Law of Contrast

Think in positive “do” statements rather than negative “don’t” statements.

Let’s try an experiment:

Whatever you do, don’t think of a pink elephant.

…let me guess. You thought of a pink elephant, didn’t you?

You probably did, and that’s normal. It’s because of something psychologists call the law of contrast, which teaches us that opposites are reminders of each other. It’s hard for our brains to think about something without also thinking about its opposite.

Here’s what this means for us in practice: it’s unrealistic to tell yourself to stop thinking about something. Because of the law of contrast, the more you try to suppress a thought, the more it actually brings that thought to your attention. The example I gave above is so well-known, in fact, that it’s sometimes referred to as the Pink Elephant Paradox.

This has huge implications when it comes to how we handle negative self-talk and intrusive thoughts. We can’t just tell ourselves to “stop thinking negative thoughts,” because per the law of contrast, trying to stop a thought will actually bring that thought to the front of your mind.

Here’s a better strategy for dealing with negative thoughts:

Think in positive “do” statements rather than negative “don’t” statements.

For example, instead of thinking something like, “don’t think about losing this match…”

…you’re better off thinking, “I’m a winner and an excellent grappler. I’m going to have a great match.”

If you focus on framing your thoughts as positive “do” affirmations, rather than negative “don’t” statements, you might see significant mindset and performance improvements.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers some great tools for identifying and challenging problematic thoughts.


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