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Are you controlling the recession, or is it controlling you?
by Bob Selden

When the going gets tough, we can either say "Well, that's life, I can't do much about it". Or, we can say "Things are tough, but I can win through".

It all depends on how we view the world.

Studies have shown that we are either positive or negative based on what's known as our "locus of control". Locus of control refers to a person's belief about what causes the good or bad results in his or her life, either in general or in a specific area such as health or business. It can either be internal (meaning the person believes that they control them self and their life), or external (meaning they believe that their environment, some higher power, or other people control their decisions and their life).

Our locus of control is learned and therefore, can be changed. My experience in working as a coach to club, national and international rowing coaches, shows that coaches can change their behaviour with their athletes, and improve the positive outlook they display and the performance of their athletes within 12 months!

This also works for example, with managers who want to improve the motivation of their team. It may also work for you in looking for the positives in these tough times.

How do we change our locus of control and consequently, outlook?

There are many training programs available. But, if you want a very simple method that you can start applying straight away, then changing the words you use in every day conversations can have a major impact.

For instance, getting rid of the word "don't" from your vocabulary and replacing it with the positive image of what you are suggesting, starts to make you far more positive in your outlook. Take a look at the following short statements and see what images you get when you read each one ...

- Don't drop it.

- Don't walk on the grass.

- In case of fire do not use lifts (elevators).

In the first statement, the only image that comes to mind is the picture of "dropping something". And quite often the negative consequences of what we have just done and our previous negative experiences of dropping something, particularly when we were children.

The image that the second statement conjures up is of a person "walking on the grass", not the footpath as the message intends ("footpath" is never mentioned!).

And in the third example, the only thing we can visualise is the "lift" or "elevator". In fact, studies have shown that when there is a fire emergency and the vestibule or foyer starts to fill with smoke, the only word that people recognise in these types of signs, is "lift". People immediately head straight for the lift and not the emergency exit as was intended. Some authorities have now changed their signage to read "In case of fire, use the emergency exit pictured in this diagram" (notice that in this new example the word "lift" is not used at all).

Start to get the picture? In each of the original statements, the speaker and the receiver visualise and think of exactly the opposite (and negative) action that should be taken. And so that's what they do - act negatively.

Look at the way a person with an internal locus of control, might express the three statements ...

- Hold on to the glass very carefully.

- Walk on the footpath.

- In case of fire use the fire exit described in the following diagram.

In these new statements, both the sender and the receiver get the positive message immediately.

Can this technique work for you?

In follow up interviews with the athletes of the rowing coaches mentioned earlier, there were some outstanding results. Without exception, the athletes all expressed the theme that "She has really changed over the last 12 months. We are not sure what you included in your training with our coach, but she is so much more positive these days. We really enjoy being coached by her".

Is it easy to replace "don't" with a positive image?

In theory, yes. But in my own case, it took me about 12 months. Occasionally, I still find myself using a "don't", but when I do, an "alarm bell" goes off in my brain and I immediately rephrase my statement to the positive image I want to get across. As a result, over the last few years, people have commented to me "Bob, you seem to be such a positive person. Even when you are faced with adversity or a real problem , you always seem to take a positive approach. I really enjoy working with you".

So if you are looking to take more control over what might be happening to you, and in the process, become more positive, this one simple technique can really help.

Bob Selden may be contacted at
Bob Selden is the author of the newly published "What To Do When You Become The Boss" - a self help book for new managers. He also coaches at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney. You can contact Bob via


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