A few days ago, Simon Sinek put up a video on LinkedIn.
Now, he’s far from the first to say this. He won’t be the last. But he said it recently, boldly and without qualification, so I’ll focus on him.
Just because I’m a fan of his work, that doesn’t mean I won’t call him out on his nonsense.
You’re probably heard this before:
“The brain can’t comprehend negatives. It’s incapable of it.”
He used that word – ‘incapable’.
What a baffling sentence – it contains negation. If the brain can’t understand negatives, you’d read it as the brain can understand negatives. Who first came up with this – someone from that island where princes always tell the truth and paupers always lie?
That’s why I rarely use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ – your neurology is vast and more complex than you can imagine. If you think there’s a hard limit in what your brain can do… how do you even know that? No one in the world understands brains in general, let alone yours.
Anyway, Sinek then offers proof – the classic “don’t think of an elephant” line.
For a brain incapable of understanding negatives, it’d hear him say to think of an elephant, then it does. Where’s the mystery?
Something must be understanding negatives here, otherwise this whole conversation is gibberish.
Then it gets weirder.
Usually, people talk about this to tell you to be careful with your thoughts and language. Focus on stating what you want, not what you don’t.
“I will not fail” brings your attention to failure. If your mind skips over the negative – which, yes, it can do, but not because it never understands it – it’s an instruction to fail.
“I will succeed” is a better way of phrasing it, for a few reasons.
But Sinek takes it in a weird direction. He says to beware your self-talk – good advice – but the examples he chooses are… well…
“I can’t get a part” and “I can’t do this”.
Uh… if the brain is incapable of processing negatives, those are fine.
For the first half of the video, most of what he says contradicts itself. It’s wrong and if it were true, what he says still wouldn’t make sense.
Inaccurate and internally inconsistent – if his speech were a movie, I’d have fun ripping it to shreds.
All of which is beside the point.
Because the real question is, how is his audience reacting to all this?
They’re lapping it up.
Is that because they’re morons or something? Ha, unlikely – Sinek’s messages get you thinking. Anyone who doesn’t like thinking would hate listening to him.
I think they’re enjoying his talk because it’s clear what his intention is. He wants you to focus less on the problems, the negatives and what you don’t want, and focus more on all the good stuff.
Clean up your self-talk.
Where you place your attention is what you move towards.
Stuff like that.
How he’s saying it might be riddled with logical paradoxes, but What he’s saying and Why he’s saying it shine through.
Huh, it’s almost as if he sees the Why as more important than the How.
Anyway, there’s a lesson for you here:
You might have some ambitious project in your life. It might be to write a book, build a house, raise a family or start a business.
The details can be overwhelming.
When they are, step back from the details – the ‘How’ – and focus more on What this project will achieve and Why you want that.
That’s a simple, crude yet effective way to bring your unconscious resources into it. You have near-limitless wells of motivation, energy, focus, creativity, grit and drive. How easily you can channel them shapes how successful you’ll be.
For advanced, precise and nuanced ways of accessing these resources…
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