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Unlock Your Potential: The Power of Knowing What NOT to Do

Have you ever found yourself at life’s equivalent of a Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 AM? You know, you’re sitting in your car surronded by so many choices, yet when it’s your turn to order, you don’t know what to say.

Well, my stuck-at-the-crossroads-of-life friend, if you’re into poetic justice, yin and yang, or whatever philosophy-turned-bumper-sticker that tickles your fancy, brace yourself for another frustratingly sensible truth: To know what to do next, you’ve got to start with what not to do.

Confused? Stick with me.

We’re Afraid Of Fire

In life, it’s easier to know what we don’t want instead of knowing what we do want. Take, for example, the most frustrating question there is. “What do you want out of life?”

If you ask most people what they want from life, they might hum and haw, and throw out abstract nouns like “happiness,” “fulfillment,” and “appreciation.” All great answers to win a beauty contest, but horribly vague answers to win at life.

But ask them what they DON’T want, and suddenly they’re as specific as a hipster’s coffee order. It’s a caramel macchiato, extra hot, with almond milk, no foam, extra shot, two pumps of caramel, light whip, extra cinnamon, and a hint of unicorn tears; thank you very much.

So how do we use this insight for the good?

It Starts With A Goal

First, nail down your goal. For me, it’s being a New York Times Best Selling author. For you, it’s (fill in the blank.)

You need to start with what you want; otherwise, how will you know when you get it?

Create Your Do-Not-Do-List

Pretend for a minute if you never wanted to achieve your goal, what are the things you absolutely wouldn’t do? For example, if I never wanted to be an NYT bestseller, I would:

  • Not bother writing every day.
  • Take a lifetime ban on reading.
  • Never lift a finger to hone my craft.
  • Say a big, fat no to developing an authentic voice.
  • Shirk from writing the best story I possibly can.
  • Dodge feedback like it’s a swarm of flies.
  • Laugh at the thought of getting an agent.
  • Ignore expanding my network.
  • Completely avoid applying myself.

 Break Out The Red Pen

Now, cross out the “nots”, “nevers”, and “nos” and see what you have left.

  • Write every day.
  • Read like a bookworm who’s lost in a library.
  • Hone your craft.
  • Develop your authentic voice.
  • Write the best damn story you can.
  • Court feedback like it’s the last hot meal on earth.
  • Find an agent who believes in you.
  • Expand your network like a social butterfly.
  • Apply yourself relentlessly.

And that’s it. The secret sauce to moving forward, apparently, is looking backward.

Because life zigs, when you zag. And sometimes, the only way to know what to do, is to create a list of what not to do.

Please Like, Comment, Share, And tell me What You Think. If this benefited you, why not share with a friend?

75 thoughts on “Unlock Your Potential: The Power of Knowing What NOT to Do

  1. I think so many people just wait for things to just magically appear and not put in the hard work to get there. Then, there are ones who just don’t know what their purpose is and struggle with that. Great advice for US all, myself included.

  2. I’ve done this strategy with relationships. Usually we can tolerate or ignore small things that aren’t considered “perfect” but it’s much easier to identify the things you don’t want in a relationship/friendship. A much bigger perspective strategy.

  3. Focusing on the ‘don’t want to do” etc does really work. It helps give clarity and as you say, releases you from the decision paralysis as you can see you’re making progress. I use this technique regularly with students who get stuck.

      1. Oh seriously no rush at all! I’m honored you’re even reading it! And I like your writing too! And I love the writing community we’re all in!

  4. This is such a simple perspective but one that we so easily forget! Thank you for the reminder and a unique new way of getting “unstuck” in life’s sticky moments. I’ve followed you for quite some time and your voice has developed very well, in my opinion. I hope you achieve the goals you set for yourself. You’re definitely putting in the work and have the talent! Thank you for the reminder that we will not achieve our dreams by only focusing on what we want but what we DON’T want as well. Sometimes eliminating a bad habit is just as or more important than implementing a good one.

    1. Thanks so much! It’s been a journey, but the journey is easier if you like what you’re doing – that’s Forsure. And I’m glad it helps – personally it helps me see things more clearly.

  5. I read somewhere that thinking what not to do (or what we do not want to happen) tells the brain that it is what we want because it does not understand the “not”.

    However, this is still a different take. Maybe it could work.

  6. I relate to the paralysis you speak of here. In fact, I experienced it for a hot second when I decided to comment on this post 🙂 I appreciate your enthusiasm and how you think. I look forward to reading more of what you put out there.

    1. So glad you did!I get the paralysis of analaysis all the time – the silver lining is, it shows you have an active brain. Thanks so much for reading.

  7. I want you to know that I had a terrible sobbing hot mess therapy yesterday talking about some issues at work. I keep thinking about this, what you wrote. I came back again today to reread it, and your words are in my head right now. I’m thinking.

  8. This is a very valuable post! I think that habit changing, affirming goals, and finding my authentic voice were my biggest necessities to keep going towards my writing goals!!

  9. This is exactly what I needed to here as I keep finding myself stuck in where I want to go with my creativity and so I guess I’ll start where I don’t want to go 😂 thank you so much!

  10. “The secret sauce to moving forward, apparently, is looking backward.” Love this post! I’m laughing already at my new tactic. When I’m asked, What is your goal for a good retirement? I usually say, Um. I don’t know. Now I’ll say, Break out the red pen and let’s stripe out what I don’t want.
    Seriously, you’ve given me a great strategy to stave off nit-picking financial planners and this is not even anything to do with my writing. Thank you.

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