Change Your Feelings by Changing HOW You Think (Rather Than WHAT You Think)

>> Sunday

A BRANCH OF PSYCHOLOGY called neurolinguistic programming has made an interesting and useful discovery: You can change the way you imagine or remember things without changing what you imagine, and it will change your feelings.

For example, if a visual memory makes you sad whenever you think about it, you can make that mental picture smaller and dimmer, and when you do, the memory won’t make you as sad. Since you haven’t changed the content of the memory, you haven’t lost any information. You’ve simply made it less painful.

When you visually remember a pleasant memory, you can make the picture more colorful and the memory will give you even more intense good feelings. You can make your pictures of the future brighter, wider, deeper, or you can bring the images closer. Changes like these will make you feel different — even when you leave the content of the picture the same.

These are general guidelines. You’ll need to experiment for yourself to find out what will work for a particular image. For a few people, making an exciting picture brighter makes the feelings less intense. And for some kinds of pictures, increasing the brightness would cause the feelings to become less intense — for example, a romantic memory.

What is true for visual images also applies to the way you talk to yourself. For example, if you have trouble motivating yourself, try changing the tone of voice you use when you speak to yourself. Some people order themselves around. The voice they use to talk to themselves is harsh and commanding. Listening to yourself being bossy can have the same effect as listening to someone else being bossy: It can make you want to rebel. Change your tone to friendly or seductive, and you might feel more motivated.

When you tell yourself, “I can do it,” fill your internal voice with enthusiasm and back it up with inspiring music. The possibilities are virtually endless.

The important thing to understand is that the way you code your inner world has an impact, and you have quite a bit of control over that coding. You can change it deliberately. When you do, it will change your feelings, which will change your actions, which will change the world around you.

This is a chapter from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.


When You've Tried And Failed Again And Again And You Feel Like Giving Up Because You Think Your Goal Can Never Happen, Read This

It's an piece I wrote for myself, to renew my determination when my goal seemed too hopeless.

Read it and recognize that in all likelihood, you can accomplish far more than you think you can, especially when your thinking was turned negative by a setback or failure.

Read it now: Never Give Up.


Good Mood Fundamentals

>> Tuesday

I POSED MYSELF the question: "Of all the things I know that are practical and really help improve my mood and make me more effective in the world, what principles are the most solid and effective? If I could only apply three main principles, which ones would I apply? Which ones are the most reliable?" Here's what I came up with:

1. Purpose Focus
Constantly bring your attention back to your purpose. At any given time, be clear what your purpose is for the task you are engaged in. Know what you are aiming at. As much as possible, make your purposes something you want rather than something you feel you should do. And focus your attention on what you want rather than what you don't want. Spend time thinking and planning about your purpose. And spend a lot of time working toward that purpose.

2. Anti-Negativity
Aggressively criticize your negative thoughts. Don't try to be positive; try to be accurate. It is easier to do this on paper than in your head for many reasons. Use the 22 virus definitions from the antivirus for your mind to give you an idea of how to criticize your thoughts. But you don't really need anything other than the will to criticize your own negativity. Find mistakes in your pessimistic thoughts. Dig into your negative assumptions and find the errors. This can and will make a huge difference in your mood over time.

3. Self-Coaching
Talk to yourself in a way that creates motivation and a strong determination to take intelligent action. Deliberately take over your stream of thought. Use mottos and slogans. Practice thinking things; use repetition to make the new thoughts familiar and comfortable and natural. Talk to yourself in a way that creates or intensifies your motivation.

You'll see these three principles woven throughout the pages of Whenever I find something that really works, it almost always involves one of these elements. There are other things that help, of course, but I've found it extremely useful to have chopped it down into the most simple and basic elements, and these are the ones I've found to be the most reliably helpful, applied in an almost unlimited number of ways.

If you already know the principles and apply them, then use to boost your conviction and motivation to keep on doing what you already know works. If you know the material but don't apply it, then let this site motivate you to get to work. And if you come across something new here, that's great too. But whatever you do in your life, keep to the basics — the simple, the practical, and the effective. Here's why.


How to Reduce Suffering and Feel Good More Often

>> Friday

BUDDHISM EMPHASIZES non-attachment as a "way of liberation." Non-attachment is a way to rid your life of unnecessary unhappiness. It's a way to become happier. And it works. But how?

To see how it works, let's first look at how attachment creates moments of unhappiness that are completely unnecessary. The main source of the unhappiness is the ideas we hold. Human beings get attached to ideas — ideas about who they are, what's the best way to live, ideas about what other people should be like, and so on — and our attachment to those ideas causes most of our day-to-day suffering.

I know it seems like the circumstances and reality cause your suffering, and it seems that other people really should act differently, and if they did we wouldn't suffer as much. But it is our ideas about reality that causes the suffering, not the reality itself.

When you change your ideas about something, it changes the way you feel about it.

Of course, I'm not talking about physical pain. If someone hits you, it is the punch that causes the pain. But suffering or unhappiness can be caused by your own thoughts about the person who hit you long after the pain from the punch has gone away. So the method I am about to explain may not be very effective for handling physical pain. But it does work with unhappiness and anxiety. And it works very, very well.

Buddhism has been around for a long time, but that doesn't make it worth anything. A lot of stuff that's been handed down for thousands of years is worthless nonsense. Just because something is ancient doesn't make it automatically good or bad.

But once in awhile some ancient knowledge turns out to be right on the mark, and this is one of those. If you could become non-attached to the ideas in your head, you'd be blissfully happy just sitting there doing nothing more than breathing. No kidding.

Of course that's not easy, and that's why not many of us have been able to do it. But the better you are at unattaching yourself from an idea, the happier and less stressed you will be. Gains in this area make a big difference.

Those people spending years meditating in Zen monasteries for ten hours a day are doing what? They're learning to catch themselves attaching to an idea and they are learning to detach. That's it. That's all they're doing. Do it enough and you're enlightened.

But you can practice it without sitting down and crossing your legs. You can do it anytime during the day. And the best time to do it (the time when it will make the most difference to your happiness) is when you're experiencing some form of stress.

You can also do it when you meditate. As you begin repeating your mantra or paying attention to your breath, your mind will wander. Your mind will drift to another subject, and you won't want to come back to the "boring" task of thinking a mantra. This is why meditation is good practice in non-attachment, because to do something boring, you have to become unattached to the ideas about boredom, suffering, discomfort, entertainment, what's interesting, and so on.

When you're meditating and you get lost in a little imaginary conversation with someone, and then you realize you have stopped focusing on your mantra, you don't want to stop imagining this conversation right in the middle of it. You're attached to the conversation. But you pull your attention away from it (detach) and return to your mantra. Over and over again.

You do the same thing with your beliefs every day. You are attached — you cling with intensity — to the ideas you hold. And you don't want to let go of them. And so you hang on, and you suffer.

As a matter of fact, all you have to do is pay attention when you feel stress. At the moment of stress, there is a 99.9% chance you are clinging to an idea. Ask yourself, What idea am I clinging to?

Think about it. There is one. If you are stressed, there is an idea you are holding onto.

Then ask yourself, Is it worth the stress? Is it worth the stress to hang on to the idea? About 80% of the time, it won't be, and you can let the idea go. I don't mean try to forget the idea. I mean just don't cling to it. It's just an idea.

For example, I went for a hike today. I injured both my knees a few months ago, and I have been slowly rehabilitating them. I miss running hard. I miss that great feeling afterwards. So I'm in a hurry to heal up. The problem is, healing doesn't speed up just because I'm in a hurry.

So as I was hiking, I was pushing myself out of impatience, and it hurt. But I didn't want to go slow, so I kept pushing myself. Then it occurred to me I was feeling stress. I felt impatient and frustrated.

So I asked myself the question, What idea am I clinging to? The answer was obvious: I want to heal as soon as possible.

Next question: Is it worth the stress? In this case (as in most cases) no it wasn't. I doubt if it was helping me heal faster anyway. And it was not enjoyable. Here I was walking, more mobile than I've been in a long time, and I wasn't enjoying it. I was pushing myself.

So I said to myself, Okay, that's it. Even if this did heal me up a little faster, it's not worth it. I let it go. My frustration went away. And I slowed down.

I didn't have to slow down much before the pain in my knees went away, and I had an enjoyable hike after that. I'm sure it did me good, and now that I've become somewhat detached from my idea about hurrying my healing, it's easier to consider the possibility that pushing myself might actually slow my healing. I don't know if that's true, but I can see now it's quite possibly true, and it isn't an idea I had been able to consider when I was attached to the "heal fast" idea.

My suffering, my frustration, had been caused by an idea. I assumed it was caused by the objective conditions. I took for granted that my frustration was caused by the injury and the damper that injury put on my mobility. But my unhappiness was actually caused by my attachment to the idea that I must heal up faster than I was healing.

Here's a verse from the Dhammapada (a book of sayings usually attributed to Buddha):

The craving of a person who lives heedlessly
Grows like a maluva creeper.
He moves from beyond to beyond,
Like a monkey, in a forest, wishing for fruit.

Whomsoever in the world
This childish entangled craving overcomes,
His sorrows grow,
Like birana grass, well rained upon.

But whosoever in the world
Overcomes this childish craving, hard to get beyond,
From him, sorrows fall away,
Like drops of water from a lotus leaf.

This is poetry, and it is obviously Eastern, but it says something important: Greed makes people unhappy. Craving makes people unhappy. Greed and craving are simply the process of holding onto ideas. And clinging to ideas causes sorrow and unhappiness. You realize, of course, that you do this, right? All of us do it.

Once in awhile something happens to some people and they get a chance to realize this great truth. Some people get it when they are diagnosed with cancer. Or a parent dies.

In the book, Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, Steven Callahan wrote with great poignancy on this truth. Callahan was sailing across the Atlantic alone when his boat struck something and sank. He was set adrift on a rubber life raft for seventy-six days of difficult struggle.

In a calm moment between storms and shark attacks, he gets the chance to drink some water, which he rations very carefully because he doesn't have very much. In these moments of peace, he wrote,

"deprivation seems a strange sort of gift. I find food in a couple hours of fishing each day, and I seek shelter in a rubber tent. How unnecessarily complicated my past life seems. For the first time, I clearly see a vast difference between human needs and human wants. Before this voyage, I always had what I needed — food, shelter, clothing, and companionship — yet I was often dissatisfied when I didn't get everything I wanted, when people didn't meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted, or when I couldn't acquire some material goody. My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness."

This is wisdom. And pretty much everyone knows it. But our biology drives us to pursue acquisition anyway.

When Thor Hyradal (author of Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft) was young, he went to live with nature on an island in the South Pacific, just him and his girlfriend. On the little boat that took them to a remote island, the captain of the boat told Hyradal about the islanders and their lust for material goodies: "It's all crazy, but they want it like everybody else. I detest our own civilization; that's why I'm here. Yet I spread it from island to island. They want it, once they have a taste of it…"

The captain seemed exasperated. "Why do they want sewing-machines and tricycles," he exclaimed, "or underclothing and canned salmon? They don't need any of it…The needs increase. The expenditure. Then they have to work although they hate it. To earn money they don't need."

The native peoples had lived a kind of life many of us yearn for. They lived in beautiful surroundings. They had an abundance of natural sources of food. They had to spend very little of their time "working" for a living. And as long as the temptations of civilization weren't available, they were happy.

But then they saw things they wanted. The wanting created their unhappiness.

avoid avoiding

I told all this once to a friend of mine, Richard, and he had a question: "When I ask the second question, Is it worth the stress? and the answer is no, then what? My mind will have nowhere to go."

That's a good question because when you discover yourself clinging to an idea and you know it's causing you stress, you won't want to cling to the idea any more. So far so good, but if you try to avoid thinking about something, that thought will come up more often than if you don't try to resist thinking about it. There are a lot of experiments showing this to be the case.

The more you try to suppress a thought, the more obsessional the thought becomes. Trying to avoid it makes it impossible to get away from.

So my answer to Richard was: "Get your mind interested in something else. Your mind is in some ways like a little kid. Have you ever seen what parents do when little Johnny wants to chew on the tablecloth?"

"Yes," he said, "They hand him a toy or do something that puts his attention on something else."

"Right. And if what they divert his attention to captures his interest, he forgets all about the tablecloth. We haven't changed much since we were kids. The same thing works now."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, instead of grabbing the tablecloth out of your mouth, so to speak, and having your mind throw a fit, hand it a toy: Tag a slogan onto the end of it."

"Like what?" asked Richard, now looking pensive, "Are some better for this than others?"

"Yes. Slogans that put your mind on a purpose are best. Stay on track, for example. Or a good question: What is my goal here? Or simply state your purpose and start getting to work on it"

In other words, do not try. Do not use force. Don't try to force the idea you've been clinging to out of your mind, or try to "let it go."

Force itself is a form of clinging, and just causes more stress.

One of the things you learn when you're meditating is that the mind concentrates best when you do not try. Researchers using biofeedback equipment to train people to lower their blood pressure find that the only people who can't do it are those who try really hard.

Your mind works best relaxed. So you repeat your mantra, and you will find your mind drifts. When you notice it, you gently bring your mind back to repeating the mantra.

If you use effort, your mind will wander even more. You cannot concentrate by using strong effort.

Now bring the ability you've learned in meditation to the situation that's causing you stress.

When you have something you're clinging to and it's causing you stress, use your purpose as a kind of mantra. Keep gently bringing your mind back to your purpose. When you find it wanders, bring it back again. And again, and again. But each time without any force or effort.

It is a subtle skill, but you will learn it with practice. If you don't learn it fast enough, do not try to force yourself to learn it faster, because that'll take you further from it.

There is a phenomenon in chemistry called dilatancy. It occurs when certain kinds of fluids react to pressure. The more pressure you put on the liquid, the more it solidifies. In other words, you can easily stir it slowly, but when you try to stir it quickly, it becomes very difficult to stir at all.

Some things in life work like that. The harder you push, the less you gain. Here we have one of those. When you try not to think of something, you will think of it all the more. But when you don't worry about it and get involved in something else, your mind lets go of what it was thinking about easily.


The question always comes up: Won't the practice of non-attachment prevent you from accomplishing your goals? This is an important question. It is often pointed out by successful people that they were "driven" to succeed, that they had a burning desire, that the goal had become a necessity. They are obviously describing a solid attachment to an idea: I must succeed.

While someone can surely accomplish something with attachment, it is not necessary, and it's a rather stressful way of going about it. Listen to what Gandhi said about this. He was a man who knew something about accomplishment. He accomplished what no one thought was possible. He said,

"He who is ever brooding over the result, often loses nerve in the performance of duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to the objects of the senses; he is ever distracted, he says good-bye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end."

Gandhi is saying that not only does a lack of clinging not hinder accomplishment, it actually makes you more effective! And less likely to do something you'll regret later.

Looking back at the example of my knee pain, my attachment to healing caused impatience and probably slowed down my rehabilitation efforts — thus making my efforts at healing less effective.

"Brooding over results" is a form of "clinging to the idea" (the idea that I need this to turn out well). And clinging like that causes unhappiness.

Worse still, the clinging doesn't even improve your chances of success. You can create a goal for no other reason than because having a game to play is more enjoyable than having no game, and you can pursue that goal, calmly and happily through delays and setbacks and failures.

And your calm, steadfast doggedness will help you make more progress toward your goal than intense feelings of frustration and defeatism when delays and setbacks and failures come your way.

So the answer to the question is: No, this method will not keep you from accomplishing your goals. In fact, it will make you more able to accomplish them.

Now let me summarize: When you feel stress, find out what idea you're clinging to and ask yourself if it's worth the stress. If it isn't, let the idea go. Do not force it out of your mind or try to not think about it. Instead, get your mind thinking about something else.

By becoming less stressed in this way you will be more effective in accomplishing your goals, and you will suffer less and feel good more often.


Make Mundane Tasks More Enjoyable

BOREDOM MIGHT seem like a minor problem, but it is fairly widespread and a significant source of problems. Boredom is a low, debilitating state somewhat similar to depression. And because it is negative and unpleasant, it is probably not good for health or relationships.

Common responses to boredom often cause people to do all manner of stupid, self-defeating, counterproductive things. Making boring tasks less boring is a worthy goal.

Most people in most situations don't have to be stuck feeling bored, even if they are doing things they find boring. There are quite a few things a person can try to make their tasks more enjoyable. This is my list of things I've found effective:

1. Make the task more challenging. Sometimes I can simply speed up, and it makes the task more challenging (and takes less time). You can't do this with all things, but it's great for the kind of physical tasks that don't require careful movements.

Moving more quickly is just one possible way of increasing the challenge. Doing a better job, or doing the task more efficiently (less wasted movement, more organized), or listening to a lecture on CD while working all of these can add a more challenging element to a dull task.

2. Use a comparison reframe. The human mind naturally and quite automatically compares our circumstances to something else usually something better. In other words, "This task is boring compared to going out to dinner with my spouse or watching a great movie." Which is true.

But it is ALSO true that this task is really FUN compared to starving to death, running for your life in terror, or dying of some horrible disease.

Yes, you may be saying, that's certainly true, but...

And I say, "But nothing. It is true. And it is equally valid (and more justifiable) to compare your task to something much worse than to compare it with something better. And when you do, instantly the task is less irksome.

You can make a comparision reframe any time you wish, and it always works, never wears out, and (unfortunately) never lasts for long. But then again, a good meal doesn't last long either and that never stopped us from eating!

3. Make a game out of your task. Set up some kind of target. For example, let's say you're grocery shopping, which normally you find boring. This time, however, you make a game out of finding bargains. You try to get everything on your shopping list while at the same time trying to beat your record of saving money.

At the bottom of the receipt, let's say it says, "You saved $29.50." That's your best record so far. Your game is to try to beat that record. Automatically a task is less boring when it has become a game.

There is nothing inherently fascinating about running back and forth or putting a ball into a circular piece of metal. But add some rules and goals, and basketball can be very fun and not at all boring. Why? Because those rules and goals make it a game. Set some goals and boundaries for your task and see if you can make it into a game.

4. Have a strong purpose in life. With a clear, important purpose, everything in your life is less boring, including what most people consider boring chores.

When you feel you are going somewhere, and when you feel your goal is important, it casts a new and vibrant feel onto a lot more moments of your life.

You may already have an important mission but have forgotten it, or maybe you have just not thought about it in awhile. It is very common to get bogged down in (boring) details after pursuing a goal for awhile. The significance of the goal is lost in the day-to-day effort to accomplish the many steps that need to be accomplished, as well as all the other mundane but necessary tasks of maintenance and survival.

Fairly often, it is important to step back and remember what you're doing and WHY. Remember its importance. It makes a difference.

And if you don't feel you have an important purpose, finding one should now become your most important purpose, and you should pursue it with commitment. It will transform the quality of your life. No kidding.

5. Recognize your choice in the matter. Almost everything you do is actually optional. And yet almost everything you do FEELS like something you HAVE to do. And there is a huge difference emotionally between doing the exact same thing, but knowing you WANT to do it, versus feeling you HAVE to do it.

But you and the rest of our culture have done a very good job of convincing you of all the things you HAVE to have, do, or be. Yet almost none of them are really a MUST.

On the other hand, most of them are something you really would CHOOSE to do if you had to choose them over again. For example, I feel like I "have to" exercise. But I really don't. That one is pretty obvious. But I also feel like I have to own a car, so I have to maintain the car and pay the insurance, etc.

But I really don't HAVE TO have a car. I really don't. And neither do you.

However, I really WANT to have a car, and while I am thinking of it this way, the maintenance on the car doesn't seem quite so distasteful and I feel less grumbly about doing it.

This one is not a cure-all, but it helps, and it is the truth.

6. Meditate every day. Meditation is a mental-training exercise that has been associated with some religions, but the exercise itself is not religious and needs no religious associations to do it perfectly.

An enormous amount of research has been done on meditation and it is, without a doubt, one of the best things you can do for your health and sense of well-being.

But for our purposes here, it is something that can make your everyday boring tasks significantly less boring. For one thing, it calms the inner agitation, the inner feeling of impatience that is at the heart of the experience of boredom.

Another important side-effect of meditation is the simple contrast between meditation and normal everyday boring tasks. What is normally considered a boring task is much more interesting than the unbelievably boring task of sitting there with your eyes closed repeating a single word over and over. The contrast between the two is vivid. After meditating, even very boring tasks are not boring at all.

But you also get a kind of psychological training when you meditate the process trains you to find even this ultimate boring task endlessly fascinating and challenging. And that training spills over into the rest of your life.

THOSE ARE MY top five suggestions. I also suggest you choose the one that most appeals to you at the moment and really give it a good try.


An Easy Way to Improve Your Mood and Feel Less Stressed

>> Monday

Frightening, alarming, bad news sells. Our brains are especially attuned to danger. The people who sell news know this, at least intuitively, and use it against you for their own benefit.

Your attention gets arrested by an alarming headline, and arrested attention sells newspapers, so any paper that tries to sell newspapers without alarming headlines is out-competed by newspapers with alarming headlines.

During the first half of the 1990's, the murder rate went down, but during that same period, media coverage of murders tripled! The headline of a small child who gets murdered works to get us to buy the paper, which is good for the newspaper people BUT it leaves you depressed. It is a pessimistic communication that makes your view of life worse than it is and makes you less willing to act.

The overselling of bad news (and underselling of good news) is darkening the viewpoint of people at large, which actually creates worse conditions, which leads to more bad news!

The real world is not in a magazine, no matter how realistic. The magazine is a distorted view of reality. In the example given in The Bad News About Bad News, Colors Magazine depicted a man in a polyester jump suit standing on a well-manicured lawn with a nice house in the background, and he was feeding a tidbit to his well-groomed poodle. The other picture was five or six young boys, dirty and ragged, living in a hole in the street.

This is a distortion. The rich guy was perfectly rich, the poor kids were perfectly poor. The magazines that flaunt everything that's terrible in the world are out after your money. Other magazines, like the Christian Science Monitor, win awards because they care first about journalism and trying to accurately relay the truth. Of course they make money, but they don't sacrifice reality to sell copy.

The tabloids that sell "news" about things like an alien mating with the ghost of Elvis constantly sacrifice reality to sell news. The eleven o'clock news isn't as blatant, but they also distort reality to sell news.

There are billions of people and billions of stories to be told. Yes, terrible things happen, but so do magnificent feats of courage and great love. The bad-news hawkers are ruining your attitude. And the horror about that is that in the real world, the world you find yourself alive in right here before you, in this real world, this actual real live world where your butt sits, in this world, a bad attitude means less good gets done in your life. Not only did you lose the moments absorbing the bad news, your state after absorption leads to less achievement, less love, less happiness, less health...less life. Bad moods rob us of energy and drain all who interact with us, so they also get less done and so on.

what you can do about it

Alarm and fear sells papers and gets people to watch the program, which makes the station more money from the advertisers. Our perceptual apparatus wasn't designed to deal with news. It isn't equipped to handle the woes of the far corners of the earth. The unfortunate incidents of our own life, including the people close to us, is about all we can deal with well.

Merely seeing a news story about a tragedy makes that kind of incident seem more prevalent, more common, than it really is. If we only went by what we actually saw in real life, the world would not seem very dangerous.

Here's what you can do about it:

Stop tuning into any news that makes you feel helpless, distrusting, fearful, hopeless, and that doesn't give you the sense that you can do something about it. If you want to "stay up on the events of the world," try to find sources that don't create pessimism.

Pick the global problem that most bothers you and do something about it. If you think there's nothing you can do, then first cure yourself of your own pessimism. Go to Crush Pessimism for more information.

Share this page with people you know. And if someone emails you some bad news, tell the person about this page.

If a friend of yours seems pessimistic, help her or him become more optimistic. Optimism does not include burying your head in the sand or in the clouds. It is a balanced look at reality. It is practical and effective. As we say in the second chapter of Self-Help Stuff That Works:

In a study by Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, at the University of Maryland, subjects read health-related information on cancer and other topics. She discovered that optimists spent more time than pessimists reading the severe risk material and they remembered more of it.
“These are people,” says Aspinwall, “who aren’t sitting around wishing things were different. They believe in a better outcome, and that whatever measures they take will help them to heal.” In other words, instead of having their heads in the clouds, optimistic people look. They do more than look, they seek. They aren’t afraid to look into the situation because they’re optimistic.

Optimism will give you the strength to confront difficult realities with open eyes. Optimism has the potential to be even more contagious than pessimism. If nothing else, optimists tend to have more energy. But there is something else: Optimism is more ethical. It is more life-giving, more enjoyable. It is more right.

If you would like some information about becoming optimistic, check out the Attitude section of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.

If you would like some information about how to help other people become more optimistic, read the People section of Self-Help Stuff That Works.

Get the email addresses of your representatives and senators and put them in your contacts list, and write to them now and then. Urge them to vote on the bills you feel strongly about. Let them know what you think. This is an easy way to have an effect. The important thing is to do something about what you learn. This prevents you feeling like a helpless victim, which is the end result of watching or reading mainstream news. Feeling helpless is bad for your health and impairs your ability to accomplish in this world.

Learn more. Take action.

Klassy Evans and Adam Khan are the authors of Viewfinder and What Difference Does it Make?


Making Decisions You'll Feel Good About

>> Friday

YOU HAVE PROBABLY heard of the technique of drawing a line down the center of a piece of paper and listing the pros on one side and the cons on the other to make a decision. Apparently this technique has been around a long time. In a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote to Joseph Priestley in 1772, Franklin advises Priestley to use the technique, but adds two extra tips I had never heard before — tips that make the technique much more effective.

The first tip is to take three or four days to think about it, and during that time to add to the list of pros and cons as you think of them. That's a great idea. If you try to make a good list all in one sitting, you will necessarily neglect to consider some things. Take your time and allow things to percolate up into your awareness as you try to think of what's against the decision and what's in favor of it. Write them all down.

Then when you have them listed all together on one piece of paper, try to eliminate as many as you can. This will help simplify your decision. This is Franklin's second tip, and it's worth its weight in gold.

But how should you eliminate items from your list? How can you do it in a way that will help you make a good decision? In Franklin's words, here's how: "I endeavour to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two (one on each side) that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side I come to a determination accordingly."

This is a much more sophisticated and effective way to use the two-column decision-making method. Try to judge the merit or importance of each item on your list and find one or two on the other side that has equal weight and cross them off your list. They balance each other out so you don't have to consider them.

As you pare your list down, your decision will probably become clearer and easier to make.

Benjamin Franklin added, "And though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation in what may be called moral or prudential algebra."

When you have an important and difficult decision to make, try Franklin's technique. Take three or four days to think of the pros and cons of your decision and list them. Then try to find items on either side of the line that are of equal weight and eliminate them. Then give yourself another day or so to see if you think of anything new to add to the list. Then make your decision. In all likelihood, using this method, you will make decisions that will help you enjoy the best moods in the long run.


Enthusiasm is a Great Good Mood

>> Sunday

THE ENGLISH POET and clergyman Charles Kingsley wrote, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” He was right. When you have something to be enthusiastic about, you can be in a good mood almost all the time.

If your job doesn’t make you enthusiastic, you’re probably stressed or tired when you come home and just want to watch a little TV and relax. But relaxing will never make you feel happy and fully alive. Naturally, you could make plans to do something this weekend, and you might be thoroughly enthusiastic about it all week. But then Monday comes and back in the grind you go.

What you really need is something ongoing to be enthusiastic about. What you need is a challenging and compelling purpose.

Up until a century ago, simple survival provided just such a purpose for most people, and that’s still the case in much of the world. But for most of us in this country, it’s no longer a challenge to merely survive. We have tamed our world. More than likely, the only way you will ever be challenged by a compelling purpose is if you create one deliberately. And if this purpose is going to make you truly enthusiastic, it needs to be something that personally compels you — some subject or task you think is fascinating or feel is vitally important.

Pursue your purpose with vigor and you will be in a good mood most of the time. Things that bother most people won’t bother you as much. You’ll still have your ups and downs, but they will occur in a higher range. You’ll still have to deal with problems, but you will handle them better. And your improved attitude will make your relationships happier and more harmonious. When you have something ongoing in your life that you are enthusiastic about, the quality of your life is better.

Pursuing a purpose is not comfortable, restful or easy. But it’s great fun! It makes life deeply enjoyable. Watching TV is enticing, sure. It calls. It beckons. But it won’t fulfill you or make you happy. A purpose will.

This is a chapter from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.


Get More Done and Stress Less

>> Friday

HERE'S A RULE we all know we ought to follow: Do the important things first. You and I know if we’re doing something of secondary importance while we still have something of primary importance to do, we’re essentially wasting our time — even if what we’re doing is constructive, productive, positive, loving, or any other worthwhile description. If it isn’t one of the few things that are important to us, then it’s a waste of time.

Of course that’s a rather extreme and absolute thing to say, and there are always mitigating circumstances and perfectly valid reasons why the rule can’t be followed all the time, but doing important things first is a rule few would argue with.

Important tasks are usually more difficult than unimportant tasks, so we tend to put them off. But listen: That’s because we’re thinking about what it will be like to do the task. And that’s where we go wrong. Don’t think about that. Think about what it will be like to have the task done. There’s a big difference — a difference that can make a difference. It takes your attention off the part you don’t like and puts your focus on something you really want: the result. That subtle difference will make the task more appealing, so you’ll be less likely to put it off.

Instead of looking at the bills to be paid and thinking about all the time and frustration and neck-hurting hassle, imagine the feeling you’ll get when you finish, when all the bills are stacked up there, paid, stamped and ready to mail. What a great feeling! Keep that image in mind when you look at the stack of bills. You’ll get to it sooner.

And when you get to something sooner, you suffer less because you spend less psychological effort avoiding the task. You get to spend more of your time on the other side — satisfied that the job is finished.

That’s it. It’s a simple change that makes things better. Vividly anticipate the completion of important tasks and you will get more of them done.

This is a chapter from Principles For Personal Growth.


Feel Less Negative Emotion By Becoming Uncertain

COVER YOUR LEFT EYE, put your face close to the screen, and look at the X below. As you slowly pull your face away from the screen, at some point the 0 will disappear. Or cover your right eye and look at the 0, and pull away, and the X will disappear.

X ...................................................................................O

You have a blind spot in each eye where the bundles of nerve fibers go back into your brain. But notice something: You don’t see the blind spot. It doesn’t show up like a dark, empty spot. Your brain fills in the emptiness.

In a similar way, when there is information you don’t know, your brain fills it in, giving you the feeling that nothing is missing. In other words, when you feel certain, it doesn’t really mean much. Your feeling of certainty doesn’t necessarily have any relationship to your actual correctness or knowledge. Your brain produces a feeling of certainty at the drop of a hat because it’s wired up to do so.

All human brains tend to jump to conclusions and then feel certain about those conclusions, so it pays to be somewhat skeptical of your own mind. That may seem like a negative goal, but it isn’t. Feeling certain has caused more problems for people than skepticism ever did.

For example, when you’re arguing with your spouse, the thing that keeps the anger intense is that you’re both certain you’re right. If each of you had a little more skepticism about your own ability to remember and reason, it would be easier to work out your differences.

To take another example, depressed people would get depressed less often if they became more skeptical of the pessimistic assumptions they make. The feeling of certainty depressed people have about their own pessimistic view of the world does them harm.

Don’t place much importance in your feelings of certainty. Be skeptical. Recognize you have blind spots and act accordingly. You’ll be saner if you do.

This is a chapter from the book Self-Help Stuff That Works.


Embracing the Painful Beauty of Competition

I’VE ALWAYS HAD a distaste for competition. I never liked the feeling of trying to outdo another person. But competition is a fact of life, from the lowliest worm to the executive on Wall Street. Competition is like gravity. We may not like it, but there it is anyway, having its effect on our lives, regardless of what we may think about it. There’s nothing nasty about it — gravity doesn’t care whether you hurt yourself when you fall or not.

If you have two organisms competing for a limited resource, say, a lion and a hyena competing for the carcass of a gazelle, if the lion doesn’t want to compete or feels competition is wrong, then the hyena will eat and the lion will go hungry. If this goes on, the lion will die of starvation and the hyena will have many offspring. Nature is not being cruel. Competition is the way of the world. It’s the way life on this planet became so complex and beautiful and amazing. It’s the way your incredible brain evolved. Ultimately, competition is good. It makes things better. It forces improvement.

I’m a writer. There are places that pay for writing. And there are other writers in the world who would prefer that the money paid for that skill go into their bank accounts rather than mine. The money can’t really go to every writer’s bank account. There’s a selection going on. Certain things will be selected for and certain things will be selected against. It is a competition, whether I want to acknowledge that fact or not. And, of course, the ones who compete the best will always out-compete the ones who don’t compete as well (or at all).

Competition can be an ugly affair, typified by the presidential elections with all the mudslinging and back-stabbing. Although that’s obviously competition, so is what goes on at the Olympics.

The presidential elections are ugly, but the Olympics are beautiful — whether you win or lose, you can still shake the hand of your competitor in friendship. You can compete with honor. You can compete for noble reasons. You can compete for the sake of others or for a cause you believe in. The spirit of the Games raises competition to the elevated place it should hold.

Consider it in this light and you can learn to appreciate competition. It’s important because you must either compete well, or those dreams you have will not happen. Whatever your job, this is true. If you’ve had, like me, a distaste for competition, start changing your attitude. Learn to appreciate and even like competition, because the truth is, if you can compete well, you can fulfill your desires. If you can’t or don’t compete well, or if you don’t “play the game” at all, someone else will get the raise or promotion or position, someone else’s view will hold the floor, someone else’s vision will be realized, and your dreams will become pipe dreams. It’s up to you. You can compete, play well, and know you’ve done your best, or not. It’s your call.

Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.


Good News Is Good For Your Mood

Over at YouMe Works (my website), I have a page entitled simply, Good News. As I come across good news, I put a link to it on there to an article, and I make sure none of the links go dead. I have this page because I often come across news nobody seems to be talking about but it's good enough and important enough that everyone should be exuberantly shouting it from the rooftops.

For example, one of the links goes to an article on food production and how it has improved faster than population growth and how food is more abundant and less expensive worldwide than ever before. Another link goes to an article about the drop in greenhouse pollution in the two most populated countries in the world China and India.

The list goes on and on. These are stories you don't hear about on mainstream news very often. Most of their news stories are about negative things. News stations have to do this to stay in business (read more about that here) but that doesn't mean you can't avail yourself of good news when you need it.

Try this experiment. Notice what your mood is right now. On a scale of one to ten, what would you say your mood would rate right now?

Then go check out the good news page. Just browse it, follow your interests, not necessarily reading any entire articles, but just spending a few minutes looking things over and following a link here and there that interests you. Then check your mood again.

If you found yourself in a better mood, spread the love. Send a link to the good news page to your friends and family. Just because the media and our own brains have a negative bias doesn't mean we are helpless to do anything about it.

The world is full of great happenings and wonderful breakthroughs. It's good for your mood to notice that once in awhile.


That's Good! and Other Reframes

>> Saturday

IN ONE OF W. Clement Stone's books, he wrote that whenever someone came to him with a problem, he would always say, "That's good!" This puzzled people sometimes. They might be talking about a serious problem, and Stone would answer back with enthusiasm.

Years ago when I first read this, I thought it was stupid, pie-in-the-sky bullpucky. But I've thought a lot about it over the years and I've tried it, and I've decided that maybe there are some things that sound stupid but are really smart.

When anything happens, usually some aspects of it are an advantage and some aspects of it are a disadvantage. For example, when you buy a new car, you will have to take it in to get repaired less often than your old car. That's one advantage. Maybe it gets better gas mileage. There's another advantage. But it is more likely to get stolen. That's a disadvantage. And your insurance payments are higher. You get the idea.

When you first hear about a problem, your first reaction is probably to see only the disadvantages. This puts you in a bad mood — a state of mind that's not only unpleasant as an experience, but also makes you less effective at dealing with the problem. So this normal, automatic, negative reaction to problems would be a good thing to change. I suggest trying Stone's method. It will take some practice, but it can eventually become a habit.

When a problem lands in your lap, say, "That's good!" (Note: Don't necessarily say it out loud. It will make some people mad.) And then immediately start doing two things: 1) look for the advantages that might be wrapped up in this "problem" (which may be difficult at first), and 2) look to see how you can turn it to your advantage, and take steps to make it so.

This approach will make you more effective. You can plainly see why. There's no time wasted on bemoaning what already exists, and action is taken immediately to turn it to your advantage. No energy is wasted getting into a worse mood. Your attitude toward it is open. There's nothing fixed or permanent about your viewpoint.

When you change the way you think about something, it changes the way you feel about it. And when you change the way you feel about it, your actions change too — in this case, for the better. Try it.

If you have trouble at first learning to do this, that's good!

If you practice this way of reacting to problems enough, you can some day be as good at it as Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP.

When a student of Bandler's (who was teaching a class on hypnosis) complained that his house was being bugged (monitored with a recording device), Bandler's reply was, "What a chance to talk to these people."

Bandler had ingrained the reframing attitude so thoroughly in his thoughts that he reeled off idea after idea. Why not play hypnotic tapes over and over in your house for the listeners? Why not practice all of your deep trance inductions and put the people bugging you into trance and give them hypnotic suggestions?

Bandler didn't look for what was wrong with being bugged. Anybody could do that. Everybody would automatically do that. He looked for a way to take advantage of it.

You can learn to have the same mental habit. Find the advantage and think of the "adversity" in terms of the advantage.

Has something ever happened to you that you thought at first was a bad thing, but then later you were really glad it happened? Keep that memory in your mind whenever something bad happens. You don't know what the future holds. This might be good. You might as well assume it will be, and start making it so.


How to Make a Boring Task Less Boring

>> Friday

If you feel bored fairly often, you should do something about it. Boredom isn't as unimportant as you might think. It isn't good for your mood and it isn't good for your health.

We have two suggestions that can help you immediately to feel less bored. Check them out here: A Terrible Thing to Waste.

If those don't work, then you need to raise the level of challenge. Find out how to do that here: Play the Game.


Control Your Feelings and Improve Your Life

At an event in the Key Arena in Seattle, Tony Robbins was one of the speakers. I enjoyed all the speakers but was surprised that they didn't really cover anything new. I realize now that there are a few basics about feeling good and they are true for all time.

I wrote up the details of these basic principles here: The Positive Edge. If you want to have a better attitude, more energy, and direct your mind with some skill, check it out. The stuff works well.


Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking

>> Saturday

I was afraid of public speaking since my first day of kindergarten. My mom walked with me to school that day. It was a beautiful morning. Quiet. So peaceful. Just me and my mom.

I had never been to preschool or anything like school, so I didn't know what to expect, and I hadn't thought much about it. But when we got there, the door was at the front of the class, and everyone was there already. I must have been about five minutes late.

As soon as I saw all those kids turn to look at me, I froze. I didn't want to go in. My mom gave me a little nudge from behind. "It's okay, honey," she said, "go on in and take a seat."

I grabbed the sides of the door and tried to get back out. The teacher came over and tried to pull me in. My mom was outside trying to nudge me in, but I was having none of this. I wanted to get away. I started yelling at them and hanging onto the sides of the door as if my life depended on it. Finally they got me inside. I felt so embarrassed I'd made a scene, and that I was forced to acquiesce. From that moment on, I didn't ever want to be in front of a class again.

Another time I was in my first judo competition. My dad and my brother were there. I must have been in third grade at the time. I went out for my first match, and my opponent threw me on the ground in about a half a second and it was over. I was eliminated from the tournament. That was it. I felt humiliated in front of all those people.

And one more: When I was in the fourth grade, a teacher tried to make me get in front of the class to recite a poem. Again, it was a humiliating experience.

So needless to say, when it came time years later to start speaking to groups to promote my book, I had a kind of ancient dread of doing anything in front of a group. I looked forward to an upcoming speech like someone who would hang at dawn. Dread. Serious dread. And dread is a lousy mood that doesn't improve performance at all.

But I cured the dread. The first stage of the cure occurred in a conversation with Klassy (my wife and business partner). I was telling her how much I was dreading the speech I had scheduled the following week. I was silent for a minute. I went through each phase of the speech in my head: Driving there, getting set up, talking for twenty minutes about something I know a lot about. I realized that, in spite of the feeling of dread, there was nothing actually difficult about this task. Nothing at all. I've done a lot of difficult things, and this was easy. The only thing that was hard about it was the dread itself. And somehow the realization that the whole thing was really easy lifted the dread. I said, "It's going to be easy."

Immediately I felt light.

Whenever the dread came back, I did the same thing, and I recommend it to you: Don't just tell yourself "this is easy." Go through the event, step by step, judging each step by how difficult it really will be. How much of a strain will it be? How much effort will it require? How much skill will it take? And then when you realize really how easy it will be,
then say to yourself, "This is going to be easy."

This filters out everything but what you're mentally adding. The dread is something you mentally add to the situation, rather than residing in the situation itself.

Did you know shyness can completely disappear when someone is hypnotized if all the hypnotist does is put a block on the person's memory of his own past? In other words, without mentioning shyness or confidence — without even uttering the words — all the hypnotist needs to do is temporarily erase past memories. Shyness vanishes. With no memory of embarrassing moments, what is there to fear?

It is the anticipation of the pain that is actually the painful part. In a study by British and Canadian researchers, they found what they call "dread zones" in the brain. These zones don't actually process the pain themselves. They are in communication with the parts of the brain that deal with the experience.

In the experiment, the researchers hooked volunteers to a device that could deliver both painful and pleasant sensations. In front of the volunteers were two lights. When the blue light came on, there was a warm, pleasant sensation. Every thirty seconds, the red light would start flashing. After seven seconds of flashing red light, the volunteers experienced about eight seconds of a painfully hot sensation.

Meanwhile, they had the volunteers hooked up to some of the most powerful MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) equipment in the world. As the experience was repeated, the volunteers' "dread zones" became more and more active. The zones were communicating to the parts of the brain that actually experience the pain. And the volunteers experienced more and more pain even though the actual amount of heat they received remained the same. Their anticipation of the pain made the experience more painful.


When I realized speaking would be easy, somehow it freed me up to really think about how I'd like to do the talk. I started thinking about what I wanted to do rather than what I thought they wanted me to do or expected me to do. And that changed everything. I totally redesigned my speech. I talked about what I really wanted to talk about, what I really thought they ought to know, and I told stories and illustrated my points the way I would enjoy, rather than trying to please the audience.

Of course, if it was enjoyable to me, it would likely be enjoyable to them, but I concerned myself with doing it the way I would enjoy. This small change made a big difference. I actually began looking forward to my speeches.

When you dread something, look carefully until you really see how easy it will be. And then wrack your brain trying to figure out how you can do it in the way that would be most enjoyable to you. Easy and fun will get it done.


How to Make a Good Idea Cause a Real Change In Your Life

IT'S RELATIVELY EASY to find good ideas to change your life. It's not too difficult to gain insights about what you need to do. Where it starts to get hard is translating those ideas and insights into actual changes in your life. You want those ideas and insights to make a real difference to you. Good ideas aren't enough. Insights alone don't cut it. You want real changes.

I'm right there with you.

So let's look at how real changes are be made.

Changes always start with thoughts. Not that thoughts can do much by themselves, but no changes can be made without them. When you think differently, you behave differently and feel differently, and when you behave and feel differently, you get different results in your life.

I know it's possible to behave differently in order to change the way you feel and think, but to behave differently, you first have to think it's a good idea to do so. So no matter how you look at it, to change the results you get in your life, you must first change the way you think.

Fair enough, you say, but how?

Let's ask the experts. Who are the real experts in changing the way people think? Who gets paid the most to change what people are thinking? Where is the biggest payoff for changing people's thought-habits? Who pays psychologists to find out exactly what needs to be done to change thoughts?

Advertisers and politicians, of course. These are people with a huge stake in being able to effectively alter people's thought patterns. In advertising and politics, it is survival-of-the-fittest: Those who are most effective at changing people's thinking habits are the only ones who can compete successfully and stay in business. The question is, how do they do it?

Since early in this century, observers have pointed out that political propaganda campaigns tend to use short, easy-to-remember phrases that encapsulate their message. These brief phrases are then repeated over and over again until their meaning becomes part of the thinking-habits of the population.

Even some presidential campaigns earlier in the last century are still memorable: "I like Ike" was Dwight D. Eisenhower's slogan. Woodrow Wilson used the slogan, "He kept us out of the war" to get reelected in 1916. Then after the strain of World War I, Warren G. Harding's slogan, "Back to normalcy," won him the presidency. A campaign slogan from as far back as 1840 is familiar: "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," a campaign for William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.

World War II can be seen, at least from one limited perspective, as a battle of political slogans. Hitler used several. They were repeated in his speeches and painted on walls and posters and huge signs. "One Reich, one Folk, one Leader!" This is short, pithy, easy to remember, and in this case, it has a certain primal rhythm. Here's another he used: "Today we own Germany, tomorrow the entire world!" These slogans were repeated vehemently for years and had a dramatic effect on the minds of Germans.

Mussolini used radio to a great effect. "Believe, obey, fight!" was one of the most repeated slogans. Another was: "Italy must have its great place in the world." These slogans were repeated in messages broadcast all over Italy.

Many different repeated ideas played an important role in World War II. From before they could talk, Japanese children were told again and again that the Japanese people were direct descendants of Heaven and it was their destiny to rule the world.

Of course, Americans had their slogans too, chief among them (in case you weren't alive at the time) was "Win the war unconditionally." Once America was provoked into the war, there was a national campaign to promote participation and cooperation in the war effort — certain resources needed to be conserved, like gas and steel and rubber, and money needed to be raised to fund the war. People were told that Japan and Germany had to be defeated unconditionally. They had to be not just defeated, but defeated soundly, completely — unconditionally. That was a key slogan. It focused attention. It was short, easy to remember, and packed an emotional punch besides. It was very motivating.

Advertisers use exactly the same tool politicians use. It's the real thing. Just do it. When you care enough to send the very best. Tastes great, less filling. The breakfast of champions. Don't leave home without it. You've come a long way baby. You deserve a break today. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Fly the friendly skies. Everything you always wanted in a beer — and less. Sometimes you feel like a nut. It's everywhere you want to be. And so on — short, easy to remember slogans repeated over and over and over again. Sometimes the same slogan is used for decades.

For a very long time, politicians and advertisers have been refining and improving their methods. Any method that didn't succeed disappeared from the scene: The campaigner didn't get elected, the product wasn't purchased. And after all this trial and error, both politicians and advertisers have come to rely on the same simple method. Why?

Because short, pithy phrases, repeated over and over, take advantage of the way the human brain works naturally. They focus the mind, simplify the issue, and stimulate action.

Our minds don't handle complicated formulas or doctrines very well unless we concentrate our attention. It's not that we're stupid — we're the most successful species on this planet — but all brains have their limitations.

Complicated ideas require our full attention, which is fine when we're reading in a quiet room or listening to a lecture. But when it comes down to our daily experience — when we're late for work, the kids are crying, and urgent tasks are taking our attention — we find it difficult to concentrate our minds on any concept that is even slightly complex.

So even if only two days ago the book you were reading really made sense, today in the midst of the hustle and bustle, the ideas seem distant and ineffective. You can read the most beautiful philosophy, you can answer all the Big Questions of Life during the evening, and the very next day you're right back in the soup.

And again, it's not because there's something wrong with you, but simply because most of the time, you need to focus on what you're doing. You don't have much extra attention to devote to philosophizing about it. That's true for everyone: Rich or poor, genius or average, in free countries and in nondemocratic countries. That's just how the human brain is.

It was even true for Benjamin Franklin, a man famed for his ability to improve himself. In his autobiography, he wrote about his frustration at changing himself. "While my Attention was taken up in guarding against one Fault," he wrote, "I was often surpris'd by another. Habit took the Advantage of Inattention."

When an advertising company repeats the same jingle in every ad they've ever created, and shows the same ad 15 times a night, it may be blatantly manipulative, not to mention annoying, but it works, and it works better than anything else.

When a ruthless dictator uses short phrases to focus ideas and make them easier to act on, it may be catastrophic for an entire generation of people, but the way someone uses a tool doesn't make the tool bad. A hammer can kill a puppy, but it can also be used to build a house. It's just a tool.

The repetition of a slogan is also a tool — a very powerful and effective mental tool. And it's a tool you can use to produce a lot of good for yourself. You can take advantage of the way your mind works.

You can make your own propaganda campaign in your head; you can alter your thoughts and change your actions for the better.

you don't get to start with a blank slate

THE REASON it's so difficult to change something in your life is that to change the way you feel or behave, you first have to change the way you think, and your thinking is ingrained and habitual.

You think the way you think because those ways of thinking were repeated in some form or another, either by yourself or others, enough times that the thought-pattern became a habit.

It wasn't only your parents and teachers who repeated the ideas that created your thought-patterns; you did it too. There are some thoughts you have thought many times in your life, and that repetition has created solid mental habits.

When I was in first grade, my family had recently moved to a different town in the middle of the school year, and my first day at class, we had "show and tell." I was fairly upset by the move, and didn't have anything to show, and I felt embarrassed at being the new kid, so I said, "I don't have anything to talk about."

And every week after that, I "forgot" to bring something to show. I felt self-conscious because I hadn't shared yet, and everyone else had, and every week that went by made it even worse, because everyone began to expect me to have nothing to say. Whenever I thought of getting up in front of the class, my thought was, "I can't do it." I repeated that thought to myself many times that year.

In fourth grade, my English teacher wanted us to memorize and recite a poem in front of the class every week. Whenever I thought about it, (and that was often) I thought, "I can't do it." This short phrase went through my head again and again throughout my life until about fifteen years ago, when I finally realized what had happened.

I took the Dale Carnegie course in public speaking. The course was designed to get you up in front of a group gradually. The reason that worked so well is that no matter what we were asked to do, I thought, "I can do that."

The first assignment was to sit on the edge of a long table with four other people and answer the instructor's questions about our names, where we lived, and what we did for a living. Of course, I could do that.

Each speaking assignment gradually moved toward eventually standing up there by myself giving a speech, but it was so gradual, the whole way along I kept thinking, "I can do that."

One fine day I was up there speaking and having a great time. I had formed a new thought-habit. "I can do that" replaced "I can't do it."

As a child, whenever you first think a thought, it sets a precedent. You've created the beginning of a pattern. As time goes on, you experience similar circumstances, and the thought tends to repeat itself. Each time it does, the thought becomes more and more likely the next time, until you are an adult with a bunch of thought-habits, and some don't work because they were invented by a little kid who didn't know much about the world.

Now you're an adult. And sometimes you get an insight about how you can change for the better.

But it's harder than you expected, isn't it? Why?

Because your insight is just one little thought against the accumulated force of your already-existing habit patterns.

Repetition cuts a groove like a trough in the dirt. Thoughts flow down that groove much easier than they do in other directions, just like water flows down a trough much better than on flat ground.

It physically works very much like that. Researchers like William Calvin, PhD, find that when a new stimulus is introduced into the brain, it forms a pattern of connections between certain brain cells. And once a pattern has been made, it becomes a little easier for the same pattern to fire again. The more often the pattern gets fired, the easier it is to set off the pattern again. The connections get stronger and stronger the more they are stimulated that way.

Patterns that have been repeated many times become dominant and out-compete with other (less-repeated) thoughts.

So you've got some dominant patterns already formed. Okay. And some of them produce effects you don't like. You want to cause a change in your life. But a lot of the thought-patterns you have are ones you didn't choose, or you chose when you were too young to make a good choice. Okay. That's where you are right now. You can't do anything about the past, but you can take over the process at this point. You can start creating your own patterns. You can start making thought habits you want.

You can do it with repetition.

You can do it by taking your insights and encapsulating them into short, easy-to-remember phrases and then repeating those phrases again and again until the new thought becomes a part of your thinking.

We're down to the practical nitty-gritty. This is where the rubber meets the road. Pick one thing you want to change. Create a thought you want to get in the habit of thinking. Write the principle on a card and carry the card with you to remind you to repeat it to yourself — literally practicing thinking this new thought.

Try to say it to yourself several times every day. Give advice to your children about it. Say your new thought out loud in conversations. Let it become the theme and motto of your life. Imbue your life with it.

Your new thought will begin to come into your mind on its own and when you need it. Do not stop practicing at this point. That's one of the biggest mistakes people make, and the main reason real change seems so difficult. You've got only a bare toe-hold on the new thought. Keep practicing until your behavior has changed to what you want.

Eventually your new thought will become "just the way you think." You couldn't imagine thinking any other way. At that point, you have accomplished a real change. You have translated a good idea into a real change in your life.


Reframing a Disadvantage and Making the Best of Trouble

>> Monday

WILLIAM COLEMAN HAD ONLY fifty percent of normal vision in one eye and only twenty-five percent in the other. The year was 1899 and although the electric light bulb had already been invented, not many people had one because electricity wasn't available in many places. Even with electricity, the light bulbs in those days weren't very bright. As a law student, the only way William could study at night was to have his parents read his texts to him.

His poor eyesight was obviously a disadvantage. Or was it?

One night William walked into a store brightly lit by a pressurized gas lamp. It was producing more illumination than he'd ever seen — it was bright enough to read by! He said it was the most important moment of his life.

Without the "disadvantage" of poor eyesight, it wouldn't have meant much to him. But since it did mean so much, he got involved in a gas lamp business — so involved he eventually owned the company.

A hundred years later, the Coleman Company is still in business with sales at about half a billion dollars a year. And even though electric light illuminates most of the world, people still use Coleman Lanterns when they go camping. More than a million of those original pressurized gas lanterns are sold every year.

If there's something you think is a disadvantage, think again. Assume there will be an advantage in it and then find it or make it. This intention is a fundamental key to a good attitude. With it, the inevitable setbacks in life won't bring you down as much and you will handle problems more effectively.

I know some people would scoff at this idea. Too airy-fairy. It might remind them of some annoyingly positive people to whom everything is great, but somehow, behind their forced smile, you can see it's all a facade. But this idea can be used with depth, not merely as a way to show a pleasant face to the world to hide your pain from yourself. It can be done with intelligence and wisdom.

I'd like to make a distinction here. Many people think that cynicism and pessimism show that they are mature. Usually these are young people, ironically enough. Somehow cynicism is cool. But it is actually dangerous and unhealthy. It makes you feel bad unnecessarily. It makes you less successful. And the bad attitude it creates is contagious.

In a study at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers interviewed people who had experienced a either a plane crash, a tornado, or a mass shooting. They interviewed the survivors a few weeks after the traumatic event and then again three years later. In the first interview, some people said they could find something good that came out of the event. Some reported they realized life was too short not to pursue their most important goals, or they realized how important their family was to them. Three years later, those were the people who recovered from the trauma most successfully.

In an interview in Psychology Today, the late Carl Sagan said, "This is my third time having to deal with intimations of mortality. And every time it's a character-building experience. You get a much clearer perspective on what's important and what isn't, the preciousness and beauty of life…I would recommend almost dying to everybody. I think it's a really good experience."

Think now about something you normally consider a disadvantage. Are you in debt? Did you have a rough childhood? Were you poor? Didn't have the advantages wealthier kids had? Do you lack education? Do you have a bad habit? Has something terrible happened to you?

What's good about it? Or how could you capitalize on your "disadvantage?" If you don't get a good answer right away, that only means it's a tough question. Try living in that question for several weeks or months. Ponder it while you drive. Wonder about it while you shower. Ask yourself the question every time you eat breakfast. Live with the question and you will get answers.

Take advantage of what you have, where you are, and when you are. It's the only practical way to deal with "disadvantages."

If you have a tendency to simply feel bad about your disadvantages, even that can become an advantage. Overcoming that tendency might teach you something valuable — something you couldn't have learned without it. And you can teach what you learned to your child, making a huge difference to the whole trajectory of her or his life.

Trying to make the best of something helps create solutions. It makes things better. It is even better for your health. It keeps you from feeling as bad when bad stuff happens, and that's important because negative emotions are not good for your health. As Richard H. Hoffmann, MD, said:

"The human body is a delicately adjusted mechanism. Whenever its even tenor is startled by some intruding emotion like sudden fright, anger or worry, the sympathetic nervous system flashes an emergency signal and the organs and glands spring into action. The adrenal glands shoot into the blood stream a surcharge of adrenaline which raises the blood sugar above normal needs. The pancreas then secretes insulin to burn the excess fuel. But this bonfire burns not only the excess but the normal supply. The result is a blood sugar shortage and an underfeeding of the vital organs. So the adrenals supply another charge, the pancreas burns the fuel again, and the vicious cycle goes on. This battle of the glands brings on exhaustion."

Bad feelings play havoc on your system. The idea that "trouble brings seeds of good fortune" allows you to consider the possibility that the bad event might not be as bad as it seems at the moment, and in a sense, makes it possible to procrastinate feeling bad. Procrastinate long enough, and you might just skip it altogether.

Volunteers at the Common Cold Research Unit in England filled out a questionnaire. The researcher, Sheldon Cohen, discovered that the more positive the volunteers' attitudes were, the less likely they would catch a cold. And even when they did catch a cold, the more positive their attitude was, the more mild their symptoms were.

Reframe your misfortunes. Make the best of them. It is good for your mood, your health, and your future.


Self-Indoctrination: A Tool for Change Par Excellence

>> Friday

YOU GET INSIGHTS — you see things you hadn't seen before and you know your life could be better. But often (too often) the insight fades until you forget about it, and nothing changed. It's frustrating and demoralizing.

But I have found a simple tool that can change this: A digital recorder. Get a handheld digital recorder (here's the one I use) and when you read something you want to remember, or when you get an insight you'd like to remember, record the insight. It takes only seconds. Coach yourself.

Then when you're doing the dishes or walking to the parking lot after work, or whenever, put headphones on and listen to your insights (or just put the little speaker up to your ear and listen — it looks like you're on a cell phone). When you've listened to one insight enough that you've really got it (or if it's no longer relevant) delete it. Keep adding more as you get new insights.

This is an ever-changing, always-relevant self-coaching system. Use it to turn fleeting, temporary insights into something that will change your life for the better and for the long run.

Read about another tool for change: Postables.



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