The Law of Reversed Effort - An Idea Gives Birth to An Idea

Emile Coue (1857-1926) proposed his Law of Reversed Effort which suggests, even if you want something to happen but fear/imagine it won’t then, with all probability, it won’t. The idea gives birth to the idea.

Our imagination is influenced by our subconscious and makes sure that the efforts of the conscious will are opposed.

Consider the frustration of trying to remember someone’s name. You want to remember it (conscious will) but when it doesn’t spring to mind straight away you fear you won’t be able to remember it (imagination) and sure enough you can’t remember it. If you then take your mind away from it, you remove the imagination, and it is likely to pop into your thoughts.

A lot of the difficulties people have motivating themselves in life could be explained by the Law of Reversed Effort.

  • The smoker who wants to stop smoking but imagines that they are going to find it difficult no doubt will; imagination winning over conscious desire. 

  • The learner driver who wants to feel calm and relaxed during their test and imagines the opposite is quite likely to feel anxious. 

We can go a step further and say that psychosomatic symptoms are the result of negative suggestion. It is possible that the negative suggestion (which led to the problem) was given to them by themselves: auto-suggested.

Wait… this does not mean they decide consciously that they would develop this problem, that would be ridiculous. An individual can use the power of suggestion unconsciously.

For example, a person fears that something might happen and following the Law of Reversed Effort, it does. The idea gives birth to the idea.

Let’s imagine the acrophobic (fear of heights) who looks at the ladder and fears that once they begin to climb, they will experience that familiar panic. It is possible that they consciously fight that thought and begin to climb slowly up each rung of the ladder, but this is where The law of reversed effort comes into effect.

They unconsciously fear that they are going to panic, this influences their imagination and they imagine it happening. The conscious will (to not feel fear) and what they imagine (they will panic) are conflicted and sure enough, the imagination wins and they panic just as they feared they would.

The Law of Reversed effort is hugely important if we are to understand why quite often people are frustrated at their lack of success when they attempt to change their behaviour. Even though they want to change, if deep down they fear that they are likely to fail then they are going to feel a huge amount of frustration and beat themselves up about their lack of will power. The unconscious conflict will be sublimated into conscious frustration.

What if the need to maintain an unhelpful behaviour was held at an unconscious level? What if the symptoms someone wanted to remove were the unconscious mind’s way of preventing them from thinking about something else? It’s all unconscious, so how would you know? Surely any conscious attempts to change that behaviour would be met with internal conflict? Thinking about The Law of Reversed Effort: Do you think the behaviour change will be successful?


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