Ask for what you actually want

Avoid confusing matters by focusing on what you don’t want!

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These are things I hear this so often: “oh Kay, I just don’t want to XYZ” or “oh, it’s so annoying, I don’t want to get wound up by X” or “I just don’t want to make that mistake again” and so it goes on.  Can you see how the focus in each of these statements is what you don’t want?  What the person wants to avoid and yet the “I don’t want to” is the nub of the phrase.

Now I have learned, many moons ago, when first studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) that negative suggestions cannot be processed by the brain without having to focus on the suggestion first. For example, if I were to say to you “don’t think of a pink elephant” we both know the first thing you do is think of a pink elephant and then maybe put a cross through it. If I were to say to you “think of a green hippopotamus” as a direct suggestion, that’s exactly what you would do.

What is so subtle here is the effect it has on those around us when we give directions, when we ask for what we want (or ask for what we don’t want as is more often the case) and how we can often get exactly what it is we don’t want – because the direct command or suggestion was in the negative.

You might be thinking “yes Kay, blah blah I know about do and don’t” but I’d counter that and say “do you really?”  How often have you said to your child, partner or colleague “don’t do that” or “don’t put that there” instead of “put the X on the Y please” i.e. a direct instruction?

It’s the same in our public domain. “Don’t walk on the grass” is far less effective than “stay on the pavement”. “Don’t leave litter” is less effective than “please take your litter home”. In each of the counter phrases there’s no suggestion of what we don’t want hence no hint of doing it by mistake.

One of the worst things you can say to someone is “don’t forget your X” – because 9 times out of 10 they will. It’s far more effective and influential to say “remember your X” or “take your X with you”.

Having to postpone a key meeting recently with clients, we focussed on when we could, how it would work (not if!) and what would work best. Can you see that with an intention and focus heading towards what we wanted, it made it so much easier for us all to make it happen?

You will hear people saying “don’t do this” and “don’t put that there” and “don’t forget X” all the time.  My question to you is this.  When it’s you asking, before you launch into, “don’t blah blah”, ask yourself “if I ditch the ‘don’t’ – what do I actually really want instead?”. Then, ask for that instead.


Here’s an immediate and practical Gift of you!  A complimentary copy of “Do You Have Trouble Saying NO?”

Let me walk you through the mindsets, strategies and exact words and phrases to use to ensure you keep stronger, more assertive boundaries for yourself and your time without upsetting yourself, or the other person.  Also, you’ll receive my twice-monthly eZine filled with more tips, tools, ideas and news.




Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,


Go to the profile of Julie Spencer
almost 4 years ago

Fabulous! It was back in 2015 that I began to study and understand this effective programme of self-awareness and gained experiential understanding, through practising and self-editing to find positive sentences. It has taken me three years to digest it. We don't all learn at a fast pace. And it is an ongoing learning curve, because naturally, if you surround yourself with negative voices, we are prone to imitate as human beings, and adapt to our surroundings. It is the breaking free from the negatives, and finding a #positivepsychology that opens up choice. I love the word choice! Thanks for this, it serves as a good reminder, and if there are new readers, reading. You may need to print it off and repeat it to yourself for many days, before you can access the information of what YOU truly want. #Ambassador for Psychologies Magazine.