relatively easy.  Here are a few suggestions:

·       Become a keen observer of your mind. Notice your thoughts. When you catch yourself using a negative, such as “I won’t eat sweets,” say the opposite. “I am eating healthy foods,” etc.

·       Frame your goals in terms of what you want to do, rather than what you don’t want to do.  It relates to what is commonly considered a scientific fact that our thoughts become our experiences. Even though we are saying “I won’t eat sweets,” what is the image behind that thought? SWEETS!  That is what our brain focuses on. It can’t discern, under stress, that you don’t want sweets. So, we will most likely eat sweets!

·       Before beginning a new task, especially something important, take a few seconds to relax.  Gaze at a tree outside  your window, savor a special memory, close your eyes and think of something that immediately makes you smile

Dr. Susan Lord says that in any 24 hour period, we most likely experience the full panoply of human emotions. In our fast-paced modern society, stress is often at the top.  Therefore, she says it is important to have a “touchstone of relaxation” to return to, something that will instantly shift you into a more positive mood. The result?  Your brain will more easily help you choose the actions or notice the resources that you need to exceed expectations.

To learn more about the Ironic Process Theory, click here: