Don't Do Don'ts--Do Do Dos
Minessence eZine #46 15 Feb, 2011

Keeping you Up-to-Date with Values R&D and Events—Paul Chippendale, Editor.


The truth will set us free. If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they’ll all reach the right conclusions.
     But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames…To be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit the frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. Why?
     Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have – the long-term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses of of our brains. Concepts are not something that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us. Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. -Lakoff 1

If  you are planning to run a values development program, using say the Minessence Values Framework (MVF) , to change peoples’ values, you are going to have to wrestle with brains which, by their very nature, have a vested interest in not allowing the beliefs, which structure thinking, to be challenged.

In this modern world, we hear daily of people who die for their beliefs – we call them terrorists or martyrs – which label you choose, for the same person, depends on your own beliefs.

Rather than engage in a futile attempt to change people’s values to those someone else believes to be important, go with the flow and make your values program about how people can more effectively live the values they already have.

"It doesn't matter what values you have, what matters is how you live them." -Paul Chippendale2

In formulating your values program, frames of meaning should be a very important consideration in designing its delivery.

Do do dos - Don’t do don’ts

Frames of meaning are networks of related concepts which enable us to make sense of the world. The term originates in the field of cognitive science. A neat concept mapping tool, CmapTools3, has been developed to help map people’s frames of meaning (from now on I’ll just call "frames of meaning", frames). Below is the concept map of the frame I have in my mind of the concept of frames:

Frames of Meaning

The interesting aspect of frames is that, to negate a frame is to evoke the frame. Thus, when we say don’t smoke, don’t drink and drive, don’t whatever, we are actually evoking the frame associated with the meaning of the 'whatever" which follows the word "don’t" and we are therefore putting the whatever 's frame foremost in their mind. So, saying, "don’t smoke" to a person actually evokes the frame associated with smoking in their head--just like switching on a set of Christmas tree lights and most lights are in the shape of an attractive aspect of smoking! Knowing this, I was not surprised when my son, who had never smoked, was given a homework diary by his high school which said, "don’t smoke," with a clever cartoon, on every second page. The message was clear--and, by the end of that school year, he and most of the class were smokers.

By telling people don’t do this, don’t do that, etc. we are actually evoking the frame in their head associated with the very thing we don’t want them to do – bad strategy! So in values development programs, focus instead on desired outcomes. Focus on where to go rather than on avoiding negative aspects of the past and present.  Help people make positive statements about what they want. For example, if  a person wants to lose weight, a positive meaningful objective for the person could be, "By September this year I will be fit and healthy and will be wearing size 10 clothes."

A whole new therapy has emerged based on this understanding of how the brain works. It’s called ACT–Acceptance and Commitment Therapy4. The main thrust of ACT is to accept that life is tough, then, rather than focussing on what we don’t want or don’t like, identify our priority values and commit to living them. ACT shifts people’s thoughts from undesirable frames to desirable frames. Not surprisingly, ACT is having outstanding success in all facets of people’s lives.

The Minessence Group have developed a non-therapeutic approach to ACT called ACCL–Acceptance, Commitment and Conscious Living5 which has application in people’s everyday lives.


  1. Lakoff, G. 2006, Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know your values and frame the debate, Scribe Short Books, Melbourne, p. 17.
  2. Chippendale, P.
  3. CmapTools is available as a free download from - it was developed by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (ihmc)
  4. Hayes, S. 2005, Get out of your mind & into your life, New Harbinger Publications
  5. Minessence Group, ACCL – Acceptance, Commitment and Conscious Living

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