On Negative Target Fixation

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On Negative Target Fixation

When I was a young engi­neer, I had just started at a new com­pany and, as part of my ori­en­ta­tion, we attended a pre­sen­ta­tion by the com­pany CEO, who was a won­der­ful moti­va­tional speaker. His talk was about “Neg­a­tive Tar­get Fix­a­tion,” in which he related the story of ama­teur pilots who, some­time have to do an emer­gency land­ing in a wide-​open field with a sin­gle tree in it, and while they’re think­ing “don’t hit the tree,” wind up hit­ting the tree. The very act of focus­ing on what you don’t want to hap­pen can pre­vent you from accom­plish­ing your goal. I was tak­ing notes through­out the talk and, to my hor­ror, real­ized that I had actu­ally writ­ten down “avoid Neg­a­tive Tar­get Fix­a­tion.” Of course, by fram­ing it in that way, I had made “Neg­a­tive Tar­get Fix­a­tion” the metaphor­i­cal tree in my own “wide-​open field.” I’ve tried to be cog­nizant of this irony over the years since then.

One might say that “Neg­a­tive Tar­get Fix­a­tion” is what cost Hillary the 2016 elec­tion. It’s become almost a cliché that polit­i­cal can­di­dates can’t just say what they’re against, they have to say what they’re for. How­ever, with all the talk of the midterm “Blue Wave,” the Repub­li­cans find them­selves in an inter­est­ing sit­u­a­tion, mostly because when they claim to be “for” some­thing, no one believes them anymore.

I will freely admit that I was anti-​Trump in 2016 right up until he won the nom­i­na­tion. Once that hap­pened, my elec­toral “wide-​open field” was one in which Hillary was not pres­i­dent, so I voted for Trum. For the midterm, the Left is com­pletely focused on the Neg­a­tive Tar­get of allow­ing Trump to con­tinue to gov­ern. Even though there is no hard evi­dence that the pres­i­dent did any­thing ille­gal, the “impeach­ment” mantra per­sists if the Democ­rats take over the House, even though there is absolutely no pos­si­bil­ity of con­vic­tion in the Sen­ate. I keep hop­ing that enough vot­ers will rec­og­nize the tree in the mid­dle of this elec­toral field and that the Repub­li­cans will be able to give them a pos­i­tive mes­sage for which to vote. I can’t say I’m opti­mistic that either side will rise to the occasion.

When I was a young engineer, I had just started at a new company and, as part of my orientation, we attended a presentation by the company CEO, who was a wonderful motivational speaker. His talk was about “Negative Target Fixation,” in which he related the story of amateur pilots who, sometime have to do an emergency landing in a wide-open field with a single tree in it, and while they’re thinking “don’t hit the tree,” wind up hitting the tree. The very act of focusing on what you don’t want to happen can prevent you from accomplishing your goal. I was taking notes throughout the talk and, to my horror, realized that I had actually written down “avoid Negative Target Fixation.” Of course, by framing it in that way, I had made “Negative Target Fixation” the metaphorical tree in my own “wide-open field.” I’ve tried to be cognizant of this irony over the years since then.

One might say that “Negative Target Fixation” is what cost Hillary the 2016 election. It’s become almost a cliché that political candidates can’t just say what they’re against, they have to say what they’re for. However, with all the talk of the midterm “Blue Wave,” the Republicans find themselves in an interesting situation, mostly because when they claim to be “for” something, no one believes them anymore.

I will freely admit that I was anti-Trump in 2016 right up until he won the nomination. Once that happened, my electoral “wide-open field” was one in which Hillary was not president, so I voted for Trum. For the midterm, the Left is completely focused on the Negative Target of allowing Trump to continue to govern. Even though there is no hard evidence that the president did anything illegal, the “impeachment” mantra persists if the Democrats take over the House, even though there is absolutely no possibility of conviction in the Senate. I keep hoping that enough voters will recognize the tree in the middle of this electoral field and that the Republicans will be able to give them a positive message for which to vote. I can’t say I’m optimistic that either side will rise to the occasion.