Children’s book authors often have much wisdom to share. Psychology Today writer Juliana Breines, Ph.D., remembers the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book series. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle took everything literally. For example, when asked to dust the furniture, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle would add dust to the furniture. Her employers quickly learned to ask her to please “un-dust” the furniture. As hilarious as this is, there is more to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle from which we, as adults, can benefit.
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Mrs. Piggle Wiggle also demonstrated the merits of reverse psychology. One of the children in Mrs. Pickle Wiggle’s care hated taking baths. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle suggested the child be allowed to forgo bathing as long as she wanted. The child became so dirty that radishes started growing in the soil packed up her arms. The behavior that she hated, bathing, suddenly had merit. She freely chose to take a bath and enjoy the benefits of bathing.
The lesson here is that when we feel forced to do something, we don’t want to. You may not like having to get up early to catch a train to get to work on time. It may be ill-advised to take reverse psychology too far in this scenario; the advice would be to not allow yourself to get up on time until you were in so much trouble at work that you actually wanted to.
You may harness the power of reverse psychology without risking job loss. Think clearly about what would happen if you got up late, missed the train, and arrived late to work on a daily basis. Go through everything that would happen in your mind and try to feel what it would be like.Think about:
- Getting yelled at.
- Resentment from coworkers and colleagues who no longer find you reliable.
- Job loss.
- Bills to pay.
- Collectors on the phone.
- Difficulty getting unemployment benefits.
- Eventual loss of your home.
You get the idea. Take some time to sit with how those things feel. Try to experience the fear or desolation of failure. The next thing you know, you may actually be bouncing out of bed in the morning not because you have to, but because you want to.
Another way of approaching the task of psyching yourself into success is to carefully consider how you word things.
Reactance Theory is based upon the idea that we don’t want to do things that we have to do. Just like the child with radishes growing on her arms, we want bathing to be our choice. We don’t want others mandating our behavior.
It may seem like splitting hairs, but it can help. Let’s go back to the example of getting up before dawn to get to work on time. You resent it because you have to do it. When you dislike being required to get up early, you may come to resent your employer for the seemingly unreasonable demand that you be at work on time.
In Reverse Psychology above, we used the power of emotion (fear of job loss) to remind us why we get up so early, and use the relief of a good job to make us want to get up. In Reactance Psychology, we simply change how we word and, therefore, perceive the situation.
- “I have to” is replaced with “I choose to.”
- “I must” is replaced with “I want.”
- Absolutes are replaced with more reasonable qualifications. “It has to be this way” is replaced with “it’s a good idea.”
Reactive Psychology removes the sense of pressure or impending doom, and gives many people more incentive to want to make the right choices.
50 Years Into the Future
Keep your eye on the long-term prize in order to get over the daily issues that you might not enjoy. Remembering who you are, where and why you are going often makes it much easier to work through inconveniences and imperfections in life. Remembering the delayed gratification you are working toward will help you want to do difficult things.
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