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For, Not Against

Being for something is more powerful and healthy than simply being against.

“I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.” —Mother Teresa

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Let’s start with the obvious: We live in contentious times.

No, I’m not about to start on another political rant. We’re surrounded by plenty of those lately. But I’ve noticed that folks on both sides of current political/economic/social issues lately are focused on what they’re against, rather than what they are for.

In the Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I teach, we call that “away from” motivation as opposed to “toward” motivation. “Away from”—being against something—motivation might get you fired up and act as a jumpstart. Anger can be healthy. But staying in anger is not only unhealthy but it’s ineffective.

In achieving what you want, whether it’s on a personal or global level, the toward motivation is much more effective for several reasons:

Against makes the path fuzzy: Say, you “don’t want to get fired.” Okay, what does that mean? Should you avoid running into the boss? Keep your head down? Avoid offering ideas that might get shot down? What does “not getting fired” even look like? Instead, what if you paused to figure out what you want? Maybe you decide “I want to be a valued employee.” Don’t you feel clearer about what you could do? You could offer money-saving ideas or give exceptional customer service. You could be a great team-player or mentor employees who are junior to you.

Test this out. Think of some issue, particularly some huge global issue, you’re upset about. Something happening that you don’t want. What can you do to prevent whatever it is from happening? Now, flip it around and think about what you really do want. You may not be able to resolve the entire issue, but can you think of some positive actions you could contribute to what you want?

Against is not sustainable: When you’re focused on what you want and how much you want it, your motivation stays steady until you reach your goal. But if you’re just moving away from the pain of what you don’t want, you’ll waver when the pain eases off. For example, people who are yo-yo dieters are often “against” being fat. If they drop a few pounds, their pain about being overweight isn’t as strong — and neither is their focus and motivation.

Think about your big global issue. If it got even just a little better, would you feel less passionately about it? Would you resign yourself to the “lesser evil?” Now imagine that great positive outcome. Do you think you might get excited about every small win along the way? Would that clear vision of what you want help to keep you moving forward?

Against doesn’t inform your unconscious mind. These days, most of us know that the unconscious mind can be a great ally in getting us what we want, right? The trick is that the unconscious communicates through images. When you tell your unconscious that you “don’t want to be broke,” it has trouble processing the negative. First it creates the image of “broke.” Then, if you haven’t given it a clear picture of what you want, it has to figure out what “not broke” might look like. And if you consistently think about and talk about being broke, your unconscious will focus on keeping “broke” alive in your life.

To get your unconscious on board and helping you with solutions, think again about one of those big issues you’re against. What is the flip side of that issue? What is it that you want? Give yourself a very clear picture of what you’d like to see. Then allow yourself to relax and let your unconscious generate ideas. You might even start with, “I don’t know how to create what I want. But if I did, what might that be? Where could I start?”

Against is tough on the body. When we’re focused on what we hate, fear, or what makes us angry, we feel stress, right? Our jaws clinch, our hearts pound, and we release hormones that prepare us for “flight or fight.” If we focus on what we don’t want constantly, this stress becomes chronic which contributes to all kinds of negative symptoms: anxiety, depression, headache, insomnia, high blood pressure, even putting you at higher risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Try an experiment: For just a moment, think about an issue that is making you crazy. Maybe it frightens you or makes you furious. Spend a few moments thinking about everything that is wrong and horrible about that issue. Now check in with your body: How does it feel?

Next, think about what you would like instead. What is the most positive outcome you can imagine? What would that look like, feel like? Really get into your image of how this issue could pan out in your perfect world. Check in with your body again. Which of the two—thinking about what you hate or what you’d love— feels the healthiest to you?

Lately, many of my students complain that they are so wrapped up and emotional about what they’re against, they can’t seem to shake it. If that’s you, here’s a suggestion to lessen the charge you feel:

  1. Go to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and bring your upsetting issue to mind.
  2. Create a picture in your mind that represents that issue to you, that thing you’re against. Step into your picture and make it vivid. Notice how you feel in that moment.
  3. Next, step out of the picture of the upsetting issue. Make it smaller and less vivid. Move it away from you until it is far in the distance the size of a postage stamp.
  4. Now think about the positive outcome you would like instead, even if you don’t see how that outcome is possible. (Remember, the positive outcome is not, “polluters all go away” but “the air and water are clean and healthy.”) Create a picture to represent that positive outcome to you. Step inside the picture and notice how you feel. Make it even more vivid.
  5. Step out of the picture leaving your body in it. It’s as if you’re now the audience enjoying a movie. Take some deep breaths and appreciate this outcome.
  6. Open your eyes and come back to the present moment. Spend a few moments jotting down your thoughts and feelings. You might have some ideas for positive actions you could take. You might feel more centered and hopeful.

Next time world events get to you, keep in mind that moving toward a positive solution, being for something, is much more powerful and healthy than simply being against.

“Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness." —Albert Camus

To your TOTAL empowerment!


Dr. Matt

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, he has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. Download his free special report, Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know to Achieve Your Goals. To reach Dr. James, e-mail him at or visit his blog.


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