‘tis nobler spends a lot of time thinking through the power and pitfalls of ‘Do’. It’s a simple word that, in the context of experiential learning and behavioural change, can be more complex and confusing than it is short. And, comprising just two letters, it is very short.
‘tis nobler spends a lot of time thinking through the power and pitfalls of ‘Don’t’. It’s a simple word – actually, it’s a contraction – that, in the context of experiential learning and behavioural change, is designed to make things simple through contraction. ‘Don’t’ is meant to simplify your options by reducing your choices. As a result, the power of ‘Don’t is confused rather than confusing; the power of ‘Don’t’ is a mess.
In this heartfelt song, Sharon Van Etten sings about the limitations of ‘don’t do it’:
And you want to do it,
And you want to do it,
If you want to do it,
You are going to do it,
Even if I don’t want you to
External avoidance requests or demands have some common ground with the shortcomings of internal suppression (see previous ’tis nobler posts here and here); essentially, they are ineffective. Avoidance instructions can produce either ironic or compensatory outcomes. Ironic outcomes are those that ‘disobey’ the avoidance instruction (in much the same that thought or behaviour suppression makes the thought or behaviour more likely). Compensatory outcomes, more properly over-compensatory, are those in which avoidance behaviour is exaggerated.
When told to avoid doing something when doing something else, there may be a pattern of ironic or over-compensatory behaviours. And this is where the mixed bag comes in. Research studies have shown that, for individuals, there is little, if any, pattern. At times, you will be ironic, at other times you will over-compensate and there appears no way to predict when either will occur.
Avoidance instructions may be well-intentioned but you cannot allow them to determine your behaviour in isolation. Rather than guiding more effective performance, they may distort it.
Ironic, isn’t it! And, if it is ironic, there’s no compensation. Unless you over-compensate, that is, for then there’s no irony. How will you avoid certain things without irony or over-compensation? Perhaps it is better to focus on what you have to do, not what you have to avoid.