Never Forget? Why Not "Always Remember"?

I hear so much talk of late to "Never Forget!" - yet for all it's bravado, such commanding messages do little, if anything, to help us actually remember. When's the last time you demanded yourself not to do something, which did not quickly degenerate into one failure after another? If such affirmations in the negative lack power to influence our own life, what sort of efficacy do you think they unleash upon an entire culture?
Never Forget? Affirmations stated in the Negative practically guarantee the opposite result.
Lest you think I'm a knit-picker, let me explain by way of a lesson on life I learned way back in 1981.

I had just picked up my first camera and was beginning to envision that a natural talent for seeing light could develop into a career. As I began to study photography I quickly grasped that merely excelling at my craft would not be enough - I needed to acquire not only savvy business sense, but a different way of looking at the world. Subsequently I was introduced to Nightingale Conant self-improvement materials, where I studied under such luminaries Brian TracyDenis Waitley and Zig Ziglar.
Brian Tracy, Denis Waitley & Zig Ziglar - Luminaries of Nightingale Conant
Though the insight I gained was fascinating and fresh, something Denis Waitley said spoke to me more than any other. It was like placing a powerful, wooden ship's wheel in the hands that directed my get the idea. In short, it promised an auspicious change of direction. It did, from that moment on.

What did Waitley say that altered my life so? It was a matter of focus.

As a the principle photographer and owner of Mark Jordan Photography in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, focus has been a primary objective of my occupation. Along the way I’ve been fortunate to earn the trust of the wonderful people here in Orange County, all the while practicing my particular style of focus for over three decades. Hopefully, this affords me a modicum of credibility with what I'd like to share.

Over the years I’ve related my story (actually an exercise of sorts) to thousands of photographers and friends throughout the country. It was out of Waitley's insights where I made a few extrapolations, and in the process created an object lesson. Please know that though my message has primarily been delivered to audiences of professionals, it is relevant to any person, regardless of station in life or religious perspective.

During a pivotal moment in my lecture (usually about thirty minutes before lunch), I direct my audience’s attention to the red strip of three-inch gaffers tape in front of my podium. The tape is affixed to the carpet and running the width of the first row of seats.

After giving everyone an opportunity to verify the presence of gaffers tape, I quickly ask how many of them believe they could, if asked, walk atop the tape, from beginning to end. And just as quickly as I ask, I see a sea of outstretched arms and open hands. I also hear a flurry of comments such as, "Piece of cake," "Slam dunk!" and "No problem!"

Tape-Walk - What's Your Focus?
This reaction is the same each and every time I pose the question: unanimity! Everyone, on every single occasion, is thoroughly convinced they could successfully traverse the thin red line. However, accompanying such banter as “it’s a breeze," "duck soup," and "no-brainer,” I also detect a tinge of suspicion - "What’s the catch?"  They'll soon see.

So then, you might be wondering, do I give them an opportunity to prove their self-confidence? You bet I do. I waste no time in getting everyone on their feet and to the front of the room. A line forms, some without shoes/socks, while others disburden themselves of any article that might hinder them on their 30 foot schlep. The only direction I give them is walk upon the tape from one end to the other. At the sound of my bell, their trek begins.

In all the years I've conducted this exercise I don’t recall a single person ever stumbling or going askew. As you might have guessed, my audiences are supremely justified in their blusters. They are successful at achieving their goal, 100% of the time.

As to their wariness regarding the intention of my exercise, they are about to be right again. The “catch” is right around the bend.

After returning to their seats, I immediately prompt them to discuss the components of their tape walk and describe any special techniques employed in its execution. Regardless of my probing, the answers are pretty much the same. Paraphrasing now: “we looked at the tape and put one foot in front of the other - it couldn't be easier”

No big surprise. After all, what is there to say? I mean, how easy can it be? You look down, you see the path, and you walk on it. No apparent obstacles or negative consequences for failure. Their attention is fixed on the task before them and they perform it flawlessly. They were right – it is a piece of cake.

Next, I ask them if they found it all peculiar that in the descriptions of their walk no one mentioned or referred to the carpet in any fashion. At no time, as in NEVER, did I hear anyone, not once, ever mention a word about the carpet. Why?

The resulting conversation inevitably and invariably is comprised of phrases about the utter lack of relevance to the task. They weren’t charged with gazing at the carpet but rather the thin red line. Therefore, what possible concern was it of theirs?

Little did they know the answer to this question would soon redefine the way they not only approached their craft, as photographers, but also how they viewed life and their response to the unlimited challenges it presents.

I continue: “Since you all feel this exercise is so effortless, do you think it would alter the degree of difficulty if I increased the distance of the tape? Say 100 feet? 500 yards? A mile?” Their answer, no matter to what length I offer to extend it, always comes back a resounding “No!” In other words, we have clearly establish that distance is not a factor to a successful walk upon the red tape.

Additionally, my audiences affirm that the only obstacle that could interfere with any length I might stipulate is hunger, thirst or a potty-break. It's at this point I take a break for all three, giving them ample time to refresh themselves and to mull over what is in store for them next.

About an hour later they return to find the room as they left it. Nothing's changed in the slightest. The tape too is as it was. Everyone agrees. Same carpet. Same tape. Same expectation: walk on the tape from beginning to end. "Except now," I tell them, "we were going to walk the tape back and forth, multiple times - merely to prove your conviction that length is truly not an issue."

Tape-Walk at South Rim of Grand Canyon
As they rise to their feet to again walk the line, I make one, very tiny exception to their expectation: “As you come forward, I have a little confession to make. I've got a 747 waiting at the airport for us all to board. It's going to whisk us away to Arizona, where we will then hop on a buss and take a quick ride to Arizona's most visited and treasured landmark - the Grand Canyon. When we arrive at the south rim, you're going to notice my red tape is also waiting for you there. Except this time...and here's the catch you've been expecting...besides the red tape being just a tad longer, it will be also be extended over the deepest gorge of canyon."

6,000 feet & 10 mile long Tape-Walk - "Piece of Cake"
A slide of their impending Tape Walk is then projected on a screen. All advances to the stage come to an abrupt halt.

“Please, there's no need to worry. Though your ten mile bridge will be hovering over a chasm of six thousand feet, I guarantee it will maintain a rigid, inflexible form to ensure a sturdy and enjoyable stroll."

Yet another slide appears.

"The width will also remain a whopping three inches, which you all agree is so effortless to traverse. The color will also retain it's bright hue to facilitate recognition and contrast from the canyon floor…” After a long silent pause, “Any takers?”

Whoosh! The sound of derrieres taking their seat is predictable. But why?

"Okay," I ask, "how about if I offer an incentive of cash? $1,000? $5,000? Anyone game at $10,000? Wow, no one? How about $100,000? Still no one? Hmm, what's going on here?"

Obviously, something has changed. The discussion that follows, though different in intensity and route, always gets us to the same conclusion. There was nothing to lose while walking on the carpet, but over the Grand Canyon, their very lives are at stake. No amount of money is worth risking their collective lives.

The really important question has yet to be asked. "So folks, let us return to the topic that began our little object lesson - focus!"

"When you were walking on the tape here in front of my podium, what was your primary focus?"

As expected, they always answer correctly: the tape! In fact when I then ask how it was none them mentioned a word about the carpet, they all repeat that it was irrelevant. The only vital aspect to their goal was focusing on the tape. "So then," I lean in,  "why is it when the tape is extended over the Grand Canyon are you so suddenly turning your focus on the canyon floor? What changed?"

I then present/write two words for their consideration: one is achieve, and the other is avoid. Without saying a word, I stare into everyone's face. I look back at the two words and then back to their faces. As the relevance slowly becomes clearer, the discussion gets louder.

"Who among you will admit they've told themselves something like, 'I never want to be like my mother!'? What happened?" Laughter ensues. "Did you ever stop to think why it is you became just like her?"

When we cite our heart's desire in the negative (i.e. what we want to avoid), we connect our synapses to the myriad of elements we DON'T WANT - and instead of corralling the essential attributes to make our dreams come true, we program our mind to become or acquire exactly that of which we focused our intent. I kindly suggest reflecting on this a bit.

A vital truth about the human mind is that is does discern positive from negative, only that what it's been programed to observe and search out. And what we focus upon is what we receive in return. Thus why you've heard it said, "Keep your eyes on the prize, not the obstacle." A good corollary to this is, "Attitude is everything - pick a good one."

In the example of vowing to never be like one's mother, when programed in the negative, the unsuspecting soul is set off upon a journey to identify the primary characteristics most disliked about mother. Subsequently, they are in effect programing themselves to be just like her. Not exactly a prescription for success.

So then, where does this leave us? In my lectures we reexamine the words Achieve and Avoid. This is done in relation to the type of behavior we employ in our daily lives. Achieving oriented or avoidance? Do we articulate our desires in phrases designed to avoid (fear based), or do we express our goals in terms of what we are most earnest in achieving (trust based).

I then wrap it all up by emphasizing the catalyst in the equation, Focus. In the Tape Walk, an Achieving behavior talks about walking on the red tape, then keeps their eyes affixed to it. On the other hand, Avoidance behavior states something like "do not fall off tape" while staring at that they wish to avoid - the carpet or chasm below. Both behaviors, staying on the tape or falling off, will be successful, as both are focusing on what they've programed their mind to perform or seek out.
What behavior will help you reach your goals? Avoiding or Achieving? Where is your Focus aimed?
At the risk of belaboring the point, there are two fundamental components to focus:
  1. Delineate precisely upon that you want to look.
  2. Define precisely every element in your view.
In summary, to increase one's odds of succeeding in any area of life, it's vital to express our desires in the positive - what we hope to do, not what we wish to avoid. Once we've clearly articulated our dreams, we must then direct our gaze, our focus, on precisely that what we wish to accomplish. Having established our focus, the rest is a matter of practice.

The next time you hear your self-talk nagging not to eat fatty foods, you'll quickly replace it with focusing on the foods that will make for a healthier you. It won't be but a few weeks where your mind will have been reprogrammed to seek out more nutritious foods. Same goes for when your significant other has left the house for the umpteenth time without their ____________. Screaming at them to not forget will only exacerbate the undesired behavior. Next time, try a different approach, "Honey, please remember to take your _____________?"

When your teenager is running out the door on a Friday night, rather than reciting a litany of behaviors not to do, simply give them a single overriding principle they can easily recall. We reminded our kids to "Please God" (which was soon shortened to just PG!). Sure, it's no guarantee they'll actually emulate godly behavior, but at least they won't be focusing on the itemized list of bad behaviors we've just implanted in their brain. We used to tell them to Have Fun, but soon discovered they had no trouble with that directive. Be Good, was also an option, however, "good" was open for too many untended interpretations...

So then, what does all this have to do with 9/11 and the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers? I too prefer that the world never forgets. But the best way to accomplish this is not by shouting "Never Forget" - but rather "___________ ___________!" I'll allow you to fill in the blank (psst, the blank fillers are in the title of this blog).

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