The Reverse Of An Idea Almost Lost the Series

The Reverse of an IdeaAll Hail the Chicago Cubs. After more than a century of futility and broken dreams, Cubs fans are dancing on Waveland Avenue. Their team finally overcame the curse of the Billy Goat and Steve Bartman to win their first World Series title in 108 years.

Last night’s Game 7 was a nail biter for Chicago fans. The Cubs blew a 3-run lead late in the game. Closer Aroldis Chapman made a mistake, throwing low and inside, right into Rajai Davis’ wheelhouse. Davis hit it out of the park, sending the game to extra innings and Chapman to the bench.

Fortunately for him, the Cubs rallied in the 10th, and from the dugout Chapman watched his teammates pull out the game and win the series.

The same thing happened in the 1957 World Series. In the 9th inning of Game 4, Hall of Fame Braves pitcher Warren Spahn was trying not to blow a 3-run lead. With two men on and two outs, Yankee slugger Elston Howard stepped to the plate. Braves manager Fred Haney came out to the mound to give Spahn this helpful advice:

“Whatever you do, don’t pitch him high and outside.”

Spahn, being a great player but a normal human, tries to avoid Howard’s wheelhouse and follow the advice. But he can’t. Because in the moment, trying to execute the reverse of an idea is a difficult task. Spahn’s body responds by throwing exactly what was heard – high and outside.

Elston Howard’s body responds with a 3-run homer to tie it up. The game is sent to extra innings and Spahn is sent to the bench.

Watching the rest of the game from the dugout, Spahn has time to reflect. “Why did he have to say it to me that way?” he thinks. Fortunately for him the Braves come back to win the game in the 10th and go on to win the Series.

But Spahn would forever ponder that moment. He would often ask, “Why would anyone ever try to motivate someone with the reverse of what they want?”

The Reverse of an Idea

Ever have someone tell you what not to do?  It freezes your brain a moment as you figure out what to do. While your conscious mind untangles the puzzle, the rest of you has to act. You’ll usually move in the direction of your most dominant thought, and do the very thing you’re trying not to do. The Reverse of an Idea is confusing.

Try this experiment. Hand your kid something fragile and expensive and say, “Don’t drop this”, then go get the dustpan and bandages. Cause sure as hell that kid’s going to destroy your Ming vase or hurt himself trying not to.

Much better to say, “Hold on tight!” That’s a clear, actionable idea.

We often frame situations poorly by telling ourselves what we don’t want or what we shouldn’t do. These are confusing messages. Our brains will trip up and fail us. What we need at times like this is clear language that frames our situation in a successful light.

What we should tell ourselves

Instead of confusing our brains with the reverse of what we want, let’s figure out what we do want and say that. For example:

Don’t quit = Keep going

Don’t be late = Be on time

Don’t fumble = Hold on to the ball

Don’t waste your money = Invest your money wisely

Don’t forget to vote = Get your ass to the polls!

The Point

Remember, we humans are basically very simple creatures. Tell us what you want us to do, and that’s what we’ll usually do. Confuse us with the reverse of an idea, and you’ll plant the seed of failure in our minds and sabotage your brilliant plans for us.

This goes double for Manic Impressive types. We’re easily distracted to begin with. So if we’re trying really hard to succeed while admonishing ourselves with “Don’t blow it” self-talk, we’re most likely to end up in a slow motion disaster sequence that leads to blowing whatever it is. Epicly.

So let’s congratulate those Cubs fans. They were white-knuckling it last night, praying their team wouldn’t blow it again. Tip your cap to Aroldis Chapman who, like Warren Spahn before him, suffered through a mistake that nearly cost his team a championship.

Then most of all, let’s cheer those Cubs. They woke up today and finally found themselves, for the first time in over a century, the reverse of losers.


7 thoughts on “The Reverse Of An Idea Almost Lost the Series”

  1. Reverse psychology. Why is it so effective? Sports. Kids. In so many areas of life it is present. A kid starving for attention, will do anything to get it, even immerse in negative behavior, because consequences still bring attention. Why must desire of something involve negativity to procure a positive reaction? Maybe it’s in our nature, to overcome a challenge issued with negativity, to make us into something great! Is is part of the struggle? To all: be great in spite of negativity. Go get ’em … and be successful!!! Hit a home run!!!!!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Nicole. I think it is in our nature to struggle. Life is a giant puzzle and we’re here to figure it out – at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m searching for a clue…

  2. Aram, well said. I see this all the time at work and in life. Our brain can’t process “not”. Putting it all in the positive is more powerful and effective.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Fred. I fight this battle at work too. I have to refocus people with, “Okay, now what CAN you/we do?”

  3. I don’t get why always saying not is negative but never saying not is not negative.

    Sigh… Life is never not unclear…

    Thanks for not avoiding reminding me Aram… (Seriously, thanks!!)

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