How saying there’s ‘No Way in Hell’ can move you in the right direction

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt is a poetry and prose writer who has lived in Prince William County since 1999. She has published six books and is working on a seventh. Learn more about her at, and follow her work on Facebook by searching #KatherinesCoffeehouse.

“There’s no way in hell I’m going to do the same thing my parents did.”

Whether you’re a parent or not, a lot of people think and say this. It’s not that we all had crappy parents. It’s just easier to see the mistakes they made because they made them on us. No, I’m not playing the blame game. Most children can pretty much say the same thing because no parent is perfect. My point here is, when it comes to motivation, sometimes it’s the “No way!” that gets us moving in the right direction.

“Now wait a second,” you say. A while back, we talked about how the mind only reads positive statements, that when we say, “Don’t do this,” the mind hears, “Do this!” So how can negative motivation possibly work?

It’s simple. Negative motivation can be the catalyst that pushes you in the direction of your goals. After that, strategic, positive statements need to take over. But negativity, if harnessed correctly, can be turned into a positive force to be reckoned with.

Here’s an example. When I was a kid, I went to a really strict private school for a few years. I must have had the meanest teacher alive, because she spent most of my eighth grade belittling me, telling me how I wasn’t anything like my older brother (whom she had taught before and apparently adored) and how I was a disappointment. Big blow to the self-esteem, right? Okay, now it’s decades later, and I have my own kids. I vow I will never, ever let my kids have a teacher like that. That’s the negative.

The positive? I was more proactive. I listened to my kids. I observed some of their classes. I went to parent-teacher conferences. I wasn’t a helicopter parent, but I checked in periodically to make sure everything was working well. And guess what? My kids made it through school without having the same issues I did. They had other issues (you can’t make it through school without having at least a few), but they had good teachers.

So now, I’m going to ask you to dabble in the negative a bit. Just dip your toes into a couple of bad memories. We’re not going to bathe in them or stay there. Just give yourself a reminder of something you don’t ever want to happen again.

Now, in one sentence, write it down.

For example, “I will never, ever let a boss get away with cussing at me.”

Okay. Now…what positive things might you try to help ensure that doesn’t happen? Write three to four steps you will take. But use positive language and make a simple, realistic plan.

For example:

1.  I use professional language, so my boss knows that’s one of my values.
2.  I speak to my colleagues with respect to show my boss I treat others the way I want to be treated.
3.  When I am angry, I communicate clearly and appropriately to my boss and anyone else around me to provide a model for the way in which I prefer to be spoken to.
4.  If my boss is headed in the direction of cussing at me, I calmly and politely redirect the conversation.

See how we took a negative situation and made positive steps to change it?

It’s really not so difficult – in theory, that is. So why don’t we do it more often?
·         We forget to practice the behaviors we outlined.
·         We fall back into old patterns, speaking in the negative instead of the positive.
·         We’re so accustomed to the negative that we get discouraged and start to feel doomed to a fate we didn’t choose.

The fix for this is to repeat the exercise again and again. You know how they say it takes 21 days or so to create a new habit? This is what you’re doing. If that means sitting down every day and writing the steps, then that’s what it means. This is how you’ll stay positively motivated. Yes, it will take effort. Yes, you will get discouraged. But keep at it. Believe in the process. It works.

What do you see when you ask,
“What if?”
when you look into the eyes of the possible,
the maybe,
the last hope
groping a forgotten face?  
Write it down,
there, in notebook, or on napkin.
Now, there’s a plan.
Ink has made it so.
You have made it so.
Look who approaches!
Success, wearing the smile
of a child,
my old friend.

Until next time,


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