Coues Law – the law of reversed effort.

This is a law of the mind and it simply states that when the conscious will is in conflict with the imagination it will lose – but only 100% of the time!

It is a vital law to understand in order to achieve any goal or outcome.

The reason being that in order to have the motivation, belief and energy to act and behave in the ways required to achieve an outcome, you need first to create emotions or feelings.

Emotions and feelings are the drivers of behaviour. We don’t do anything until we have first created enough desire to do it. And this is true for all of our beneficial – healthy behaviours as well as all of our vices.

For example.

  • We won’t make a sandwich until we create/generate enough desire or hunger to motivate ourselves to act (we do this through imagining what we’d like to eat).
  • We won’t call our ex drunk until we first generate enough anger/ pity / helplessness first.
  • We won’t start a diet until we create enough fear that something has to change or alternatively generate hope first.

What generates emotions and feelings more strongly than anything else is our imagination i.e what we picture / visualise or hear (our self talk) in our mind.

So if we want to achieve a goal and our imagination is focused on the fears, doubts and distress of not having achieved the goal (picturing what could go wrong etc), we’ll demotivate ourselves and actually create the feelings and emotions that cause us to act/go in the opposite direction of our preferred outcome.

An example of Coues Law in operation:

  • The will says “Don’t eat the chocolate cake”.
  • In order for your mind to process this statement it has to imagine you eating the chocolate cake before it can understand what you’re not to do.
  • But by then it’s too late. The very act of imagining the cake has created the corresponding emotions and feelings that go along with that picture. You might feel want/desire/fear/powerless to say no.
  • Emotions and feelings will drive your behaviour more than anything else, and you’re likely to end up eating the cake, all the while telling yourself “Don’t do it”.

This is an example of conflict. The will and the imagination are going in opposite directions, and what you are imagining is winning (because it has the stronger emotions).

The way to manage this law is to focus your imagination on what you want, not what you fear.

In this simple example you could say “Do eat the salad”, thus the will is saying what you want and the imagination is picturing you eating the salad and creating the feelings of vitality/achievement/pleasure etc that go with that picture (for you). So no conflict.

The whole mind is working congruently and creating what you want.

Think about how in the past, you attempted to motivate yourself by telling yourself what not to do.

Has it worked?


So you can begin to be effective by stating what you do want instead.

Here are some further examples:

Don’t smoke.                                     Do breathe easy. Do enjoy your break as a non-smoker.

Don’t get drunk.                               Do drink water. Do stay sober.

Don’t gamble.                                   Do lodge the cheque into your account.

Don’t spend the week’s wages on shoes.                             Do pay the rent.


If you would like to learn more call me on 207 9615 or email



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