How to emphasise the positive

By Dr Alex Cheung, Master Trainer of NLP

This is the final article in a six-part series focusing on various ways that neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can be applied in today's business world.

Developing the power of positive thought is a key step towards achieving our goals

Companies and enterprises like to set short-term targets and long-term goals for their organisations so that employees can direct their efforts towards achieving the corporate mission. How, though, do we view these missions? As "Mission Impossible" or "Mission Positive"? Well, that very much depends on our mindset. If we are not careful, our worries can too often become a self-fulfilling prophecy, propelling us towards what we fear most.

In the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we prefer to describe desired results as "outcomes". To get what we want in our personal and professional lives, these outcomes need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related. Thinking in outcomes sets a direction and a purpose for our actions and moves us forward. Many managers, however, focus their energy and attention on problems, concentrating on what is wrong. They get sidetracked into examining the history, cost and consequences of problems and deciding whom to blame.

Outcome thinking shifts our attention from "What is wrong?" to "What do we want?" and "How do we get what we want?" Once a problem is defined, outcome thinking can lead us towards solutions in a structured way.

How then can we best maintain a positive attitude and focus on outcomes? Firstly, we must eliminate our negative thoughts. We should think of our mind as a garden which has both flowers and weeds. Flowers represent the positive thoughts of which there are many. There are, though, also weeds, or negative thoughts, which will choke the flowers if they are given the chance. So, like a gardener, we should regularly weed out our mind's negative thoughts. By doing a little "gardening" every day, we can keep feeling confident and assertive.

There are several techniques to weed out negative thoughts:

1. The "switch"
Imagine there is an invisible switch inside our mind that turns on positive thoughts and feelings. When we encounter setbacks or problems and start to feel bad for any reason, we should remind ourselves, "It is time to flick the switch."

2. Constructive activity
We should reassure ourselves that, when the switch is on, positive thoughts will flow. Sometimes, though, we have to be patient and need to pay extra attention to perceive them. While waiting, we can still do some constructive physical activity to shift our focus away from the problem.

3. Changing the video
If a current situation is generating negative thoughts, we can always imagine ourselves watching a videotape. If we feel uncomfortable in a particular scene, we can "replace" the videotape by rewriting the scene with the same characters but with a different, far more enjoyable script, and then visualise a successful outcome.

4. The "cannonball" method
Imagine that you can put your negative thoughts in a cannon. Fire the cannon and shoot the ball high out over the ocean. Picture your problems hitting the water and sinking out of sight! If they return at any point in the future, just fire them off again until they disappear and are lost forever.

5. The "opposite thought" method
Invalidate any negative thought with a positive one which is the exact opposite. If we think, "I have no idea how to resolve the present situation", we should tell ourselves instead, "I have many brilliant ideas for tackling this problem". We can choose to direct our own thoughts, even if we still have to turn them into reality. Concentrating on the new positive thoughts for a few minutes will chase the negative thoughts away.

6. Using affirmations
Affirmations are very effective for transforming thoughts from negative to positive. Their relationship is like that of film negatives and sunlight: when exposed to sunlight, all film negatives are destroyed and no pictures can be developed. It is the same with negative thoughts and affirmations! We can create a simple but powerful affirmation statement for ourselves, like:
If I think I can, I can.
If it is to be, it is up to me!
Every problem has a solution.

It is important that we eliminate negative thoughts or emotional states before making rash decisions or taking hasty action. We should keep our expectations positive because they too have a tendency to be self-fulfilling prophecies. What we think about and expect is often what happens. Hence, thinking positively prepares us to be "Mission Positive".

Dr Alex Cheung FHKIE, FCMI, FInstAM, FHKIoD, FIOSH is a chartered engineer with more than 30 years experience. He has been appointed to serve on advisory boards and committees with many reputable universities and public organisations. Currently Dr Cheung is a Master Trainer of NLP and actively promoting Behaviour Psychology to unleash people's inner potential. For information please visit or contact Alex Cheung at

Taken from Career Times 10 September 2004
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