Really? I just told you not to the read this story but here you are. Now you have to finish the story to find out why you and I tend to do stuff we were just told not to do. First let’s create a list of some frequently heard “don’t do” sayings and phrases. Give yourself a point for each of these you’ve been guilty of doing.
1. Don’t look now but... and of course, you immediately turn around to see what’s happening.
2. Don’t you dare talk back to me... and of course, you do because you have to have the last word.
3. Don’t touch - Wet Paint... yeah sure, you’ve never tested that warning sign!
4. Don’t Touch that... a challenge especially when it’s said by a sibling!
5. Don’t forget... doesn’t matter whether it’s milk, picking up something, or calling someone – you forgot, didn’t you?
6. Don’t you dare... a true “hold my beer” moment for sure.
7. Don’t tell anyone but... oh my god – pure torture but bet we’ve told someone and made them pinkie swear not to tell anyone else right?
8. Don’t mess with... the radio, the thermostat, the T.V. channel – just wait until you’re not looking!
9. Don’t be late... and of course we are late right?
10. Don’t speed... okay you can plead the fifth on this one if you want.
Back in 2017, there was an article on labroots.com written by Anthony Bouchard called “The Science Behind Why We Do Things We’re Told Not to Do.” As I understand his article, the reason we do something we’re told not to do is because of a psychological theory or concept known as “reactance.” As defined on psychology.iresearchnet.com it is defined as follows: “...reactance refers to the idea that people become upset when their freedom is threatened or eliminated, so much so that they attempt to reassert their lost freedom. The theory is relevant to the idea that humans are motivated to possess and preserve as many options and choices as possible. When people’s options are restricted, they experience aversive emotional consequences. Reactance is very similar to a layperson’s idea of reverse psychology: Humans will tend to do the opposite of what they are told to. Being ordered to do something by an external person or source implies that someone is trying to reduce one’s freedom. Reactance also refers to the idea that people will want something more if they are told they cannot have it. As a result, humans may act in a manner that will oppose a resistance presented to their freedom.”
And of course, we humans are not just stubborn and don’t want to be told what to do; we’re curious and according to Mr. Bouchard when you tell someone they can’t do or have something it actually acts as a motivation to make them want to do or have something even if they didn’t want it to begin with. So, whether it’s a salesperson telling you “you can’t afford this,” or a media source using click bait headlines like my story title above, or another person challenging you to not do this or that – it might just be wired into your brain to do the opposite of what they’re telling you not to do.
So, what was your score above? Have you learned to avoid the reverse psychology of the “Don’t Do” traps? Or are you like most of us and consciously or unconsciously seek to maintain your freedom of choice by doing the opposite of what you’re told? In any case now you know why you read this story. And this holiday season... try not to provide your parents, siblings, or children too many “hold my beer” opportunities with unnecessary “don’t do” sayings or phrases. Maybe substitute some “could you do” language instead.