Positive Thinking for the Intelligent but Anxious


Positive Thinking for the Intelligent but Anxious

Roman Wolczuk, PhD

Yulia Publishing

© Roman Wolczuk 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Roman Wolczuk is hereby identified as author of this work in accordance with Section 77of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Published by Yulia Publications 2007 Westfield Road Edgbaston, Birmingham B13 8RN


PART 1 ...................................................................................................... 1 Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 How Negative Are You? ..................................................... 3 Why Are You So Negative? ............................................. 20 Identifying Specific Negative Thoughts ......................... 29 Stopping negative overthinking ...................................... 39

PART 2 .................................................................................................... 45 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Choosing to be positive................................................... 47 How to Think Positively ................................................... 59 What You Think Determines Who You Will Be............... 67 Developing the Willpower to Achieve............................. 74 Look Forward And See the Present in the Past ............. 81


ll of us have negative thoughts from time to time. Some of us, however, have negative thoughts pretty much continuously – we overthink the negative. For reasons, which I will explain, highly intelligent people are particularly prone to negative overthinking. What exactly are negative thoughts? Broadly, they are thoughts, the very thinking of which are damaging to our well-being. This book will argue that you cannot fail to succumb to depression, anxiety and lack of motivation if your thinking is dominated by negativity. This is because negative thinking causes negative emotions which in turn affect your behaviour. Indeed, if you learn nothing else from this book, you will have learned one of the most powerful lessons that psychology can teach. Negative thoughts are pernicious. However, the problem of having negative thoughts is made worse by the tendency for you to get into the habit of regularly thinking negative thoughts (you will see that it is a habit) so much that you come to be dominated by these negative thoughts. You overthink the negative. You come to perceive any past, present and future event through this negative prism. You tend to dwell on past failures and imagine future catastrophes. The present is merely a moment to revisit past failures and endure thoughts about the future. Negative thinking pervades your existence. You struggle to the thoughts out of your head. Let me give you an example. A fifty-year old male starts to believe that he has under performed, having not fulfilled his potential and wasted many of his fifty years. Now, believing his best chances are behind him, he approaches retirement having convinced himself that he is a failure. He had a reasonable career, brought up a family, owned a nice house, but just wasn’t particularly successful. He didn’t make the mark he could have, wanted to or was expected to. He drifts into depression, wasting his remaining potentially productive years by ruminating the lost opportunities, what went wrong, what he should have done differently. He is overthinking the negatives: he spends excessive time thinking about the past, about what he failed to do, about why he didn’t achieve. In his case, retrospection is pointless - what has gone has gone. The fifty years are over and there is no point in looking back over what he had failed to


achieve. What possible benefit is there to doing so? Surely it would be more productive to look forward to what he can still achieve? After all, the average fifty year old in the western world will live perhaps for another thirty years. Thirty years is more than enough to make a significant impact. Thirty years corresponds to 10680 days. If that man was to practice the guitar or study or write for 2 hours a day throughout that period, those 20,000 hours could be the most productive of his life. So instead of looking back on what he has failed to achieve, the fifty-year old should focus on what he can do (in the next thirty). But he doesn’t. Instead he endlessly overthinks the things which have passed and he can do nothing about. He wastes precious ‘now’ time obsessing the past. He compounds the negativity by overthinking it.

Who is prone to negative overthinking?
Albert Camus once said, ‘an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself’. He was right. It is no coincidence that those of above average intelligence suffer from negative overthinking more than do others and as a result are more prone to certain psychological disorders. (In The Meaning of Anxiety, Rollo May cites the intelligence factor and the achievement impetus as contributory factors to anxiety disorders.) The reasons for this are complex. Evidence shows that the more intelligent you are (as measured by intelligence tests), the more likely you are to progress through the education system towards ever higher qualifications. (Please note, I am not saying only that only those with qualifications are intelligent; there is many a genius without a qualification to his name. What I am saying is that the higher qualifications you have, the more intelligent you have to be to gain them.) The education system trains people to think in a particular way – to analyse, evaluate and assess. The further we progress in education, the more developed our analytical, evaluative and assessing skills become. Successful analysis requires you to seek out the weakest point of an argument or theory, evaluate the extent of the weakness and make an assessment as to how devalued an argument or theory is by that weakness. This type of thinking is ingrained into learners from a very early age – they succeed and progress on their ability to detect weaknesses (identifying strengths tends to be a distinctly second tier requirement). The rationale is that being critical of a theory leads to improvement – if weaknesses can be spotted in a theory, it has to be amended. This has proved to be a very effective method in the development of knowledge. The further you progress through the education system, the more developed this skill becomes as its’ importance increases. The leap from this external application to an internal application is a small one i.e. we apply this penetrating analysis to ourselves – we identify our own weaknesses. (Remember: ‘an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself’.) Up to a point detecting weaknesses in ourself is a desirable characteristic. In an ideal world, self-watching leads to self-criticism which leads to self-improvement. However, such self-criticism, if overdone, leads to negative overthinking which is destructive.

Why is negative overthinking destructive?
Negative overthinking is destructive because it causes negative emotions (such as anxiety and stress) which in turn lead to negative behaviours (such as lack of motivation). Once you are into it, this cycle (negative overthinking – negative emotion – negative behaviour), becomes self-perpetuating. Demotivation reduces the drive necessary to eliminate the problems which cause demotivation. Yet the place at which to break the cycle is so obvious – the negative thoughts. Stop the negative thinking and you stop the negative emotion and if you stop the negative emotion you stop the negative behaviour. Ideally, positive thoughts will come to replace them. The magic of positive thoughts is that they have an energy all of their own – they are inspiring, motivating and liberating. While negative thinking limits the person, positive thinking releases a person to think, feel and most importantly function in a more productive way. The book will argue that if your thinking is negative (about yourself, your prospects, your environment) then you will not be able to tackle the things which bother you or depress you. Negative thinking will prevent you from overcoming these impediments to a more productive life. It will argue that if you adopt more positive thoughts about yourself, your life and your environment you will become motivated about introducing significant desirable change. Of course, if it was so simple, then surely everybody would just abandon their negative thinking and adopt positive thoughts. But they don’t, do they? There are at least four reasons for this. Firstly, many of us may not even be aware that we have negative thoughts. After all, how many of us are taught to identify what categories of thought exist, and what the implications of thinking those kinds of thoughts are? How many of us are trained to identify what kind of thinker we are or what kind of thoughts we have? We just ‘naturally’ think the thoughts we do, without any effort at classifying them. We are not really taught to analyse the type of thinking framework we use; we just think, without being aware of the short term, let alone the long term damage we are causing ourselves, those around us and to our relationship with them. Secondly, it is not always clear what we mean by a negative (or positive for that matter) thought. It is like saying ‘be happy’ or ‘don’t be sad’. The phrases lack specifics. In this book I will talk about very specific types of thought which are known to have negative effects. I will talk about catastrophic thinking, polarised thinking and many other types. Independently, each of these can cause untold damage; collectively they are soul-destroying. Thirdly, we fail to abandon negative overthinking because we are unaware that negative thinking causes negative emotions and that negative emotions affect our behaviour. We are unaware that we can control our thinking i.e. we don’t have to overthink, we can choose to stop having the negative thoughts.

By extension we are unaware that we can choose not to have negative thoughts but opt for positive thoughts, positive feelings and positive behaviours. Fourthly, we fail to abandon negative overthinking because, even if we are aware that we are a negative overthinker, the negative thoughts are so deeply entrenched in our psychological make-up, that they emerge automatically and habitually, leaving us with the sense that it impossible to change them. We might come to believe that because we have always done this, we can’t do it differently. But as an eminent sage once said, ‘if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got’. This book offers you a means of doing things differently. Firstly, it will help you identify whether or not you are an negative overthinker, although even after these few pages of reading you probably know already. Secondly, it will give you strategies to identify, or become conscious of when you are overthinking the negative. Because most thinking is so habitual you may be unaware of when you are thinking negatively. Most of us need some techniques to beat this habit. Thirdly, and most importantly, it will provide you with strategies to change this lifelong habit of negative overthinking. In eliminating your negative overthinking you will eliminate your negative emotions and negative behaviours. This is what the first part of the book is about. Only once you have started to eliminate the negative in your life can you start working on what is contained in the second part of the book – how to become a positive thinker. You might want to argue that this is simply a case of ‘Is the glass half full or half empty?’. Yes, in a sense it is that. But it also substantially more: its about identifying why you have learned to focus on the ‘empty’ half of the glass and why you have learned to ignore the ‘full’ half. It is about learning how to change from being a ‘half empty’ person to a ‘half full’ person’ and how to make positivity a natural part of your thinking. This book will not change your life. It will do something more farreaching. It will provide you with the tools with which you can change your own life. You will have to do the work, but at least you will have the means to do so. Ultimately, you will be changing yourself; you will be the craftsman or craftswoman working on the best material you have available because it is the only material you have available – yourself. And instead of being your own worst enemy as may be the case currently, you can become your own best friend. In fact you have to become your own best friend as nobody has a greater vested interest in helping you out than you. If you can’t be bothered to change yourself why should anybody else bother to help you? They have enough work to do on themselves without having to worry about you. Yes – you can be your own best friend, or if you are not careful, you can remain your own worst enemy. The choice is very much yours.



Chapter 1

How Negative Are You?

he thoughts we have – that is, negative or positive - determine the very essence of our nature. They affect our attitude to ourselves, our attitude to others, the very way in which we see the world. They affect our expectation of success in the future, and our interpretation of the past. In turn, they determine the likelihood of success in the future by affecting our effort levels in the present. The type of thinking we adopt is so utterly fundamental to our sense of well-being that, if we end up thinking the wrong type of thoughts (i.e. negative), we will encounter all sorts of difficulties as we go through life. Thinking negatively seriously damages our chances of leading a successful, fruitful and happy life. But by thinking positively, we enhance our life chances – the present is seen in terms of the opportunity it presents us, the future is looked forward to with an expectation of success and the past is perceived with a sense satisfaction. All this from the type of thoughts we think. You almost certainly know which is your ‘natural’ or, more accurately, habitual way of thinking. (As you will see later, there is no ‘natural’ way of thinking – we tend to think in ways that we have learned; this means we can unlearn bad thinking habits and learn new habits. We will come back to this.) However, if you are uncertain as to how negative or positive you are, have a look at the following statements and try to establish how many you agree with. In general, do you agree that: 1. Things tend to work out badly for you through no fault of your own 2. Events have prevented you from achieving much in life 3. The past determines the future 4. Events years ago determined your fate 5. No matter how hard you try, luck plays a larger role in success 6. It is probably too late to bring about significant change in your life 7. Your circumstances prevent you from achieving your goals 8. The best things tend to happen to others 9. You are not a successful person 10. The breaks of life haven’t gone your way 11. The decisions of others have determined where you are now 12. Something bad is likely to happen to you sooner or later 13. Luck has not run your way


14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

The future doesn’t hold out much You are a failure Your best chance of success is if fate favours you If something good happens to you, it will be followed by something bad Fate is a fickle thing You made some bad decisions which have affected the rest of your life You have wasted your life and your skills Others of similar ability have achieved more than you have Others have caused your lack of success Had you been brought up differently things would have worked out better If you had a different partner things would have worked out better Your parents are responsible for a lot of your failings You have very little to look forward to It is too late to do very much about anything Whatever you do, it probably won’t be good enough There is no point in even trying to succeed You haven’t got what it takes The future doesn’t really hold out much promise You have very little to be particularly proud of There is just no point in trying any more.

If you agree with many of the above statements, you are a negative thinker. Even if you only identify with some of them, you may have predispositions towards negativity. As has already been mentioned, the effect of those thoughts is exacerbated by how often you think them. Everybody has negative thoughts from time to time. However, some of us become so dominated by negative thinking that those thoughts come to affect our entire outlook on life. These thoughts become a central theme of our life – they are overthought. Once entrenched, these negative thoughts directly affect our behaviour. EXERCISE: TRY AND ESTIMATE, OR BETTER STILL, CALCULATE, HOW MANY NEGATIVE THOUGHTS YOU HAVE ON AN AVERAGE DAY At the very least, these types of thoughts will cause the negative thinker to become demotivated. This is because he has little expectation of success in the future. Worse, he may denigrate past achievements. In turn, the all-important link between effort and reward weakens, resulting in the person putting less and less effort into the here and now as he no longer anticipates reaping rewards in the future. This is understandable: if you see the future as barren in terms of success and a past littered with failure, why on earth would they put the effort into the here and now? Obviously, negative things happen to all of us: all of us have been affected by failure, loss and disappointment in many spheres of our life. However, we differ in how we respond to those events. Those who employ positive thought strategies are less likely to be affected by negative events and

are more likely to overcome them more quickly, and seek out the positives emanating from them, than are negative thinkers. Indeed, the latter are hit harder, take longer to recover, and are more likely to suffer the negative aftereffects of such events. Negative thinking prevents a person from dealing successfully with negative events.

Different types of negative thoughts
There are different categories of negative thoughts, each of which is damaging in its own way. Here are the main ones. Retrospective negative thoughts Retrospection is the tendency to look back at past events. Retrospective negative thinkers are prone to looking back at previous failures in their lives. (Look at statements 2, 4, 10, 11 and 19 in the list above for examples of retrospective negative thoughts. If you agreed with them, this suggests you are prone to them). Negative retrospection is damaging in a number of ways. At the very least, it wastes time; it prevents you from doing things in the here and now and accepting that what has gone, has gone and there is nothing you can do about it. The only moment in which you can act is this one. Let us take as an example the phrase ‘Events years ago determined your fate’. You may believe this to be true – your parents may have sent you to the ‘wrong’ school, they may have put pressure on you to not move away from them, you may have chosen the ‘wrong’ subject at university. To dwell on these explanations is to waste valuable ‘now’ time that can be used to tackle the cause of the dissatisfaction. Wallowing in the past serves no productive purpose. It is nothing other than a form of self pity. I have often heard people say, that their wedding day, or the day of the birth of their child was the best day of their life. They are wrong – today, this day, is the best day of their life because it is the only one they actually have. Yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet arrived. But today is here. It is the one we are living in. Retrospection prevents us from doing so. EXERCISE: MAKE A LIST OF RETROSPECTIVE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS YOU OFTEN THINK Negativity about the future (see statements 6, 7, 14, 17 and 27) Holding a negative view of the future is self-limiting, that is, prevents you from achieving. By self-limiting, you place impediments to success before you have even set out on the path of actually putting the effort in to achieve that success. You don’t even try to be successful. Being negative about the future prevents you from acting in the here and now. You might think ‘why bother trying when that effort will meet with failure?’ The result is that you don’t even set out on the path of improvement.

Yet, effort matters. If you don’t even try to be successful, you have no chance of being successful. In addition, merely hoping to be successful is useless. The Chinese say ‘hope is the strategy of fools’ and they are right. Just hoping for something to happen in the future, won’t make it happen. There is no known mechanism through which you willing something to happen makes that something happen. Hoping to win the lottery does not increase your chances of winning the lottery one iota. Hoping to lose weight does not make you lose weight. Hoping to become a famous writer, does not make you become a famous writer. Hope, when not backed by action, is useless. Make your future happen rather than hope for it to happen. Of course, if you are negative about the future, you have little inclination to do so. EXERCISE: MAKE A LIST OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS YOU THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE Blaming others (see statements 11, 22, 23, 24, and 25) At first glance blaming others for things we believe have gone wrong or are going wrong in our lives might seem a reasonable thing to do – after all, if others are to blame, then we need not be too hard on ourselves by blaming ourselves. In blaming others, we seem to think that we have found the solution to our problems. This is flawed logic. Blaming others is quite possible the worst thing we could do. This is because by blaming others, we are effectively handing over control of our own destiny – our fate is in their hands. Think about it. If they are responsible for our failures this means that we are not responsible for our failure. However, in believing this to be true we are denying responsibility for what has happened in our lives. Believe it or not, this is effectively the same as handing over control of our own destiny because it suggests that others are having a disproportionate influence over our own lives. It suggests that we have allowed others to play a highly significant role in our lives, one which has resulted in us seeing ourselves as a failure. We carry the consequences of their decisions. The fact is that if others have had a disproportionate influence over our lives, and our choices, it is only because we have allowed them to have that influence. But if we choose to deny them that influence and instead make our own decisions, we take responsibility for our own actions and thereby take control of our lives. We become responsible for our successes and failures. What could be more empowering than taking control over the things which happen to you? By taking the blame for things which have gone wrong, and accepting the responsibility for those failures, we put ourselves in a far better position to manipulate our own lives. By blaming others we give them that control. By blaming ourselves we take control. Psychologists use the term of Locus of Control to explain this process. The theory argues that there is a spectrum of locus of control running from ‘internal’ to ‘external’ along which individuals can be placed:



Those with an internal locus of control are those who believe that they control the things that happen to them, that they are responsible for the good things (and the bad things) that happen in their life. So if they have a successful career, it is because they worked hard at it, studied hard, and made sure they were a success. If they have an unsuccessful career, they will tend to believe that they just didn’t work hard enough, and that they weren’t shrewd enough in their interactions with their bosses, and that they should have worked harder at picking up extra qualifications if that would have helped them with their job. The ‘internal’ individual believes he controls his own destiny. Those with an external locus of control are those who believe that they do not control the things that happen to them, that good things or bad things tend to happen irrespective of their actions. So, if they have an unsuccessful career, it is because they had a poor boss, that they weren’t in the right place at the right time, that their ‘face didn’t fit’, and so on. On the other hand, if they had a successful career, they might believe that they were just lucky, or that their ‘face fit’ or whatever. It is beyond their control. In fact evidence shows that those with an internal locus of control are likely to have successful careers; those with an external locus of control are less likely to have successful careers. Positive thinkers tend to have an internal locus of control – they tend to feel responsible for their own successes, and take responsibility for failure. Conversely, negative thinkers have an external locus of control. They attribute failure and success to fate, fluke, chance and others. Clearly even positive thinkers have to acknowledge that they cannot control everything which happens to them. Nevertheless, it is more desirable to hold internal rather than external beliefs. Take as an example, the statement that ‘your parents are responsible for a lot of your failings’. Now it is clearly true that in the earlier stages of your life, your parents played a significant role in key decisions – indeed, they made all the decisions. But soon, perhaps as early as the mid-teenage years, this influence was on the wane, so that by early adulthood their influence was negligible. Yes, those early years are important and formative, but the older you get and the more control you have over your choices, the more you can counteract any decisions you don’t like, the more you can make decisions which suit you rather than your parents. Of course it may be hard to rectify the damage caused by those early decisions, but there has to come a time when blaming parents for things that have gone wrong in your life is no longer justified. After a while, enough time will have passed for it to be true that your decisions matter more than the decisions made by parents decades ago. Somebody with an external locus of control will say that the decision of the parents was so bad, that he has been scarred for life. Somebody with an internal locus of control will say that although his parents may have made some

bad decisions, he sought to rectify the damage. While acknowledging that the earlier parental decision has slowed him down, the ‘internal’ will focus on the fact that he can put himself on the right track and that his future is determined by him alone. EXERCISE: MAKE A LIST OF THOUGHTS IN WHICH YOU BLAME OTHERS FOR YOUR PREDICAMENT Deterministic thoughts Statements 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 19, 27, 30 in the list reflect the belief that fate is somehow predetermined. If you agreed with the statements, it suggests that you believe that you have had and continue to have little choice in terms of what has happened and happens to you. You might believe that there is little that you can do to alter the direction your life takes. You might see yourself at the mercy of the whims of fate. If you believe that ‘events of years ago determine your fate’ you become a passive recipient of what has happened, is happening and will happen, convinced that there is little or nothing you can do to influence events. If you believe that you ‘haven’t got what it takes’ you might think that there are those who are endowed with ‘successful’ characteristics and there are those that aren’t. By extension you believe that you lack the ‘fixed’ set of characteristics that go to make up ‘successful’. Therefore you might also believe that you cannot develop or learn ‘successful’ characteristics. By extension this suggests that you also believe that it is not what people do to make themselves successful that matters (such as working hard) but rather that it is what skills they were born with which makes them successful. These are the thoughts of someone with an external locus of control, who believes that success is a matter of luck and chance and fate. This contrasts with the tenets of those who believe in free will, the opposite to determinism. They tend to believe that you have to make the best of what you have, that you have to exploit the chances you get, that you can make decisions which can change your life, that the harder you work the more successful you are likely to be. As a billionaire once said ‘the harder I work the luckier I get’. The long-term effects of determinist thinking are predictable. The motivation of negative determinists tends to be very low, as might be expected from somebody who does not see a relationship between effort and reward. After all, if you believe success (or failure) is a matter of luck, why put the effort into doing something, anything? A belief in a sealed fate is the enemy of effort and endeavour. By denying the role of effort in success and instead believing that inborn attributes are all that matter, you automatically limit yourself in terms of what you can achieve, how you can develop, and denies yourself the benefits of effort.

The view that by putting our faith into what fate delivers for us, you inoculate yourself from the knocks of life is self-defeating. In doing so, you condemn yourself to not trying to avoid the fate which you find so depressing. EXERCISE: MAKE A LIST OF THOUGHTS WHICH REFLECT YOUR BELIEF THAT YOUR FATE IS FIXED There are other types of negative thoughts – illogical, irrational, polarised and catastrophic which we will explore in more detail at a later stage. However, by now, you should by now be aware of the extent of your negativity. I would now like you to do something which might seem strange. For the next 10 minutes, make a list of everything which is wrong with your life. Record what you do not like about it, things which upset you and things which you are in general negative about. For example, you might believe that your parents preferred your brother or sister. You might feel that you have ended up with a less than optimal life partner, whereas significant others have chosen better. You might feel that in general you have had bad advice at critical times in your life, that others have had a bigger influence over your life than you yourself have had. Whatever it is that you are negative about, record it and keep going until you can think of nothing else to add. Why am I asking you to do this? Simply to raise the profile of your negative thoughts. In doing so, you will become as aware of your own specific negative thoughts as you possibly can be. Only once you are aware of them, will you be able to stop them. You will literally stop thinking them; I will explain how later.

The Damaging Effects of Negative Overthinking
Negative overthinking is undesirable because of the damage it causes to our capacity to function effectively. Negative overthinking depresses our mood, lowers our sense of self-esteem, can cause depression and damage our health. I will now describe some of these effects. Moodiness/depression We all know the moody type: at times they may be the life and soul of the party, an excellent companion, great fun. That is when the mood takes them. However, once negative thinking takes over, their mood plummets, and in their eyes, there is nothing good about the world, they fall into a temporary depression. And when they are in such a depressed mood, everything becomes grim. They may become uncommunicative, argumentative, critical, spiteful, cheerless, joyless and humourless. When in such a mood, they see doom and gloom around them and future of pain and unpleasantness, and a past of failure. Moodiness affects not just the person feeling moody. It also has a poisonous effect on others who may themselves be brought down by such negativity.

A non-clinical depressed state follows on quite naturally from negative overthinking. Anyone with a negative recollection of his past, negative perception of the present and negative expectation of the future is bound to be vulnerable to depression. Furthermore if they see themselves as an ineffective actor, impotent in preventing negative things happening yet unable to bring about positive solutions, it is unsurprising that such people become incapable of functioning effectively The demotivating effects of negative thinking lead to a lack of mental energy to overcome challenges, to go about life with a degree of zeal, put effort into gaining rewards in the future, enjoy the present and relish the past. The state of depression is likely to be compounded if a truly negative event occurs, such as losing a significant other, a serious illness or other calamity. Lacking any psychological reserves to draw on or the kind of coping mechanisms which positive thinking creates, the individual becomes vulnerable to clinical depression. Demotivation The most obvious behavioural effect of negative overthinking is on your motivation. This is logical and easily understood. Low expectations of success in the future hardly encourage you to put effort into what is important in the here and now. If you don’t think that what you are doing now will produce results in the future, you have little incentive to put the effort into what you are doing. Negative beliefs therefore create disincentives for acting now in pursuit of rewards in the future. Of course, you may have had experiences in which effort has not resulted in tangible reward, perhaps through study for exams which you subsequently failed, or taking lots of lessons for a driving test, also failed, or through losing a job despite working extremely hard. If this happens frequently or painfully enough, you may come to believe that the past determines the future i.e. past failures predict future failures: if you have failed your driving test in the past, you are likely to fail it again in the future so what is the point in trying again? If you have lost your job in the past, despite working hard, then there is no point in trying hard again in the future as you will probably lose it again anyway. The link between effort and reward is lost. Demotivation kicks in when you hold negative beliefs which break the link between effort and reward Not only are negative beliefs demotivating, they are also self-fulfilling – they make happen what they prophesise. That is, what you think is going to happen, happens, because you ‘know’ it is going to happen or because you think that there is nothing you can do to prevent it happening – you fail to make the effort to avoiding failure. You might believe that ‘the future doesn’t hold out much’. At work, because you don’t expect to be promoted, you are unlikely to be the most dynamic of employees. In turn, because you are unlikely to be the most dynamic of employees, you tend to get passed over for promotion and may even lose your job. If your negative beliefs about the future extend to your health, you may be more likely to be obese, have a poor diet, smoke and drink

excessively. After all, what is the point of looking after yourself if you believe that it makes no difference to you if you don’t? If you have a negative belief about the future, you have no incentive to do anything about anything – you might believe that your fate is decided and sealed. Because you believe that the future doesn’t hold much for you, then by definition there is no point in wasting time on trying to stop something that you ‘know’ is going to happen irrespective of your efforts to stop it. After all, what is the point in doing anything, if it is unlikely to meet with success? Negative overthinking virtually guarantees continued failure. The belief that negative thoughts are motivating is a myth. Self-esteem As strange as it may seem, we have a relationship with ourselves. Within our heads, there is a whole little private world in which we are in a continuous dialogue with ourselves. It is where we plan, evaluate, assess, judge, criticise, praise and condemn ourselves and our actions on an ongoing basis. It is within this world that our relationship with ourself is formed and expressed. For example, it is where we can answer the following questions: do I like myself? How would I ideally like to be (my ideal self)? What am I really like (my actual self)? The type of relationship we have with ourselves, as we will see later, determines our sense of wellbeing. At the root of this relationship are the types of thoughts we hold about ourselves – broadly speaking, positive thinking about our self leads to a harmonious, forward thinking and productive relationship, and negative thinking leads to a damaged and destructive relationship. Simply put, when we are positive, we like ourselves; when we are negative, we dislike ourselves. The belief that ‘you haven’t got what it takes to be successful’ reflects a negative relationship with the self. Clearly everybody wants to be successful (however they define it). Nobody opts to be unsuccessful. So if someone is not successful, they might see themselves as a loser. And how can you like yourself if you see yourself as a loser? In more technical terms, the actual you (the ‘unsuccessful’ one) fails to match up to the ideal you (a ‘successful’ one) – the result is low self esteem. You don’t like yourself because you are so far from your ideal you. Some argue that for some individuals these negative thoughts are motivating. They aren’t. Few negative thinkers overcome their lack of success by being even more critical of themselves. Health Negative thinking damages your health, because negative thinking is stress inducing. And stress kills. Our bodies have an inbuilt self-preservation mechanism. When we are faced with a threat of any kind, in a split second, our bodies go onto alert with the ‘flight or fight’ response – our body prepares to either escape or face up to the threat. This biologically adaptive (i.e. useful) response evolved at a time

when we were exposed to real and regular threats to our life or wellbeing from predators (lions, tigers, elephants, snakes) or enemies. This stress response is highly effective – adrenaline increases our heart rate, the increased heart rate pumps extra blood to our muscles getting us ready either to run or fight. At the same time, glucose is pumped into our blood to provide us with extra energy, and unnecessary body functions (such as digestion) are closed down. The body is ready: whether we choose to run or fight, we use up the glucose in our blood, and thereby soak up the excess energy the body provided us with. It is an almost magical response and at least in part explains why we are here today – our predecessors were either quick enough to escape or strong enough to fight the threat off. It is a prehistoric response. However, human society has evolved far more quickly than has the stress response (it is said we have Stone Age genes in a Space Age society). So while we continue to have the same ‘flight or fight’ response, unchanged since we were cave dwellers, we live in circumstances that are unimaginably different. No longer is the stress response triggered by predators. Instead, it is triggered by traffic jams, and worry about our jobs and debts. It is also be triggered by fear and anxiety about the future, anguish about the past, discomfort in the present. There are two problems with this primordial response to these modern day stressors. Firstly, running from or fighting with the predator burned up the excess glucose. In contrast, modern stressors – traffic jams, worry about job loss – do not allow us to immediately burn off this excess energy. We sit in traffic jams, gently stewing as we worry about what the boss will say when we are late for work again, or we go to sleep and wake up thinking about what we are going to do if we lose our job. Meanwhile the glucose stays swilling around in our blood stream clogging things up, increasing our blood pressure, which in turn increases the wear rate of the valves in our hearts. Secondly, these modern day stressors tend to be long rather than short term. This means that the stress response stays on continuously for weeks and perhaps months. Whereas in the past it was switched on when the predator arrived, and switched off after the event, modern days stressors are constants – a fear about losing your job in the future and being concerned about your inability to pay off those debts are long term fears, rarely absent. A student may be worried about his exams for months leading up to them and in the aftermath while he waits for the results that are quite likely to change his life. In the meantime his heart continues to pump excessive amounts of blood and glucose production remains high, all of which continues to damage his body. Such are the physical consequences of adopting negative overthinking. But these negative effects can be counteracted. It has been found that those with an internal locus of control tend to be more prophylactic in their approach to their health – they are less likely to smoke, to be obese, and are more likely to take exercise and drink moderately. Conversely, those with an external locus of control are more likely to suffer health maladies as they take a lot less care of themselves.

In sum, the kind of thoughts you employ have direct and indirect effects on your health. Anxiety disorders Perhaps the biggest effect of negative thinking is on our psychological wellbeing. It is important to note that many people suffer from mild forms of anxiety disorder at some time in their life (note: I am not talking about full-blown organic illnesses, caused by an underlying physical malfunction. Organic illnesses are serious conditions that need the attention of medical professionals). In this book I am referring to the more common, mild but nevertheless debilitating anxiety disorders such as phobias and hypochondria.  Phobias Although there are a variety of explanations for phobias (e.g. genetic factors, learning through Pavlovian conditioning) negative thought processes are also known to be implicated. For example, if someone sees the world as a threatening and dangerous place, in which it is only a matter of time before he is attacked or mugged, it should perhaps not be surprising that he succumbs to agoraphobia, a fear of being outside the home. If an individual catastrophises about his upcoming flight, terrified that his plane ‘is bound to have crash’, a fear of flying is almost inevitable. Someone who loses a sense of perspective about the likelihood of a bomb attack occurring while travelling on the underground may become claustrophobic. By avoiding flying or going out or travelling by underground, his beliefs get reinforced by the physiological calm he experiences when he avoids that which scares him. Doing the fearful thing is deeply stressful; not doing the fearful things is deeply relaxing. The behaviour is self-reinforcing.  Hypochondria In a similar vein to above, if we catastrophise and believe that we get all the bad luck, and that negative things happen to us, it is but a short step to start interpreting those heart palpitations as an impending heart attack, that rash as a melanoma, and that fuzzy eyesight as a brain tumour. The individual becomes a prisoner to anxiety over the maladies, which we all suffer from, except that he exaggerates them to a debilitating extent. He overthinks the particular symptom, which is concerning him at any one moment, going over it in his mind repeatedly, at the same time as he urgently seeks an appointment with a doctor. If he obtains some much-needed reassurance from the doctor, any sense of calm is often short lived, and the overthinking subsides only for a short time before symptom substitution takes place – he finds another symptom about which he starts to catastrophise and ruminate and the whole cycle restarts. In anxiety disorders, rationality and logic tend to be put to one side – the fact that the individual has neither the knowledge nor the expertise to make an informed judgement doesn’t come into it. Distorted emotional states Negative thinking messes up our emotions. How can it be otherwise? If we catastrophise about what is likely to happen or not happen in our life, we are

unlikely to look forward to the days, week, months and years ahead. We are going to become anxious and on edge waiting for the much-feared event. The emotion that is triggered by such thinking will not be positive. We should not be too surprised by the emotional turmoil caused by negative thinking. As adults, let alone as children, unless we are lucky enough to have parents who know these things intuitively, we are never taught the following simple facts, namely that: 1. thinking causes emotions 2. the thoughts you have determine the emotions you feel 3. negative thinking causes negative emotions 4. positive thinking causes positive emotions 5. emotions affect our behaviour 6. positive emotions lead to positive behaviours 7. negative emotions lead to negative behaviours 8. we control our thinking therefore we control our emotions 9. we control our emotions therefore we control our behaviour We are never taught these truths. Instead we are offered platitudes. When we have an emotional outburst we are told to ‘calm down’ without being told how; when we are upset we are told ‘everything will be okay’ without an explanation of why or how; when we are down we are told to ‘cheer up’; when we are underperforming we are told to ‘get our act together’ without being told what this means. All of this well-meaning but essentially useless information means that we never learn to control our emotions or behaviour because we are never taught how to address the underlying thoughts. If indeed you are one of those whose thinking is a negative and out of control, the above mentioned ‘advice’ can be worse than useless. It can leave you with the feeling that you are in some way inferior, thinking: ‘why can’t I calm down when agitated? How can things be okay when I know I won’t be okay? Why can’t I cheer up? Why can’t I get my act together?’ Indeed you may start thinking there is something wrong with you – ‘others don’t get so agitated, things are okay in the life of others, others don’t get so down, others don’t have a problem with getting motivated, so it must be me. What is wrong with me?' The fact is, we cannot feel good if we don’t ‘think good’. Indeed, if our thinking is in a mess, we may come to feel even worse. If we don’t learn ‘to think good to feel good’, and carry on along the path of thinking bad and feeling bad, our emotions may take on a life of their own. Our emotions will direct our thinking. It has been said that emotions are an excellent servant, but a terrible master. This is one of the great truths of human behaviour. The emotions are like a car and the thoughts are the driver. The emotions provide the power and the thoughts provide a sense of direction. Without the driver the vehicle becomes a dangerous object crashing into things; without thoughts to control them – the driver - the highly volatile and aroused emotions become uncontrolled and directionless leaving devastation in their wake. This is exacerbated by the fact that once our emotions are out of control we enter a reinforcing vicious cycle: we are emotionally aroused, not using the

right thoughts to control the emotion; we then produce destructive behaviours which reinforce the emotional turmoil. The driverless vehicle is revving itself up to a dangerous level. Let us look at an example. A husband is deeply jealous of his wife’s contacts with other males, whether at work or socially. They have frequent rows over his unfounded suspicions about her ‘anticipated’ impending infidelity. She finds his jealousy increasingly difficult and constraining – he might be asking her to leave her job, or he might want her to stay right by his side at any social events which they attend. She refuses. He interprets this refusal as a confirmation of her impending infidelity despite there being no other evidence whatsoever. He gets ever more agitated, she gets ever more frustrated and fearful. She eventually leaves him, concerned that his highly agitated emotional state may lead to aggression. In other words, his aroused emotions, in the absence of controlling positive thought, reinforce themselves; as a result he brought about a situation he was most desperate to avoid – the loss of his wife. There is no doubt that we are likely to encounter some of our worst times – some of our deepest depressions, greatest anxieties, most painful turmoil when we let our emotions run away with us, or more accurately when they are not under the control of our thoughts and when our thinking is not positive. Uncontrolled emotions cause damage for at least five reasons. The first reason is that uncontrolled emotions make us act in ways which are not rational and thought through with a full assessment of the implications or the consequences. They are responses without the input of the brain, and hence of logic and rationality. Secondly, by extension of the first point, uncontrolled emotions usually make things worse rather than better. Responses to events based solely on emotion, and lacking the cool evaluation of the consequences of your actions, or an assessment of the options available, are rarely the best response. It is like playing a game of chess and responding with the very first move which comes into your head – you would probably lose every game you played. While this is not to deny that some emotional responses result in positive consequences, the probability is that the emotional response is the losing response. The third reason that uncontrolled emotions are so damaging is that they can end up directing your thinking. When you are highly aroused, the thinking and the decision making emanates from the emotion rather than the other way around. Your thinking becomes subordinated to the emotion. Crimes of passion are explained precisely by this phenomenon. The heart rules the head and directs what should be done. When your emotions are out of control, the thought follows the emotion. Fourthly, uncontrolled emotions tend to be self-perpetuating. Once the emotion (e.g. anger, jealousy) has triggered the negative thought, the negative thought reinforces the emotion making it stronger leading to ever more negative emotions. Your behaviours will reflect this emotion and thinking and will appear as uncontrolled, unbalanced and unhealthy.

The fifth reason that uncontrolled emotions are so damaging lies in their power. Uncontrolled emotions cause immense damage to us as individuals. They have the potential to create in us a sense of impotence as the intended outcomes of our behaviour fail to come about, while the unintended consequences cause havoc. They lead to a sense of grievance on the part of those who are on the receiving end of our emotional outbursts. They create within us turmoil and unease which is at best dispiriting and at worst may lead us to turn in on ourselves. All in all, emotion has enormous energy which if uncontrolled is like a wild horse which no one has tamed – very dangerous. However, if that wildness can be tamed, it becomes a magnificent beast the energy of which can be productively channelled. If we harness the immense potential of emotions to drive us forward there is little that can’t be achieved. They are a fantastic source of energy, which can be used to drive us forward onto bigger and better things. Emotions have an important role to play. Don’t try to eliminate them; rather, use them effectively. The way to do this will be by changing your thought process to more positive ones. As we will explore later, once you do this you start to take control of emotions and in doing so, harness their energy. While negative emotions use up our energy on negativity and constrain us, positive thoughts energise us and motivate us.

The rapid effect of negativity
The effects of negative thinking kick in very rapidly. This is easy to prove. Try the following exercise, if it isn’t too painful. Spend about 10 minutes focussing on everything which is wrong with your life. Try and identify all the things in which you are inadequate, or have failed at or believe you will fail at. Perhaps you never got that degree, not only because you think that intellectually you are not top notch, but also because you are lazy. Perhaps you didn’t go to your first choice university and ended up at a third rate institution emerging with a poor degree all of which is strong evidence as to your perennial weakness. Maybe you didn’t get your doctorate or become executive programme manager. Perhaps you are becoming obese and your efforts to lose weight have failed. Maybe you feel that there is nothing that you can do about it. Maybe you work in a dead-end job. You might scrape along doing the bare minimum, with barely hidden contempt for the incompetents you work with and either increasing anger that you are still there or a gnawing fear that you deserve to be there. Your pitifully low income barely covers your expenses, yet owing to your lack of willpower and need to cheer yourself up you are still prone to blowing money you don’t have on things you don’t need. For example, you might be considering buying a new car, which you can hardly afford, in order to make yourself feel better knowing full well that it is folly. Yet somehow you can’t stop yourself from doing it. Your relationship with your parents is at a very low ebb, as you cannot let them forget about the decisions made in your life which you feel were disastrous for you. Or you don’t get on with your kids, as they hold

you in fairly low esteem. You might not have kids or a family and this dearth of significant others makes you feel either lonely, or isolated and unwanted, with the growing sense that your decision not to have kids was not as well thought through as it could have been. Or vice versa, you might be thinking how good life could have been had you not had kids and remained single. Perhaps that affair, the result of which was you lost your partner, was not well-judged; indeed, was it downright stupid? Or maybe you have stuck with your partner out of a sense of duty rather than love. Maybe he or she takes you totally for granted and there is no emotional content to your relationship, yet at the same time your best years are behind you and you are stuck with him or her. EXERCISE: SPEND TEN MINUTES THINKING ABOUT THINGS YOU HAVE FAILED AT If you did the exercise properly, (or if any of the above resembles you), the chances are that you are feeling rather down about yourself and your life choices and life chances. By choosing to focus on some carefully selected negative thoughts, you have probably successfully managed to bring your mood down. This is after ten minutes Imagine then the impact negative thinking can have if you overthink the negatives for weeks, months and years. The effect on your life could be dramatic. Your personal life may become barren. Your career will continue to go nowhere or perhaps worse. Any semblance of an aspiration will evaporate, burned away by the negative belief that there is no point in having an aspiration as it won’t be realised anyway. Objectives and targets, if there are any, will either be abandoned, or missed. How can it be otherwise? If your mental framework is negative, and the behaviour, which follows, reflects this negativity, your relations, career and aspirations will all be affected. Once negativity sets in and starts to permeate your entire world view something truly pernicious happens – you start to discount the positive things about your life. Your outlook is so negative that not only do you focus on the negatives and exaggerate them, but the positives start to count for nothing. So instead of building on them for the future, you devalue them. A degree maybe dismissed as ‘only’ a pass. The fact that it is in a ‘useless’ subject is emphasised. You totally neglect to even consider that you are healthy, can walk and talk, and see and hear. You don’t reckon that having a home, enough food to eat, regular holidays, the support network and security of belonging to a family are positive features of your life. The fact that you live in a wealthy country with phenomenal support systems simply doesn’t register. Negativity pervades. As a negative thinker you might become a poisonous presence. You start to think negatively about those around you. Instead of focussing on their positives (we all have something to be positive about) we constantly seek out their failings. Worse you constantly remind them of their failings and how inadequate they are. Socrates once said ‘if you want to be loved, love’. A negative thinker is hardly in a position either to love, or to be loved. Turning

Socrates’ quote on his head, it might be said that ‘if you hate, prepare to be hated’. The key point is that the baggage you carry matters. If you carry negative baggage, you will see barriers where others see opportunities, you will see threats where other see challenges. The future is something to be endured. Each day becomes a burden as it contains so little which brings us pleasure, so certain are we that it will only deliver negatives: queues to be stood in, incessant bills, too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Negativity is damaging in many other ways. Negative thoughts de-energise you. They are inherently demotivating - if you expect failure in what you are doing, you have no incentive to put any effort into what you are doing. Battling what you see as inevitable failure is pointless. Negative thoughts are a negative energy source – they soak up your mental energy without a positive outcome. Negative overthinking stops you from achieving. In life you fail to achieve things, because you believe those things are out of bounds. Note: not because they are out of bounds, but because you think they are out of bounds. You selflimit, so that you end up not producing those very behaviours which are likely to extract you from the predicament you are in. Negative thoughts stop you from enjoying where you are, where you have been and where you are going. They stop you enjoying who you are, what you have done or imagining what you can still do. They prevent you from taking pleasure from what you have achieved or can achieve. They eliminate the joy of life, and replace it with a joyless, mundane, uninspired, unambitious existence. Furthermore, negative thoughts prevent you from living in the present – where life is at – and instead leave you regretting that which has passed or feeling guilty over things you either have or have not done or, and fearing what the future will bring. You may of course have hopes for improvement, but lack the tools with which to create that future. Negative thoughts just waste your life even further - you waste time in harking back to the past or fearing the future. They block out the fact that it is not what happened in the past which matters, but what you do in the present which is the key to success. What you do in the now creates your tomorrow. One thing is guaranteed – if you don’t act now, then you cannot expect a reward in the future. If you do act now, you increase the chances of receiving the reward you want. At an even deeper level, negative thinking stops you from seeking out your strengths. All of us have strengths. Negative thinking prevents us from realising what they are: we may end up denying that they even exist. The fact is, that most people are broadly average at most things. Those that excel, rarely excel because of some inbuilt special talent. It is said that Mozart had 20,000 hours of piano practice before the age of 12. Imagine that you chose, over the next 10 years, to spend 20,000 hours practising the guitar, or playing football, or reading, or painting. How good would you be at those things? The chances are you would be very good, if not on the verge of a genius. Negative thinking, because of its demotivating power, prevents us from

undertaking this kind of activity. It blinds us to our potential and our strengths. It constrains us to a mundane existence where we cannot see beyond our self imposed boundaries. You live in times where there are no limits to what you can achieve, academically, financially, artistically. Your dream is there for the choosing. All you have to do is harness your potential to realise it. Banishing those negative thought is one way of doing so. The following chapter will show you how.

Chapter 2

Why Are You So Negative?


here does your negativity come from? Why do you have this baggage? Where have you picked it up? There are at least seven sources of negativity in our lives, each of which influences our thinking. Each reflects either our socio-cultural or familial context. We learn to think negatively from to those around us.

The education system It might seem harsh to criticise the education system for teaching people negative thinking, but alas it is true. The problem lies in the nature of learning and the production of ‘truth’. While learning to do things correctly is all well and good (e.g. how to write an essay), it is perhaps by learning the wrong thing, what not to do, that our learning is at its most powerful and durable. Getting things right a hundred times is not as powerful or instructive a lesson as getting it wrong once. A trite example demonstrates the point. If we are out in the wild, and eat ten different types of berries, each of which is good and healthy, we do not learn as powerful a lesson as when we eat a berry that is poisonous (non-fatally, obviously). (Anyone made sick by a particular food will tend to develop an aversion to that food). For a child, learning when not to cross the road is a more important lesson than learning when to cross the road (there is more than a mere philosophical distinction here). Knowing not to do something is more important than knowing to do something under many circumstances. In other words there is a compelling logic to focussing on the negative. In formal education, students learn a huge amount from errors and failure – teachers highlight learners’ errors and castigate failures in order to promote improvement. And ultimately it is through such negativity that students learn most – learning the right way of doing things will not necessarily prevent them from doing the wrong thing. Learning what not to do, actually making the error and having it corrected, is more effective learning. Furthermore, students are also taught to focus on the negative. At high school level and above, students are taught critical awareness – the importance of looking out for and highlighting flaws, inconsistencies and inadequacies in theories, concepts and any underpinning research they come across. Accolades are consistently reserved for the sharp eyed and keen brained student who can spot these flaws (despite the fact that they should praise

strengths as well). The entire body of scientific research is based on the theorise-evidence-criticise-improve-theorise cycle. The very nature of creating knowledge is based on negativity. The scientific model of increasing our understanding of the world is based on disproving hypotheses and theories. A hypothesis might be supported by hundreds of pieces of research. However, it is the piece of research that disproves the hypothesis, which gets all the attention. One negative piece of research outweighs the hundreds of positives as it undermines the entire theory. Such a focus on negativity comes at a personal cost. If the individual consistently has the message drummed into him to be critical, it should come as no surprise when his keen, analytical mind is turned in on itself, on his past and future, on the social and political context within which he functions and on those with whom he interacts. The insurance industry The success of the insurance industry is based on eliciting a fear of disasters. We are encouraged to speculate about the dangers of having a car crash, a crisis on holiday, our house burning down, becoming ill, even of our pet falling ill. Indeed, the insurance industry has now got this ‘fear factor’ down to such a fine art that it offers us insurance on our insurance – the protected bonus. The whole industry thrives on compelling us to catastrophise, to focus on the negative, to envisage the worst happening to us. While recompense after a disaster is welcome, the industry cannot recompense us for the knock on effects of the negativity on us psychologically – a fear of what the future holds, an inclination to catastrophise about innocuous events, a fear of participating in life affirming and life enhancing experiences, and an increased perception of threat in the world in which we live. Having insurance is indeed comforting, but it does not come without its costs to us personally. The political system Whether the political system is confrontational (as in the UK) or consensual (as in, say, Germany), the nature of politics is such that opposing political parties seek to undermine each other at every opportunity. No party benefits from recognising the achievements of the opposing party. On the contrary, parties win points by focussing on the failures of their opponents. They are at their strongest when highlighting each other’s flaws, pinpointing omissions and exploiting chinks. In the eyes of the government, the opposition can do no good; the opposition can never acknowledge any of the government’s achievements. Politicians see it as their job to be as critical, negative and dismissive of the work of the opposing party as possible. Praising the work of the opposing party is virtually unheard of – it smacks of weakness. A member of the public watching this spectacle could easily come away with the impression that his country is an undeveloped backwater in which the health service has collapsed, the education system is completely failing to educate children, the transport system is decrepit and his fellow nationals are a

bunch of impoverished backward oiks who are the laughing stock of the world. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth: Europe and the US are the most successful, high achieving and wealthy regions on earth. But this is hardly the point. This is how the system works, and indeed has to work: being critical keeps our political masters on their toes, drives improvement and ensures that politicians are constantly striving to achieve if they are to be re-elected. But the seeds of negativity in the watching public are planted and watered daily. The daily news dwells on the vitriolic exchanges that take place between opposing parties as a matter of course – in other words, the public get a daily does of negativity about how bad things are in the education system, the health service, on the roads. Overall, we are left with the impression that we are nobodies and our country is sliding backwards towards decrepitude. The psychological effect of this behaviour on us is predictable – we become negative about the present and future of the country we live in, our region, our competitiveness in the world. The fact that we have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, along with one of the best education systems, health systems, road networks and social facilities is almost totally forgotten. The media The nature of the media means that it has to focus on attention-getting events. Unfortunately for us, negative events are far more noteworthy and informative than are positive events. For example, everyday the health services successfully treat hundreds of thousand of patients suffering a whole range of debilitating disorders. Those many successes that represent the norm are not newsworthy. The 25,000 people who were operated on successfully or the 500 babies which were born, with no deaths recorded, don’t attract attention. On the other hand, if someone spends 10 hours on a trolley waiting for a bed to empty, his story is likely to be on the front page of the tabloids the next day. This is of course on one level eminently reasonable – reporting inadequacies in our health service prevents complacency taking hold, it keeps politicians focussed, and ensures that the highest standards are aspired to. But it also has serious negative by-products. Focussing on the negative breeds in readers a negative outlook – it encourages them to focus on the negatives and discount the good things taking place on a daily basis. It encourages them to be ultra critical in their outlook. The media also likes to focus on crises, catastrophes and crime as they are all by definition newsworthy – there is little sense in a newspaper reporting that there has been no tsunami in Asia today. Conversely, it makes sense to report that 200,000 have lost their lives in a major disaster. Similarly, reporting that there were no murders in a particular city on a particular day would be absurd. It therefore makes perfect sense to report a murder when it does occur. Yet the net effect of such negative headlines is that it breeds in people a sense of danger, threat, concern and anxiety about what is going on in the world, and the threat it presents to them. The world comes across as a more threatening place than in fact it is. We become more suspicious and less trusting of our

fellow man. The overblown negativity portrayed by the media impacts on our sense of wellbeing and perception of the world around us in a destructive way. Parents Our parents, who themselves have been and continue to be on the receiving end of the negative messages referred to above, reinforce those messages in their dealings with us, while adding a few of their own. And because they are formative and significant actors in our lives, especially in our early years when we are most susceptible to their influence, it is hardly surprising that we learn their anxieties, worries and concerns. The strategies they employ to deal with those anxieties tend to become our strategies. Parents can be bad for us in other ways. For example, our parents are the product of another era, and were susceptible to the influences of formative actors (i.e. their parents and teachers) who were themselves from another era, an era when child-rearing techniques were rather rudimentary. Let us look at a specific example. Let us say you were born in the 1960s, and your parents were therefore themselves probably brought up in the 1940s. These were very different times, to say the least. These were times of deference, of relative poverty, of social hierarchy and social status, during which people were expected ‘to know their place’. Doctors, lawyers even teachers were seen as social superiors and deference was expected of those subordinated to them. Those at the top of the social hierarchy ‘knew what was best for us’. In addition, less provision was made for the less able, who were, in broad terms, left to sink or swim. These were times in which our parents (or grandparents) were taught some very bad habits. Because of their influence on us, these bad habits were passed on to us. And their bad habits are often very bad. Let me give you an example. It is not uncommon to hear a parent say to their child ‘you stupid boy/girl’ after some minor accident (e.g. they drop their ice cream). Yet to call a child ‘stupid’ carries deeper meaning far beyond that intended. It becomes baggage that the child carries with it in daily life. For a start to call a child stupid is to label the entire child. Rather than isolate the deed (after all, we all do stupid things occasionally) the parent implies that the child’s stupidity caused the accident. It becomes an enduring characteristic of the child. It becomes indelible. Once said, it cannot be retracted. If instead, the deed had been labelled as stupid, the event would have been isolated from the child – the two would be distinct. The deed would be over and could be a learning experience from which the child moves on. However, by labelling a child, the damage doesn’t end with the child feeling stupid. To call a child stupid implies a negative interpretation of past events (a child doesn’t suddenly become stupid – it must have been stupid all along) and low expectations of future events (a stupid child in the present is unlikely to stop being stupid tomorrow or the day after). Furthermore, the parent is sending out a message to those present that this child is stupid. Their perceptions can’t but be affected by this judgement – after all, a parent knows its child better than anyone else, and therefore, in the eyes of others, is unlikely to be wrong.

Worse is that as a result of a parent’s labelling, a child comes to believe something negative about himself. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to assess the impact such labelling might have on a child, its own expectations of itself, its hopes for the future. The parent may have planted the seed that leads the child to self-limit its behaviour. If it is stupid, then it might reason it cannot hope to achieve much in life. The negative framework is being built. There are of course other ways in which parents help to construct this negative framework. A fairly common one is when parents try to ‘motivate’ their children. For example, a child might have recently sat some examinations and obtained, say, eight A grades, and 2 B grades. Some parents, instead of praising the achievement, and in the belief that they are motivating the child do the opposite and moan ‘Oh, isn’t it a shame you didn’t get all A grades’. The amateur psychologist in the parent is convinced that they are doing the child a great favour, spurring it on to greater things. In fact, what they are doing is inherently demotivating – they are focussing on the negative and failing to reward positives. Instead of praising the child for what it has achieved, they home in on what the child has failed to achieve – the positives are dismissed along with all of the effort that went towards achieving them while the negatives come to the forefront. There are many other examples of well-meaning parents causing their offspring damage. The parents themselves are arguably not to blame insofar as they themselves may have been on the receiving end of similar such behaviours. But the damage they cause, wilful or not, is enduring. Events Some allowance has to be made for the fact that sometimes in life, things just go wrong for us – it could be our health, accidents or whatever. Sometimes the laws of probability just do not work in our favour. This could happen for big things (e.g. an individual may get lung cancer despite never having smoked or perhaps the individual may have lost two or three significant others in quick succession) or lesser things (e.g. being made repeatedly redundant through sheer bad luck). Whatever the cause (i.e. a big one off event, or a sequence of lesser but collectively cataclysmic events) occasionally the run is so devastating that the individual learns not to fight it anymore and just ‘accept his fate’. He adopts the view that whatever he does, bad things seem to happen to him. He starts to believe that irrespective of what he does, bad things happen to him. Psychologists call this learned helplessness. The notion of learned helplessness is based on an infamous and cruel experiment to explore how a dog would respond to receiving an electric shock irrespective of what it did to avoid the shock. The experiment involved placing the dog in a room with a metal floor. The room was divided by a small barrier low enough for the dog to jump over. After placing the dog in the room, a small electric current – uncomfortable but not lethal – was sent through the floor in the half of the room in which the dog was standing. Predictably, the dog would try to escape from this pain by jumping over the barrier to other half of the

room. At this point the psychologists would send the electric current through the floor in that part of the room as well. The dog could not escape the shock. On the second day, the procedure was repeated. And on the third. By the fourth day, the dog stopped trying to escape the shock. It just lay down and whimpered as soon as it was put in the room. The dog had learned that escape was futile. It had learned that whatever it did it made no difference. It had learned to be helpless. And with the helplessness came all the symptoms of depression - its appetite was reduced, its sex drive disappeared, its ‘mood’ was subdued. A similar but less cruel experiment was conducted on fish. After the fish had been placed in a fish tank and left there for a few days to acclimatise, the tank was divided into two by a pane of glass, which the fish soon learned to avoid. After a few weeks, the glass was removed, yet the fish never ventured into that half of the tank. They head learned the limits of what where they could go. The physical limits had become mental limits. The implications for humans are evident. The unemployed may stop trying to find work after long periods of trying, in the mistaken belief that there is no point in trying in anymore, even though there might be jobs out there. Somebody who has taken their driving test five, six times, may also stop trying in the belief that they will never pass. Somebody who has failed their Maths exam a number of times may give up, convinced that they will always fail. In general, in the short term, if someone suffers the disappointments of repeated failure in a given period, he will end up not achieving in that particular field. If he can keep the sense of failure narrowed down to this one area, the fallout will be limited. However, if the thinking becomes more global, the effects are more pernicious in the longer term as it will start to effect his self-perception of being an effective actor in many diverse areas. Learned helplessness kills motivation stone dead. It suffocates self-belief and self-efficacy. The stimulation of unnecessary wants Our societal context contributes significantly to our negativity. Curiously, there may be a biological basis for it. This needs some explanation. Evolutionary theory (or Darwinism) suggests that we are in constant competition with those around us. By ‘competition’ I mean trying to beat them to the limited resources that are available (partners, shelter, food; by definition competition only exists when there are limited resources). A lack of food or shelter, gaining access to a sexual partner are powerful incentives to compete. For example, most people, when truly, painfully hungry or even starving (i.e. highly motivated), are driven to act in ways which they would not normally act when they are not hungry. (Hunger is known as a primary driver). They will eat things that they would normally find abhorrent, cannibalism being an extreme example. The evidence of this competitiveness for limited resources is indisputable. Natural disasters often leave men and women literally fighting each other for scraps of food handed out by food agencies. The notion of orderly queue is dispelled by people’s desperate urge to feed themselves and

their families. There is little room for altruism here. Hunger, starvation, and perhaps above all thirst are the most powerful motivating forces of all primary drives. Somebody once said that we are 6 meals and 72 hours away from becoming savages. Hunger is so powerful a drive that it simply does allow us to be depressed and unmotivated – the hungrier we get the more motivated we become. We are nearly as driven when it comes to access to sexual partners. In the animal world, males will fight for access to fertile females. In the human world, while things are rarely as extreme, competition for access to the opposite sex, most typically by males for access to females, can take on significant dimensions. These primary motivators are also known as intrinsic motivators in that they come from within and are not in any way shaped or elicited by environmental or social factors. It is simply a case of our bodies telling us that they have needs which need satisfying. However, the industrialised societies in which we live have evolved far beyond competition to satisfy primary drives. Food is very cheap, local agencies have a duty to provide shelter and sustenance and warmth, and pornography offers vicarious access to sexual partners. The competition to satisfy our primary, intrinsic drives is a lot less harsh that it was for our prehistoric predecessors. Instead, we now compete with those around us for far ‘higher’ things, such as jobs, income, homes, holidays, cars – secondary motivators. They are secondary because they serve to obtain the primary motivators – having a well paid job is a means of ensuring that one can buy high quality food, have high quality homes, ensure a high quality education for offspring all of which increases their chances of success in future competition. For males, having a nice car is a way of displaying ‘success’ to observers (i.e. women), and also of their potential to be a successful provider. Males have few opportunities for demonstrating their prowess in other ways. These secondary motivators are also extrinsic – they do not appear to have a direct biological basis and have evolved according to the society we live in. In some societies, a male may display his prowess by the number of cattle he owns, or the number of warriors he has killed; in ours we compete for goods. This competitiveness has been convincingly demonstrated by economists. In surveys participants are given two hypothetical options: in option one their wealth or income increases by 10%, and that of their competitor increases by 15% (i.e. half as much again) while in option two, their wealth increases by 2% but their competitor’s wealth increases by 4% (i.e. by double). Which should they go for? The logical choice is obvious: in absolute terms, the individual is far better off with option one – with five times the growth rate of option two (10% versus 2%), it would be a bizarre decision to choose option two. Yet people consistently choose option two. The rationale? We opt for lower growth for ourselves because at least that of our competitor is not that great either. Somehow it upsets us that our competitor could grow very quickly even if we ourselves are growing quickly. In competition, not falling behind

competitors matters most. Relative wealth is more important than absolute wealth. There is little evidence to suggest that we differ in terms of the drive provided by our primary motivators – when we are starving most of us will go to extreme ends to satisfy that drive. However, there is a lot of evidence to show that we differ significantly in terms of the drive provided by our secondary motivators. Quite simply, some have an immense determination to become prime ministers or brain surgeons or moguls, while others are not so driven and happy to beaver away is some minor role. Why it is some have very high motivation to achieve secondary, extrinsic motivators is unclear, though it must be related to differences in background and expectations. A lower drive to achieve wealth and goods is not necessarily a problem, particularly if primary needs are being satisfied. In other words, all other things being equal, most people would probably be happy with shelter and enough to eat (anthropological studies confirm this). The high achievers are an exception, not the norm. However, all things are not equal. Things are made ‘unequal’ by the advertising industry, which in effect rubs our noses in the fact that there is so much we which don’t possess and which we should aspire to, particularly if we want to be held in high esteem by others. (Have a look at ‘How to Spend it’ in the weekend edition of The Financial Times to see what I mean). By emphasising our relative poverty we are made to feel bad about ourselves, even if in absolute terms we have no real wants. The advertising industry is a very cunning industry - it serves no other function than to elicit the desire to achieve secondary motivators. (Look around your average shopping centre: how much of what is on sale satisfies primary needs?). It is indiscriminate in who it reaches – whether they be those with high or low motivation, does not matter. It creates wants (motivation) that are not naturally there. We are bombarded with the message that having a nice car is the way to win the esteem of neighbours, to become the envy of our friends and earn the respect of our children. The possession of expensive furniture, travel on exotic holidays, and owning a top of the range watch will impress those around us, we are told. The media bombards us with information about what we can have, and continuously reminds us of what we don’t have. The entire advertising industry in based on stimulating unnecessary wants by emphasising our relative poverty. For those of us with a high drive to achieve extrinsic motivators, that is all well and good. But for those us with less drive, we are left with a desire that we may not have the motivation to satisfy – an itch we cannot scratch. We want the items, but lack the energy or genuine desire to work for it. Therein lies the problem. The constant battering of advertising leaves viewers with the impression that you are only successful or desirable if you own a particular type of car, or have a particular type of lifestyle, or travel to the most exotic of destinations. The subliminal message is: if you don’t achieve these things, you are second rate. The result is that those who succumb to such messages may come to suffer low self-esteem, a sense of inadequacy and depression. The

really desperate are driven to take on debts which they can’t afford. Others may just go out and steal. Depression caused by negative thinking is a luxury only people in rich societies can afford. In poor societies, unsatisfied or only partially satisfied primary drives ensure that the individual is sufficiently driven. In poor societies, if you don’t go out and get, you go hungry. There is little time to spend time pondering the higher things in life, and perhaps even less point, so unattainable they are. This if nothing else exposes the role societal context plays in creating negative thought patterns.

In these first few chapters we have spent a lot of time exploring three key things: 1) exactly why negative thinking is so damaging (it demotivates, it lowers our sense of self-esteem etc), 2) some of the different types of negative thoughts and 3) the sources of that negativity. Being aware of each of these three facets of negativity is crucial if you are to tackle them successfully. This is because we are continuously bombarded by the education system, the media, our parents. Increased awareness of their role is vital as these sources of negativity are so powerful and influential that the negative messages they emit tend to get incorporated into our belief system, into the thinking framework we employ about ourselves, others, the world around us, our expectations of the future, our interpretation of the past. What we think clearly therefore matters in more ways than you might imagine. To paraphrase, you might say ‘I think, therefore I am what I am’’ or even ‘what I think determines who I am’. Some philosophers would argue that you and I are nothing more and nothing less than our thoughts. We are not what we own, or what we look like or our bodies. We are what we think – what we think about, what we think of, how we think, what we think of ourselves, what we think of life, what we think of good and bad. We are nothing more than our thoughts. There is some logic to this approach to the self. If we were to lose the capacity to think, what would we be? We would cease to exist as the person we are. We become a hollow shell. Thinking is what makes us human and distinct. Therefore it matters immensely how and what we think.

Chapter 3

Identifying Specific Negative Thoughts

f you have read this far, you are clearly intent on making the necessary changes to achieve something which is important to you: a more positive outlook on life, a better relationship with yourself and a desire to achieve things. It is probably not the first time you have tried to institute change. It is likely that on previous occasions you might have been less successful that you would have wished. I will now try to explain why this was the case. You will see why failure was almost inevitable. You will also see that once you have grasped the underlying explanation for previous failures, your path to success will be clearer. Specifically, by identifying and dealing with your negative thought framework, you simultaneously make the necessary adaptations to increase your chances of achieving your goals. The key to success starts with understanding and eliminating the causes of failure.


Why previous efforts at change failed
All of us fail at some things. Many of us fail at a lot of things. Some of us fail just by not completing something we have set out to do. One of the reasons you may have failed in your efforts to change is that you were probably not aware of the underlying problem. Trying to change behaviour without being aware of the essential nature of the problem is like trying to tackle an illness without looking at possible causal factors – that red mark on the skin could be a rash, a burn, an infection, an allergic reaction or the start of a virulent skin disorder. To tackle it, you really need to try and establish the cause. So it is with human behaviour. Many of us try to change our behaviour without being aware of what the cause of our unsatisfactory behaviour might be. This chapter will show you that if you failed in the past, it was probably because you were trying to tackle the symptoms (the behaviour) without treating the cause (the negative thought). You may have had the most admirable of goals: a better job, an improved life, lower weight, to be more assertive. You started to do something about it - looking for jobs, going on a diet, going on a course to become more

assertive. But you failed. As a result, you probably found yourself back where you started, maybe even more negative than before. Negativity is selfreinforcing. With negative overthinking, failure breeds more failure. It is the negative overthinking which explains why when you made a decision to get a better job or diet, your efforts were doomed to failure. By not changing the underlying mental framework, you ensured the failure of your efforts. Those efforts to deal with the things that depressed you or bothered you may have been hindered by the type of thinking which caused you to be bothered in the first place. Neither were you likely to have been aware of just how automatic your negative thoughts are – their tendency to pop into your head to demotivate and destabilise you. This is because these automatic negative thoughts were so ‘normal’ and part of your everyday thinking that you failed to distinguish between them and other less damaging thoughts you might have had. Indeed, so automatic and entrenched is the negative thinking of some people that even when it is brought to their attention, they still can’t really see what you are getting at. They will reply, that you don’t really understand the problem, that you don’t really appreciate the issues involved, that of course their problems are caused by external factors and how can they possibly be responsible for behaviour which is so self-damaging. After all, why would they want to damage themselves? For these individuals this type of negative thinking comes to them so ‘naturally’ (i.e. automatically) that it is like breathing – they do it without being aware that they are doing it. The thoughts they think, and the underlying rationale is so obvious to them that they are seemingly beyond the need for any form of analysis: ‘of course it is my parents fault that I am where I am’; ‘of course fate conspired against me’; ‘of course I get all of the bad luck’. Such negative thinking is such a natural part of some people’s psychological make up that they cannot really conceive of thinking in different ways. They don’t know they are doing it and if they don’t know they are doing it how can they stop it? This is why negative thinking is so pernicious – once it is entrenched it seems so normal and correct. On one level, the solution to such thinking could not be simpler: get rid of the negative thoughts. Then, develop positive thoughts that will result in positive emotions and behaviour. The rest of this chapter will explain how to do this. Firstly, it will describe in detail the various types of negative thoughts that exist. (You will see that there are a great many and that half the battle is to become aware of them, a process that started in an earlier chapter.) Secondly, it will describe techniques for dealing with them. A subsequent chapter will show you how to develop positive thinking.

Identifying negative thoughts
It is now possible to identify specific types of negative thoughts which cause damage. By going through the different types one by one you will note the ones

you are prone to and get some idea of the effect they have on you. Below are the main types of negative thoughts. Catastrophic thinking Catastrophic thinking is automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion about an event or object which is important to you. A phone call about a job doesn’t come through – you immediately fear that you haven’t got the job. A boyfriend forgets your birthday – he doesn’t love you anymore. Your kids aren’t home on time – they must have had an accident. You are going to fail your driving test or lose your job. You have got a little lump on your breast – you’ve got cancer. Whatever it is, you jump to the worst possible conclusion you can. It might seem to you that catastrophic thinking can inoculate you against the blows of life. You might think that: 1) If you assume the worst is going to happen, then you will not be disappointed when the worst actually happens. There is no ‘hope gap’ between assuming the worst and the worst happening. There are no surprises, no unpleasant discoveries, no unanticipated consequences. 2) Because you have assumed the worst will happen, your hopes have not been raised and you will avoid the pain that comes from shattered hopes – you will avoid the pain that emanates from the vast chasm between hope and devastating reality – the ‘hope gap’. (Remember the Chinese quotation: hope is the strategy of fools). 3) If you assume the worst and the worst doesn’t happen, anything that follows has got to be a bonus. So, even though you expected to fail that exam – you didn’t. You didn’t get a great grade, but at least you didn’t fail. Even though you did not expect to get the job – you did. Even though you were really fearful that the plane might crash – it didn’t. Even though you were anxious about a symptom that you thought might be cancer, you were given the all clear. Even though you were sacred of being attacked when you went out, you weren’t. The relief is palpable. However, by inoculating yourself against the blows of life in this way, you are damaging yourself in the process. First and foremost, such thinking leaves you with little sense of control over your environment, and instead, convinced that you are at the whim of fanciful fate. This is because catastrophisation breeds negativity about the world. The world comes to be seen as a threatening, dangerous place, in which catastrophes lie just around the corner. It is a place to be avoided. In addition, the future becomes a time in which something terrible is bound to happen sooner or later. It is therefore not something to be looked forward to, but rather dreaded and approached with a sense of foreboding. You also become fearful on behalf of others, constraining them from trying things and achieving things. In other words, the catastrophising individual not only prevents self growth, but also the growth of others.

Polarised thinking Polarised thinking is automatically thinking negative extremes. Examples of such thinking might incude ‘I will never pass my driving test’, ‘I will never get another boyfriend’, ‘these things always happen to me’, ‘I always slip up at crucial moments’. The words ‘never’ and ‘ever’ and ‘always’ infer an unbeatable finality. In using such language, you are predetermining a destiny that has not yet been determined. Such language also infers a comprehensiveness leaving no room for alternatives, no scope for a positive turn of events. Over-focussing on negative events A very common form of negative thinking is the tendency of the individual to over-focus on everything that has gone wrong with his life, on everything that he has failed at and on all the bad things which have happened to him. (As we will explore below, this type of thinking goes hand in hand with the fact that he ignores or diminishes the value of the positive things he may have achieved). He is prone to recalling only instances of failure, often exaggerating their significance. Negatives happen to all of us. Most of us keep them in perspective, but some of us don’t; we get them out of proportion. Neglecting positives Another form of negative thinking is neglecting the positives. Indeed sometimes they are so obvious, and so taken for granted, that we are not even aware they are positives. We only realise how positive they are once they have been taken away from us. Just look at the daily challenges facing those in a wheelchair. Just ask anyone who has lost their sight, or hearing, or sense of smell what life is like without them. Our ability to see, hear, smell, move around – these are the interface between our internal and external worlds. They are the means via which the outside world comes in and how we get out what is going on, on the inside. They are literally the means with which we interact with the world. To lose these senses is to lose this ability. Yet how many of us appreciate these abilities, these positives, on a daily basis? We neglect to appreciate these phenomenal abilities and skills. Christopher Reeve, the star of Superman, was chosen for the role because of his looks and physique. His role brought him stardom, fame, immense wealth, glory and pretty much everything that a man could wish for. After a terrible horse riding accident he was left a paraplegic unable to even breathe unaided. I have little doubt that he would have swapped all of his wealth and glory to get back those neglected basics. One second he was at his peak – the next, his old life was gone forever. Neglecting the positives therefore is dangerous in that it makes us forget how truly fortunate we are. Health is an irreplaceable asset. Our freedom from a major illness is something which ought to bring us joy on a daily basis. You can even be positive if you are suffering from a major illness. There are few countries in the world where you would be better served following a

major health breakdown – here in the West we have amongst the best doctors in the world, at our service, providing free of charge service, virtually on our doorsteps. There is many a place on earth where some ‘mundane’ illnesses (e.g. diabetes) would be a death sentence. There are so many other benefits to living here in the West that we so easily lose sight of – our ability to travel, unemployment benefit, our ability to read and write, a healthy balance of rain (which makes the country green) and sun (which makes things grow), our family (which for most of us is our most important support system), films, poetry, newspapers (pennies or cents for a daily insight into the world), computers, the internet, iPods, energy saving light bulbs, mobile phones…should I go on? These are incredible things – unattainable for much of the world even today and some of which were unimaginable even 20 years ago. In fact, most of us in the West live better than did the kings of 200 years ago – we live in centrally heated homes with hot and cold running water, our life expectancy is longer, opportunities to travel greater, the opportunity to communicate with the world unlimited and so on. To have been born in the West, is, as they say, to have won the lottery of life. The point is this – we are people, who live in great times in a great part of the world. I am not saying things are perfect and that there are no improvements to be made. What I am saying is that there are innumerable positives around us and if we neglect to notice them we abuse our good position in life. By failing to enjoy the positives, we deprive ourselves of a huge source of satisfaction. Irrational thinking Irrational ideas or beliefs are thoughts which bear little or no resemblance to how the world functions, but rather, reflect your own beliefs about how it functions. Usually, these assumptions and beliefs are flawed. For example, you might believe that:  you must have love or approval or respect from all significant people in your life to feel valued  you must be totally competent in all areas  you can avoid facing challenging situations and responsibility and yet still feel fulfilled  others must change if you are to feel better Why are these statements irrational? Because they are unfounded - your value doesn’t depend on the respect or approval of others – it depends on your achievements and your own view of yourself. Because, you don’t have to be, you can’t be competent in all areas of life. Because fulfilment can only be obtained by taking responsibility and by tackling challenging things – it is irrational to expect it for nothing. Finally, because whatever others do is or should be irrelevant to have good you feel. EXERCISE: IDENTIFY OTHER UNFOUNDED ASSUMPTIONS OR BELIEFS YOU MIGHT HOLD (DO A SEARCH FOR ‘IRRATIONAL BELIEFS’ ON THE INTERNET FOR IDEAS).

Illogical thinking Illogical thinking is thinking about yourself, or your achievements or others which is literally incorrect, that is, the conclusions drawn on the basis of the available information is incorrect. (There is clearly some overlap here, with irrational thinking). For example, the flawed logic of saying ‘I am bound to fail – I have always failed at everything I have tried’ is obvious in a number of ways. The first flaw is that there are very few events that have such power that they can determine what is going to happen in the future. Christopher Reeve’s accident determined he would never walk again. Being born a male means never bearing children. But when it comes to social experiences, very few things determine the future. The future is there to be determined by you. Although, clearly events can influence what is going to happen in the future, they do not make it inevitable. The second flaw in logic is that you believe that your fate is now fixed and that whatever you do in the here and now will not affect the future. The flaw? You just cannot know that. You can believe it, but not know it. You might have an inkling about what is likely to happen, but cannot know it. Of course, the chances are that if you don’t address the issue which is bothering you, what you think might happen, will happen. But this would also be illogical. If you are sufficiently aware of a problem that you can predict its consequences, you are also likely to be aware of the steps you can take to avoid the consequences. The future can therefore hold out as much as you want it to hold out. Another example of logically flawed thinking is believing that ‘because I followed the advice of others, they are to blame for my lack of success’. Nobody can cause your lack of success – only you can. They cannot study for your exams, they cannot fail to apply for jobs for you, they cannot be demotivated for you. Sure, they may have influenced your choices. But if others have interfered in your life, it is only because you have let them. If you let them, it was your responsibility for doing so. If they gave you bad advice it was your responsibility for taking it. If they made suggestions, it was you who followed those suggestions. Blaming others and not taking responsibility for your own actions Negative thinkers tend to attribute failure (and strangely enough often success as well) to fate, fluke or chance, in fact anything and anyone but themself. (In contrast, positive thinkers tend to take responsibility for their own failures and successes). By blaming others for their failures and therefore by making others responsible for those failures, you might believe that you have solved your problems. In fact such thinking merely exacerbates the negativity predicament. By giving others responsibility for what happens to you, you deprive yourself of control over what happens to you and therefore pass that control over to them. For example, if you believe that ‘things tend to work out badly for you’, you are denying you own ability to control events, to make things work out well in your own interests. You accept that there are omnipotent forces beyond you acting

against you. You reject the notion that you can resist such ‘forces’. Projecting into the future, you are pre-empting the notion that you can take control over events and seemingly passively accepting that the future is something which happens to you, as opposed to being something which you make happen. Things happen rather than you make what happens, happen. External factors, not you, determine what happens. Ultimately you are doing nothing other than denying your role in your own life. Similarly if you believe that ‘events have prevented you from achieving much in life’ you are saying that you have not been able to shape your own fate, that events have taken their course and have stopped you from achieving. The belief that ‘it is probably too late to bring about significant change in your life’ is a classic self-limiting phrase in which you reduce your sense of control over your life. By believing that it is too late to do much about anything, you are denying yourself the opportunity to take control during the time that is left. Yet it is never too late to do something about anything until your time has run out. Only then is it too late. After all, even if we have precious few years left on the planet why not make them the best possible, the best of your life? To say that ‘it is too late’ is to deny yourself the opportunity to bring about change. It is factually wrong. You are denying your responsibility for using the time which remains effectively. Denying your own responsibility is in some respects the worst kind of negative thinking. All change starts with yourself. By denying your role in that change, you are deliberately depriving yourself of the right and responsibility to choose what change you want to make and the right and responsibility to control that change. Such is the danger of careless attribution of responsibility of control. However, there is a more subtle, more pernicious way of passing control to others over what happens to us, without us even being aware we are doing it. It is more subtle and pernicious because it is embedded within the very way we phrase things and consequently reflects what we believe to be true. Have you ever used any of the following phrases? He/she makes me so angry He/she really upset me He/she gets on my nerves He/she irritates me On one level, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases – we use and hear them in everyday life. However, they are fundamentally damaging to us and our sense of self. Why? Because they imply that others determine when we feel angry, upset, nervous and irritated. To say that someone ‘makes’ you angry is to say that someone has the power to elicit in you anger. To say they ‘make you’ angry is to imply that this is something that they can do even if it is against your wishes. This in turn suggests that their power to elicit an emotion in you exceeds your power to control the emotion and that in effect the other person controls what emotions you are going to feel. Your emotions become malleable in the hands of someone who wants to play with them, and you are seemingly unable to

prevent them from doing so. The same is true for ‘(s)he really upset me, gets on my nerves, irritates me’. But is this really so? Do others really have this capacity to control how we are going to feel? Of course not. But if we use such language about how we respond to others, we may come to believe it so. The way to challenge this type of thinking is to put yourself at the centre of what happens to you; use language which puts you at the centre of things you do, and the choices you make. For example, take the phrase ‘he makes me so angry’. Imagine how might you feel, if instead of using such passive language, which leaves you on the receiving end, you were to rephrase it as follows: ‘This person is trying to provoke me to feel anger. However, what he does not realise is that he cannot control my thoughts. Thus he cannot control my feelings. Thus this person is incapable of making me angry. And in this moment, I have chosen not to feel angry.’ Language matters and self-language (i.e. our internal dialogue) matters most. Use of ‘truisms’ Truisms, common-sense phrases and quotes which are believed to be so fundamentally true that they are beyond question are in regular use in our language. These phrases are accepted as ‘natural’ human insight which impresses with its ability to nail ‘the truth’ in a pert saying. Phrases such as ‘what will be, will be’, ‘like father like son/like mother like daughter’, ‘boys will be boys’ or versions of them litter every language and culture, such is their universal appeal. Reject such phrases, despite the fact that they have seemingly stood the test of time. Take the phrase, ‘boys will be boys’ (or indeed ‘girls will be girls’). This phrase implies that your life has followed a path that was laid by your biology. It suggests that your genetic make up (as a male or female) has determined (note: not shaped, or influenced but determined) the behaviour you produce. By extension this suggests that you have a limited range of behaviours you can produce and are at the whim of what nature has determined for you. Furthermore, such thinking implies that you cannot use your mind and your experience to choose behaviours you want to. Thus, apparently, whatever you do, the changes you can make will have a minimal or marginal effect, and that you will be fighting an unwinable battle against your biology. Wrong. If biology limits us physically (puts certain physical constraints upon what we can or cannot do) it cannot do so socially or psychologically. However, the belief that biology limits us is far more damaging than the limits biology itself imposes on us. Think back to the fish in the bowl – are we continually swimming up against a glass wall? If we believe that that there is a wall there, we are far more likely to behave in a ‘narrower’ way that if we don’t believe this.

In the film The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays a man living in an environment in which he believes he is making free choices. Only when he realises that his behaviour is constrained within very negative parameters does he realise what is possible. He is only free when he realises these limits and transcends them. Worry Worry is negative in that it is a thought about something undesirable that you think may happen in the future, or about something desirable that you think may not happen. Worry is damaging if it is excessive and involves going over the same negative thought in your head to the extent that it is debilitating – it affects your mood, disrupts your sleep, damages your health and prevents you from focussing your efforts on other things. We are a worrisome society. We worry about so many things – our jobs, health, income, achievements, ageing, looks, status, what our cars and homes say about us, going on holiday, accidents, our children, our partners running off with someone etc. Many of our worries are about events which we have little control over. After all, if you had control over the event, then the chances are that you would not worry about it but rather do something about it. In reverse, the logic is therefore, if you can’t do something about it then why worry about it? The worry will make no difference whatsoever to whether or not the event will happen. Let us take health as an example. Worrying about getting a serious illness is far less useful that eating correctly, taking exercise, keeping stress levels down, keeping your weight down and so on. Doing something about your health is far more productive than ruminating about it. Worry is not productive. It achieves little or nothing; it is a waste of time. Worry is a killer; it has a physiological effect that can eventually lead to heart disease. What hasn’t happened, hasn’t yet happened, so why waste time ruminating about it? If you can act on your concern, then act – doing something about that which is worrying you is the only sensible and effective way of dealing with it. So, if your worry is a stimulus to action, that’s fine. But if your worry is simply a process of you wallowing in the thought, drop it.

Hopefully you can see that there are a great many cognitive or thought traps that you can set ourself, get caught in and struggle to escape from. Each of these traps is dangerous in that they affect you in the present, but also in terms of your interpretation of the past and expectations of the future. Individually, each of these traps is damaging. Collectively, or in combination, they can devastate, shattering your aspirations and distorting your recollection and interpretation of the past. Their power is magnified by their automaticity. Their tendency to crop up out of nowhere endows them with real destructiveness. The fact that you do not have to consciously bring them up, indeed, on the contrary, the fact that you

have battle to keep them out of consciousness implies that they are seemingly beyond your control. It is almost as if there is force in your mind independent of you. Worse still, as I have said many times, such negative thoughts, whatever their type, are self-reinforcing. Their negativity reduces your resistance to them, making them more powerful still. They are so powerful because they are like all habits – easily made and remarkably resilient. Yet, as with all habits, they can be changed. Your thoughts do not have an independent existence of you. They are under your control. Just as you developed the bad habit of thinking negative thoughts in the first place, you will develop the habit of not thinking them. We will now explore how to do this.

Chapter 4

Stopping negative overthinking


e learn to think in the way we do. Through parents, our upbringing, the media, the education system, we have been brought up to think in a particular way. We did not consciously choose to do so – we simply think how others around us think, how society has encouraged us to

But as with any learned behaviour, thinking habits can be changed. There is no habit that is beyond our control. These learned negative thinking habits are patterns of behaviour, which are automatic, sub-consciously generated and not controlled. All we have to do is bring them under conscious control again. We will now explore how.

Becoming aware of when you are overthinking negatively
Precisely when we think negatively will differ between individuals. You may be prone to waking or falling asleep with negative thoughts on your mind. Alternatively, you may only start thinking negatively when you are facing a moment of some significance to you – a test, a meeting, a presentation. Or, you may just have a general negative demeanour. The key is to make yourself aware of when you are thinking negatively while you are thinking it. Only once you are conscious of your negative thinking can you stop it and replace it with something more productive and beneficial to your wellbeing. To achieve this, you will have to ‘step outside yourself’ and keep an eye out for a range of clues. Above all, try to become aware of when you are thinking the negative thoughts. Becoming aware that you are thinking a particular thought, while you are thinking it, is the key part of the battle. Start with Action Point 1. ACTION POINT 1: MAKE YOURSELF AWARE OF WHEN YOU ARE THINKING TROUBLING THOUGHTS AND NOTE IT IN A DIARY In addition, try to become aware of the physiological cues, which typically accompany episodes of negative thinking, such as:

 quickened heart beat  tense muscles (tight jaw, clenched fists, stiff neck)  excessive sweating  perhaps breathlessness at moments of very high arousal or anxiety. All of these are clues that you are in a heightened state of anxiety. Being aware of them will help you to pin down the underlying thought process which triggers them. ACTION POINT 2: TRY TO IDENTIFY THE PHYSIOLOGICAL CUES THAT ARE ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR ANXIETY In addition, regularly try to gauge your mood. If you find yourself feeling down and demotivated, try and track back and get to the root of what has caused your dip. You will probably find that this negative mood has, somewhere along the way, been caused by negative thoughts that you were not even aware you were thinking. So in a similar way that physiological cues may lead you back to negative thoughts, your mood may be the clue that you need to spur you on to backtrack. ACTION POINT 3: IF YOU ARE IN A NEGATIVE MOOD, TRY TO IDENTIFY THE THOUGHTS THAT MAY HAVE TRIGGERED THE MOOD You might also find it helpful to revert to external stimuli to remind you to quickly scan whether or not you have been thinking negatively. You could keep a little note on your desk reminding you from time to time to check whether or not you have been thinking negatively (i.e. do a thought scan). If you have to be mobile you might wear a wristband, which serves as a trigger to perform a quick self analysis of what you have been thinking recently. ACTION POINT 4: DO REGULAR THOUGHT SCANS In addition, get others to remind you of when you are being negative. Because we tend to verbalise our negativity, those around us may be an excellent source of reminders of when we are being negative. Keep a diary. If you find becoming aware of negative thinking in ‘real time’ hard, the next best alternative is to keep a diary. Recording your negative thoughts at the end of a day is an effective way of increasing your awareness of your own negative thinking. In the diary, you might wish to categorise the types of negative thoughts you are having, the circumstances under which you have them and how you feel physically when you have them. The more information you collect, the greater awareness will be of when you are thinking negatively. The greater your awareness, the easier are the thoughts to control. ACTION POINT 5: ASK A FRIEND TO REMIND YOU WHEN YOU ARE BEING NEGATIVE

ACTION POINT 6: KEEP A DIARY RECORDING YOUR NEGATIVITY These are the main strategies for raising your awareness of your negative thoughts. You may find that some work better than others. Or you may develop strategies of your own. It doesn’t matter which – the key is the process of raising awareness of the thoughts you have. We will now explore what you can do with those negative thoughts now that (or once) you have become aware of them.

Tackling the negative thought
There is a great deal you can do to rid yourself of negative thoughts. In the same way that we learn bad habits, we can unlearn them; similarly, just as we learn bad habits we can learn good new ones. Some strategies may seem strange; some will work immediately; some will take time to become effective. Try them. Practice them. They are known to work.  Thought stopping The most straightforward and effective way to tackle negative thoughts is by literally (quietly) telling yourself to stop thinking them. (This technique is especially effective when the thoughts are in the early stages of establishing themselves). So, when you become aware you are thinking a negative thought you say to yourself: ‘STOP!’ If the thought crops up again, another ‘STOP!’ should ensue. And if again, another. An elastic band around the wrist is a useful device, as you can accompany the ‘STOP!’ with a quick twang of the band, as a form of reinforcement. The strength of thought stopping lies in its immediacy and the fact that it is self-imposed. It is used in the ‘privacy’ of your own head – nobody needs to know that you are thought stopping. The particular beauty of the technique is that it always hits the target – it may not ‘kill’ the thought outright first time, but it will at least hit it and slow its appearance. With time the thought will die – a thought denied the oxygen of exposure, with time, will cease to emerge. Be on the watch for ‘thought replacement’. You might find that although you are tackling one particular type of thought, it crops us in another format. For example, while you successfully tackle catastrophising about something terrible happening to your family, a new form of catastrophic thought might emerge, perhaps, about something terrible happening to you. The reason this happens is simple – you have been thinking negatively for many a year and so the habit is deeply entrenched. You cannot just expect it to disappear just because you have suddenly started to tackle it. It is a long term process. Be logical Tackle the flawed logic the thought is based on, and indeed, owes its existence to. For example, it is relatively easy to expose the flaws in statements such as ‘Because I have always failed at everything, I will continue to fail’. As we explored above, this is just not logical or indeed true.

You don’t fail to get up in the morning, you don’t fail to eat a breakfast, you don’t fail to go out for a walk, you don’t fail to hold a conversation with somebody. Sure, you may have failed at some things, even important things. However, despite the importance of the failure, that still does not mean that you will fail at everything you do or will do. Making illogical negative statements about oneself, serves no benefit whatsoever other than to demotivate.  Be rational In a similar vein to the above, challenge your negative thoughts on the basis of their lack of rationality. For example, you might believe that ‘my parents hate me’. Statements such as these can be analysed in so many different way. For example, ask yourself: have you been the easiest of offspring? Have you perhaps done some things to irritate them? Have you made life difficult for them deliberately? Have you refused to understand their point of view, perhaps when they were trying to constrain you from doing what you wanted to do? In sum, have you made it difficult for them to carry on loving you or liking you? Is it possible that they may be finding it difficult to know how to talk to you, to deal with you, to interact with? How did you contribute to these difficulties? In sum, they might be finding dealing with you a bit stressful, but it doesn’t mean that they hate you. Here, an alternative non-emotional interpretation exposes the hollowness of the ‘they hate me’ phrase, and also gives clues as to how to move forward. So if you know that relations with your parents are at all an all time low, rather than using the damaging and untrue ‘my parents hate me’ you might turn this into a positive strategy for the future and ask, ‘what do I need to do to make life less difficult for my parents’ or ‘what can I do to make it easier for them to interact with me’. By using rationality, you are in a better position to eliminate the negative, and instead take control of the situation – and the outcomes. Be factual As should be becoming clear from the preceding sections, abandoning flawed logic and distorted emotional interpretations are important steps to eliminating negative thinking. Central to both is sticking to the facts and not allowing them to metamorphose into global generalisations. To say that ‘you are no good at anything’ is just not factual. Neither is the belief that because you failed your maths exam that you are useless at maths. Neither is the belief that because you failed your driving test again that you are an incompetent driver. The fact is that you failed that time. Sure you may have failed before, but that does not mean you will fail in the future. Why not? Because the past does not determine the future. That is a fact. There is a plethora of alternative, factual explanations you should try before you should come anywhere near concluding that you are no good at something. For example, you may not have practiced as hard as you could have done, or perhaps you had a teacher who did not explain things very well and that therefore you should have changed teachers earlier, or perhaps the car you drove just did not suit your driving style and

you should have learned on a different car. You need to identify all other possible factual explanations rather than just revert to a non-factual negative statement. And even if you do have a pattern of failure – so what? The facts about the past tell us only what has happened. They tell us nothing about the future. Yesterday’s facts are like yesterday’s newspapers, history. They have gone and today is another day.  Challenge (or avoid people) who are negative A very powerful source of negativity in our lives is those who are themselves negative. They may be vulnerable to exactly the same kind of issues you are (i.e. bad habits, poor parenting) but, unlike you, have not resolved to do anything about them. However, it is hardly in your best interests to be exposed to the constant stream of negativity from others. For example, somebody might be negative about their superiors or the world around them. Challenge them – don’t let them just get away with it. Or someone might say they are a failure, or that they are bound to fail at a driving test or whatever. Analyse these beliefs. Explain to them why they are not a failure, and the reasons they are wrong in saying such things. Challenge the logic of their beliefs regarding their impending driving test – they can’t see the future any more than anybody else can. If they believe that they are going to fail, then now is the time to do something about it and not just talk about what they see as inevitable. Negativity before the deed brings no benefit – action does. In other words, use all of the strategies and tactics that have been described in the preceding pages and chapters. If the worst comes to the worst and you cannot stop them, there is one final strategy available to you – avoid them. It may sound drastic but it may be necessary. You have your own battles to fight, and you do not want to burden yourself with the additional battle of others. .


Chapter 5

Choosing to be positive

ou are half way there: you know how to identify negative thoughts and you are in the process of eliminating them. The rest of the book will be about developing positive thoughts. You can do this thanks to a simple truism – you choose the thoughts you think. This is easy to demonstrate. I would like you to spend a few minutes doing the following things:

        

Make a list of five the things that bring you most joy in your life Make a list of five of your life’s greatest achievements Try and think of the five most amusing experiences in your life Think of your favourite five jokes List the characteristics of your favourite person How would you spend a £10 million lottery win? What is your ideal you? What would be your favourite job? Spend five minutes in your favourite daydream.

So, could you do it? If so, could you do it easily? The answer to both questions for most people is ‘yes’ and perhaps for obvious reasons they enjoy doing it. What does it prove? Well, it demonstrates a simple point – you choose what you think. At my instigation you chose what you were going to think. You decided to focus on jokes and the lottery win and daydreams. I didn’t think the thoughts – you did. In other words, you have the capacity to determine what is in your head at any one time. You can make the decision to think any thought you wish, on demand. This power to control your thoughts is a significant capacity – if you don’t like a thought you can stop it; if you like a thought you can ponder over it. You can, to coin a phrase, think the unthinkable. You have total control of what is in your head, once you have chosen to take it. You can choose to make these thought choices at any time. If there is a moment in which your thoughts are negative and anxiety-provoking, you can simply choose not to have them and instead opt for more positive and harmonious ones. The choice is exclusively yours to make. It takes nothing more than that. Do I make it sound simple? If so, that is because it is simple. And the liberation that comes with that awareness can change your life. Imagine you are facing a tense time at work with lots of little worries kicking in and affecting

your performance. Now you can opt not to have those thoughts and instead can choose to focus on the positive. There is so much positivity around us – all you have to do is become aware of it. EXERCISE: FIND FIVE POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT AN ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE YOU ARE NOT POSITIVE ABOUT e.g. YOUR JOB. Even when you are at are most negative, you can seek out the positives. For example, you might be going through a bad patch in your relationship. You have negative thoughts about your partner as does he or she about you. Each of you is picking holes in the other and is constantly on the look out for more. Every niggle is picked up and turned into a confrontation and another opportunity to denigrate the partner. You actively, conspicuously and energetically seek out the negatives in the other person. Indeed, you do this with relish. But imagine for one second if you were to choose not to. Imagine that instead you chose to have positive thoughts about the other person, to focus on their positives and their strengths. By opting to have positive thoughts about your partner you would be released from the tyranny of negative thoughts and negative emotions. You might argue that the other person will carry on being negative. Yes they might and if so that is to their detriment. But at the same time that is their choice – you can only control your choice of thoughts, and by making your thoughts positive, you will make your feelings more positive and your life will be more harmonious as a result. EXERCISE: THINK OF FIVE POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT YOUR PARTNER You can opt to eliminate negative thoughts and negative feelings and opt for positive thoughts and positive feelings in every aspect of your life. If you are stuck in a traffic jam and getting tense and anxious, you can instead opt for the positive – you can recognize that however tense you get, however negative your thoughts, it will not make the slightest bit of difference to the speed with which the traffic dissipates. Therefore enjoy the moment – the music on the radio, the solitude, the view. If you are waiting for your partner who is late (again), getting agitated will not make him or her appear one second more quickly. Your negative thoughts will have not the slightest impact on how quickly he or she arrives. But if you opt for positive thoughts, you will be liberated from the negative emotion you are feeling, and, in those waiting moments, can instead enjoy where you are, or plan the day ahead or read a newspaper. Anything but stew in negativity. The key point in all of the above is that in virtually any circumstance you can opt not to have negative thoughts and instead opt for positive thoughts. EXERCISE: IDENTIFY THREE ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE YOU ARE NEGATIVE ABOUT; THINK OF THREE POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT EACH OF THEM

Some will argue that negative thoughts and feelings can have positive effects. For example, if your partner is late for an appointment (again), you can build yourself into a frenzy so that when they do arrive your inner rage is expressed unambiguously. That way you argue, they will be reluctant to be late next time. My answer is this. You indeed may succeed in relaying your message, but at what cost? At huge cost to yourself as negative thoughts and emotions are bad for your health (your blood pressure may go up quite significantly) and to your relationship which will have sustained some immediate and long term damage. The capacity to choose to have negative or positive thoughts is one we all have and is available to us in all circumstances at all times. Nobody else can choose our thoughts for us. Nobody else can get into our heads and tell us what to think. Nobody can make us think anything we do not want to think. There are few if any reasons I can think of deliberately opting for negative thoughts. There is simply no benefit in doing so. However there is a galaxy of benefits from deliberately opting for positive thoughts. We will now explore them.

The Empowerment of Positive Thinking
Taking control of your thoughts and therefore your emotions is the single most powerful thing you can do to have a fulfilling life. It is the single most powerful thing you can do to make sure that you do not waste your life either in negativity or in a passive non-productive wasted existence. Positive thinkers have opted not to put their life at the mercy of the whims of fate and have instead opted to control the direction in which their life goes. By implication, it might seem that those who are negative thinkers have opted for the demotivation, low self-esteem and low self expectations which negative thoughts instill. In fact, nobody in their right mind would opt for this way of thinking. In reality, it is far more likely that negative thinkers do not realize that they have the choice to opt for positive thoughts, positive feelings, high self esteem, high expectations, a bright future and a choice of destiny. You might of course say that ‘so much has happened in my past – at a time when I was a negative person, unaware that I had the choice to be positive – that I find myself exactly where I don’t want to be in life. Yes, I might be able to choose what comes now, but my past has led me here. And it is hard to move from here to where I want to be’. The answer is this. You cannot go back in time and change what has happened. You can only work in the here and now. Pondering the past and how it brought you here is a waste of time, which confers no benefit, and does nothing to get you from where you are to where you want to be. So instead of pondering on what has gone, you need to focus on what you have to do to get where you want to be. Negative thoughts allow your past to shape your future. By opting to have positive thoughts you make sure that your past will not determine your future.

But you might say, ‘I have so little to be positive about; my life has not been a success, I have failed to capitalize on my skills and abilities which are themselves rather average, my relationships have not been happy ones, I am not really a likeable person, I have upset people, I am not a young person and therefore there is little point in trying to change things as there is not much time left. In sum, what is there to be positive about?’ (Obviously there are as many variations of negativity as there are humans). My answer is this. We all have something to be positive about and look forward to. I have already referred to perhaps one of the most powerful examples of someone being positive under the most trying of circumstances, namely that of Christopher Reeve, the star of ‘Superman’ who died in 2005. Inevitably, in his darkest hours he contemplated suicide to benefit himself and his family. To its immense credit his family talked him out of it. And he tried and partially succeeded to hone a new future for himself. There is perhaps one phrase he used which encompasses his determination not to be crushed by his debilitating condition and it is this: ‘I am focused on what I am capable of doing, not on what I am no longer capable of doing’. The positivity of this phrase is compelling – he was on the look out for the immense range of pleasurable activities he was still able to partake in, from watching his kids grow up to directing films, from reading to enjoying the wind in his face, from watching television to relishing the beauty of nature. Few of us find ourselves in a predicament anything like as desperate as his. Of course there will be those of you who are suffering from serious illness, who perhaps have been told that they have a very limited time to live. Perhaps for you more so than anyone else it is important to be positive. After all, why would you want to spend your last days or months in negativity and regret and hopelessness? You are not condemned to have negative thoughts and negative feelings for the rest of your life. Becoming aware that you can experience positive thoughts and positive feelings will empower you to use your remaining time as effectively as possible; below are some of the reasons why. Thinking positively is the best way to exploit your 700,000 hours on earth On average, most of us in the West will live around 80 or so years (a figure which is going up all the time). 80 years equates to 29200 days, or 700,800 hours. In other words, we are on this earth for under 30,000 days or barely 700,000 hours. Of this time, at least one third, say, 250,000 hours, is spent in sleep – dead time in effect. We are left with 450,000 hours in which we are conscious, in which we can act. Let me put it another way. Imagine that your conscious time is a cash lump sum where each hour is equal to British pound. That means at birth, you have £450,000 in the bank; the account cannot be replenished. How you spend it is up to you, with the proviso that £15 will be taken away from you day after day for 30,000 days. What will you spend that money on? Frivolously, on shopping, or watching television or boozing? Or doing something significant with your life – not watching but doing.

By the time you are 27, you will have spent £150,000 of your cash lump sum. By the time you are 54, you will have spend £300,000; £150,000 remains. By the time you are 81, you will be borrowing money. Someone once said that their ambition in life is to make sure that the very last cheque they ever write bounces; there is real wit in that statement, in more ways than one. Why would you want to waste one single one of those hours in negativity? You will never come this way again. Thus, the choices you make in terms of how you spend that time matters. Bad choices will be a waste of those precious hours; good choices and experiences will fill those hours with satisfaction and achievement and they will be the best hours of your life. Leave them empty of significant activities and you will be like the millions of others whose life clock is ticking by and they can’t hear a thing. Hitler, for all his faults, perceived time in a very constructive way – in his middle age, he assessed how much time it was likely he had left, and adjusted his work rate to fit in with he felt he had to do (history tell us that he miscalculated). He knew that if he wanted to fulfil his objectives, however horrendous they were, he would have to use his time effectively. Ask yourself the following question: according to the average, how many years have you got left? How many months? Days? The hours, and days and years tick by. And as they tick by, you are left with even less time to make sure that you do something which is worthwhile, and spend it in a spirit of elation and motivation. That is why it is important that you implement the measures we have talked about in this book. And you need to start now. After all, what is there to wait for? Are you waiting for a magical event that will suddenly change your life, such as a lottery win? A knight in shining armour to sweep you off your feet? Somebody to discover your film star looks? The moment you magically turn into a genius? For your novel to write itself? For your music to compose itself? And how long are you going to wait for any of these events? Will you wait a year? Or two years? Or five years? What are you going to do if the magical event which will make you rich or feel loved or famous doesn’t happen? What will you do then? Waiting for the ‘great event’ to make you happy is a false strategy for the following reasons. Firstly, the great event may not happen. Indeed, it probably wont happen. Secondly, the great event may not be as life-changing as you expect. You might be surprised to discover how many people who win the lottery continue to have exactly the same problems they had before the lottery win, if not even worse ones. This is because their external world has changed, but their internal one has not. Their thinking remains as damaging and as negative as it ever was. The event may be life-changing, but because their mental framework has not changed, things haven’t really changed. Why would you want to wait for the big event anyway? In waiting, you have made your happiness dependent on an event over which you have no

control. It is something which you have no way of knowing will bring you the happiness and positivity you crave. After all, how do you know that being rich or famous will make you a happier and more positive person? It doesn’t seem to work for many of those who are already rich. Think about it from the perspective of the end of your life. How will you feel if you spent your entire life waiting for the great event, this magical event which would change your life for the better and it never happened? The message is therefore simple – exploit your available time by being positive about what you can do. If you don’t tackle your internal negativity, it will probably remain with you until your end. Think about that. How comforting do you find the thought that your negative thoughts, negative mood, negative outlook, negative feelings, sense of demotivation, lack of self-actualisation and lack of self-fulfilment is going to be with you until your dying day? In addition, why would you want to choose to spend your remaining time in a negative mood with negative thoughts? All you are doing is depriving yourself of the opportunity to spend your final days, months and years in the most pleasant of ways – enjoying yourself, your environment, your friends, your work and your time. Every moment could be one in which you derive satisfaction. Every moment could be one in which you seek out the pleasure available within it. Do you really want to look back on your life and those 450,000 hours of consciousness and remember it with bitterness? Do you really think you will find fulfilment when you look back by seeing just how much time you had killed? Thinking positively is the best way of taking control of your future While negative thinking condemns you to live in the past or in anticipation of a scary future, positive thinking creates an expectation of a fulfilling future. If you are positive about yourself, your abilities, your environment and your ability to function in that environment, the future becomes one of prospects and opportunity. Better still, you will gain a sense of direction and a means by which you can manoeuvre yourself to take the best possible advantage of the opportunities that arise. This is the essence of prospering in what has become known as the knowledge economy. It is what you know, what you can learn, and how adaptable you are which will make you successful. A positive thinker is in a prime position to succeed in such an economy. The future is there for the taking. It offers an effectively unlimited array of what is achievable. The positive thinker is aware of this. He knows that he is the only one who can shape the future to that which he wants. Whereas the inflexibility of the negative thinker means that he is less well prepared to deal with life’s inevitable setbacks, the positive thinker is supple and flexible enough to deal with any challenges and maybe even turn them into opportunities. The positive thinker looks forward to the future because he is aware of the link between effort and reward, namely that effort in the present tends to produce rewards in the future. Knowing that if you work hard at a given task in

pursuit of a given goal, you will (or may) achieve that goal is a powerful motivator. At the very least the positive thinker will work hard in the present in pursuit of a reward in the future. That is very much more satisfying than not even trying at all, as is often the case with negative thinkers. By definition therefore the positive thinker is aware that the future is not fixed by fate and is there for the taking and the shaping. Positive thinking therefore frees you from the constraints of blaming the past and the belief that the past has shaped the future. It is motivating because it propels you to do something. By choosing to think positively you are choosing to live deliberately, consciously and meaningfully. Of course, this does not mean that you will be able to control everything – unpredictable things will happen to you and knock you back and disrupt your plans. But your positivity will allow you to be flexible enough to cope with any such unpredictable events more adeptly than negative thinkers. This decision to live deliberately can start now. Everyday we make decisions that affect our future and there is little or nothing to stop you from making decisions to shape your future now. We are fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where many if not most of our ambitions are realisable. All we have to do is to make the decision to pursue those ambitions. You want another qualification? Get one. You want to change your job? Change it. You want to go and live somewhere else? Go. For the positive thinker such decisions are not made to them or for them but by them. EXERCISE: WHAT THINGS CAN YOU CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW TO MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER? EXERCISE: IF YOU COULD MAKE ONE CHANGE TO MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Choosing to have positive thoughts is in your best interests Nobody has your best interests at heart in the way you do. That is not for one minute to suggest that people do not care about you. Your partners, parents, children all invariably want good for you. But often their wishes for you are to a greater or lesser extent conditional on the extent to which any efforts to increase your wellbeing impact on them. So, of course, they want the very best for you, as long as it doesn’t detract too much from their wellbeing. This conditional altruism has a biological basis. Even when a child is still in the womb, the baby is fighting a battle with the mother’s body – it wants all it can get without actually killing the donor; the mother’s body wants to give it only just enough so as to preserve her own wellbeing and the prospects of any children which may follow. Nobody is unconditionally altruistic, that is, unconditionally prepared to sacrifice their well being for the sake of others. If they were, the best known

example of altruists (i.e. parents) would sell their houses and pass their wealth to their children as soon as possible. But they don’t. Instead, while they are generally more than willing to help, there is usually a limit on how much help they are prepared to offer – they will pay for education, perhaps offer to pay the deposit on a house. But they are highly unlikely to sacrifice the roof over their heads and give the money to their child and then move into rented accommodation. This doesn’t happen. There are real limits on how altruistic we are prepared to be for even our very closest relatives. For example, how happy are you to give up a kidney for your offspring or related other. Both kidneys? What about one of your eyes? Or both of your eyes? Logically therefore, if it is true that there are real limits to our altruism, then the opposite is also be true – there must be real limits on the extent to which others, even our closest relatives, are prepared to be altruistic towards us. Of course there are stories of incredible altruism and magnanimity – people donating their kidneys to total strangers, and of risking or even giving their own life to save that of unrelated others. But these events are very rare and they are noteworthy precisely because they are rare. Most of us would not act in this way. And it is eminently reasonable that we don’t. Each one of us has a vested interest in surviving and prospering and only being altruistic under certain highly circumscribed circumstances, usually towards related others. This is why we have to act in our own best interests and to think positive thoughts that favour us and confer advantage on us and allow us to prosper. If you don’t do that for yourself, who is going to do it for you? Making decisions in your own best interests means not subordinating your choices to those of others if that means that you are disproportionately affecting your future and your life chances in a negative way. Note the word ‘disproportionately’. Because we live in a society and in families, of course some of your life choices are going to be affected by having to take into account those around you. The problem starts if you come to be disproportionately affected – i.e. your wellbeing is excessively affected by the preservation of the wellbeing of others. By allowing yourself to be important in your own life, you end up making choices that are in your best interests. You will determine your own priorities and will implement the steps to achieve these priorities. By being positive and acting in your own best interest you become the source of all of your solutions. And why should you not act in your own interests? Who is else is going to create the change which you want? If you decide you want a career as a teacher, who can achieve that for you? Who can make the decision, establish the steps, determine the objectives to be met other than you? Who else can put you on the road to being a film star, gaining a doctorate, publishing your work, becoming a professional footballer other than you? It is unlikely that there are movie moguls currently wandering the streets looking to discover you. If you don’t get up and develop the skills and work at what you want to achieve, you

won’t achieve it. Nobody is out there looking for you. You have to go looking for them. As the saying goes ‘them that got, git’. There are plenty of role models who have demonstrated this. There is no such thing as a successful sportsperson or politician or business executive who got to the top and stayed there without daily sacrifices. The high-flying achiever who got there on the basis of sheer ability without having to put the work in is a myth. The writer who turns out great works with ease is a figment of someone’s imagination. All great work and achievements require great effort; without the latter, the former would literally not exist. No great achiever became one just by sitting at home waiting to be discovered. They had to do something to be discovered. Of course, they may have failed to attract much attention at the beginning and were rejected more than once. But rejection is a key part of learning – learning how to deal with failure inculcates persistence which is critical to achievement (I will explain how to learn to be persistent in a later chapter). Successful people are those who recognised that success is out there waiting to be grabbed. Your job is now to realise that you can be one of those people, to develop the skills to promote your success and then to go out there and grab it. At the root of this is the recognition that you are the only person capable of making yourself successful and working towards your own success. No matter how much our parents or partners love us there is ultimately little that they can do to make us successful other than support our decisions. They cannot do it for us. Most parents wish their child every success and do their hardest to help promote it. But they recognise that it is up to the offspring to develop the requisite skills. If they do it for you, it is their achievement, not yours. So if you don’t strive for yourself, who is going to strive for you? Perhaps more to the point, why should anyone else strive for you? Even if they were to, what would the point be of that? Why would you want the success of others? And if you want your own success, you are going to have to earn it. These then are the reasons why you have to act in your own best interests. As we will explore below, this does not mean you are being selfish. However it does mean recognising that your own well-being matters. Positive thinking will turn you into a high achiever By high achiever I mean that you will set realistic, achievable but ambitious targets for yourself and hit them. By overachiever I mean achieve unfeasible things, greatness even. The energy triggered by negative thoughts gets channelled inward, into and against yourself, in a form of self-flagellation. You use up the energy in a battle with yourself instead of exploiting it to drive yourself forward. When you think positive thoughts this mental energy becomes channelled outward into productive activities. You will become motivated to achieve. You will become active, lively and energetic. With positive thoughts you harness your own energy.

Also, you will be motivated not only because you have this new found energy, but because you have so much to be motivated about: you will believe that the future holds much promise and that you have the capacity to shape that future. This high expectation of the self is one of the most powerful determinants of success. People who do not expect do well, tend not to do well. Conversely, people who expect to do well, tend to do well. This is because of self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t expect to do well, why would you want to put the energy into something you are not going to do well in? On the other hand, knowing that your chances of success are high, you are far more likely to work at something in expectation of that success. Or let me put it another way – if you knew that you stood a far higher chance of winning the lottery this week than in any other week, you would probably be more likely to play the lottery than in other weeks. Expectation of success means that you are more likely to put effort into achieving that success. Self-expectation is one of the prime determinants of success. Positive thinkers have the highest expectations of success. Success breeds success. The more effort you put in, the more likely you are to meet with success, therefore the more effort you are likely to put in. In doing so, you reinforce one of the most fundamental lessons known to human kind: the link between effort and reward. This is such a simple lesson. It is so obvious, that its significance tends to be forgotten. Let me put it another way. We all know that Mozart was probably one of the greatest musicians that ever lived. Was his talent innate or learned? Was he born a great pianist or did he become one? It has been estimated that Mozart had 20,000 hours piano practice before the age of twelve. So how much did the actual practice contribute to his greatness? Let us have a look at that in more detail. If he practiced playing the piano for seven hours a day, he would have practiced around 2500 hours per year. Over eight years that corresponds to 20,000 hours. Now imagine how good you would be if you practiced playing your favourite instrument for seven hours a day, read psychology or history books for seven hours a day, wrote novels for seven hours a day, studied for seven hours a day, played golf or tennis or football for seven hours a day. . The point is obvious – the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. There is no secret. And it applies in every sphere you can think of – if you put maximum effort into your job, into working for qualifications for promotions, into writing the end result would be an outstanding product or achievement. Positive thinking turns you in a doer not a watcher. Because you have high expectations of success, positive thinking will make you want to go out and achieve success, and not stay at home and watch television. You will be less inclined to go out and buy your satisfaction via shopping. Instead you will prefer to gain satisfaction through achievement.

The doing of something tells us far more about an individual that does the ownership of something. If you see a young male driving an expensive car you know very little about him – it could be stolen, his father or mother’s, hired, borrowed, bought with a lottery win, earned with the proceeds from the sale of his first company … you just don’t know. On the other hand, if you know that a young male has become the under 21 tennis champion of Europe you know a great deal about him – you know he is talented, that he has worked very hard to get where he is, that he is very dedicated and determined, that he has the will to win, that he is prepared to make sacrifices, and so on. Achievement tells us so much more about the individual than does the mere ownership of a possession. And there is so much you can find fulfilment in: in sport, your career, reading, writing, teaching, learning, playing, dancing, painting, etc. These are worthwhile activities as they leave you with a sense of achievement, of having done something active. If you want to look back on your time with a sense of fulfilment, then you have got to start filling it now with worthwhile activities. You have got to make sure that your remaining time is as fruitful as it can reasonably be. It has got to be a time in which you generate effort in pursuit of a meaningful to you goal. Positive thoughts will result in motivation and the will to achieve success. The notion of wasting time will become an anathema to you – time will be for doing and achieving things in. The notion of boredom will be banished and you will fill your time, however much of it you have left, with fruitful activities. If you are bored and ‘killing time’ you are doing nothing other than killing your chances of achieving, self-fulfilment and self-actualisation. You are bringing yourself that little bit closer to your death with nothing to show for it. You are seriously circumscribing your chances of achieving something worthwhile. *** I am aware, of course, that all of the above seems to imply that if there is so much for you to do on yourself, to improve yourself, to make yourself somebody, then you must in some way be inadequate or unfulfilled. This might sound like running totally contrary to what been said in the previous chapters i.e. being positive. In fact they are complementary. Only by recognising that we are not the finished product can we identify how to improve. There is always room for further improvement and further achievement. But if I am asking you to be self-critical, it is in a positive way. Don’t pummel yourself with negativity – calling yourself ‘stupid’ is not the same as saying ‘I would like to pick up a qualification as I currently lack one’. It is not the same as saying ‘while I did not work hard at school, I have now made the decision to rectify that’. Recognising an area for development is not the same as saying that you are not capable of developing. Without a doubt on your journey to achievement you will encounter setbacks. But positive thinking can even turn setbacks into something good. There is no such thing as failure – only feedback. In other words, you can never

fail; all you can do is obtain information that tells you that you have not quite finished working at whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Feedback that you have not yet succeeded is telling you that there is more work to be done if you are to succeed. Never should you interpret it as a sign that you are not good enough or that your work is not good enough. All you know is that you need to do more work. I think it was one of the American astronauts, who when on a training programme, explained to his exasperated trainer that ‘as a learner I have two speeds – slow and dead slow’. Just because you are not there yet, does not mean that you will never get there. Neither am I saying that you should neglect or ignore the negative events that have occurred in our life. You may not have had the best parents in the world, or the best learning environment. Perhaps you were bullied at school. But even in such instances, it is important to seek out the positives if the past is not to hold you back. For example, the first positive thing you could say is that it is precisely these experiences that turned you into the person you are. Although you may not have had the best parents in the world, it is their example, and your experiences which have helped you become a better parent to your children. By knowing what not to do, you were able to do a far better job bringing up your kids. Had you not had your background, you may have been a very much worse parent than you are now. Although you may have been bullied at school, it is precisely that experience which has made you a more sensitive person, more in tune with the experience of the underdog. Perhaps you have become a more caring and sensitive person than you might otherwise have been had you not had this experience. Do not deny what has gone on, that bad things have happened to you. However, always seek to put a positive gloss on whatever experiences you may have had. As we explored in the previous chapters, there is no benefit whatsoever to being negative about the past - quite the contrary, it just exacerbates the damage. It makes worse what has gone.

Chapter 6

How to Think Positively

here are some simple yet effective strategies that you can use to become a positive thinker. At the root of this effectiveness is automaticity, that is, thinking which is so habitual and well entrenched that you don’t consciously do it. Developing automatic positive thinking will take time – negativity is so deeply built into our culture and society that you are working against the flow. You are taking on the challenge not only of developing positive automaticity, but are doing so against the force of society and culture. So be patient. In earlier chapters you broke the vicious cycle of negative thinking. Now you will learn to create the virtuous cycle of positive thinking.


See the positive in everything Seek out the positives all around you: if it is sunny enjoy the warmth; if it is raining enjoy the fact that it is making our land green. If it is spring enjoy the fact that the plants are budding; if it is winter enjoy the invigorating cold weather. If you are on holiday, enjoy the freedom. It you are at work, enjoy the fact that you have a job and can earn. If you don’t like your job, enjoy the challenge of finding a new job and look forward to exploring the opportunities out there. If you are out walking, enjoy the breeze in your face. If you are in the car enjoy the fact that you are out of the rain and that it keeps our country green. Ad infinitum. Seek out the positives in the people you meet and those you know. Avoid being a spiteful person always looking for something to criticise. Instead focus on what is good about those around you. Being negative about others only poisons you and your relationship with them. In sum, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, seek out the positives of your environment and what you are doing in it. Remember you will but pass this way but once. Make that passage through life, through time and through society as pleasant as possible. Use your time effectively As I have already mentioned, make each moment count, because that moment, every moment is unique - it will never be repeated. While you may take the same route time and time again, it will never be exactly the same.

Remember also, that time is a resource. There is a tendency for any resources which are seemingly infinite, to be taken for granted – we take our air for granted, our water, even our energy. Only now are we beginning to realise how limited these resources are. So with time. At the beginning it might seem that our life is effectively infinite - to a teenager 80 years (a reasonable lifeexpectancy in the West) feels like forever, especially as each day, week and month seems to pass so slowly. Because we believe that we have a plentiful supply, we take it for granted. But as the seconds tick on inexorably, as we get older, we start to realise it is finite after all. Use it to maximum effect. Do today and in the days that follow all of things you one day will not be able to do. Do you things you wish you had done, and may one day regret not doing. This does not necessarily mean taking a grand tour of the world. On the contrary it can and should be the simple things which do not require us to spend time earning the money to pay for them – I am talking about camping expeditions, walks in the forest, enjoyment of architecture, the pleasure of good food, the satisfaction from writing, the stimulation of reading, the pleasure of music, the achievement from studying, the joy of the company of good friends etc.. Avoid negative use of time. By negative I mean passive and nonproductive use. Stop doing passive things. Do you really believe that watching tens of thousands of hours of television over your lifetime is the best use of your time? (Indeed, have you thought about how much time would be ‘released’ if you were to get rid of your TV altogether?) Is shopping an inherently more pleasurable activity than reading? Is watching football really more pleasurable than playing it? An eighty year old man I know is more positive than pretty much anyone else I have encountered – every day he wakes up, thanks the heavens for one more day and proceeds to squeeze as much joy out of the day as he can: he plays with his grandchildren, tends to and rejoices in his garden, goes for a pint of beer and watches the ladies go by. He could hardly be happier. He knows that he does not have many hours left and is therefore keen to extract the maximum from of each of them. He knows he is on borrowed time and is positively childlike in his ability to get maximum enjoyment from whatever he is doing. This is the way to make each moment count. While you are making each moment count, make sure that you are aware that you are actively experiencing these moments and that you are conscious of the pleasure they bring. In this way you will obtain triple value from the moment. Firstly, you obtain pleasure from the moment per se. Secondly, you obtain pleasure from being conscious of fact that you are enjoying the moment. Thirdly, one day you will look back on those moments and the fact that not only did you enjoy them, but that you were conscious of enjoying them, that they just didn’t pass without you being aware of how special they were. In cup winning or league winning moments, old hands give new champions this bit of advice: ‘enjoy it, as the chances are you will never have such a moment again’. Take this thought and apply it to every moment of your

life, as the same principle pertains – you will never have the same moment again. Think about what you say Use ‘positive’ language. Avoid negative language. Why should the language you use matter? It matters because not only does it reflect the thoughts you have, and the relationship you have with yourself, but also because people will respond to you on the basis of the language you use. For example, if you send out negative messages, people may avoid you, deny you opportunities to progress and come believe the negative determinism you have about yourself and which you imply in the language you use. By extension, people will respond differently to positive language. More specifically:  Say ‘I can’ not ‘I can’t’ Often, too often, we use phrases which reflect a negative approach to life and experience. People will say ‘I can’t do that – I’m too old’ or ‘I can’t do that – its not in my nature’ or ‘I can’t do that – its too embarrassing’. All of these are self-limiting phrases that prevent growth and imply that you are unable to move beyond your mental parameters. It is a phrase that prevents you from being proactive, and condemns you to remain in narrow and limited comfort zone. That is why you might replace ‘I can’t’ with ‘I can’ and a willingness to try something new and challenging (i.e. ‘although I have never spoken publicly, and it will be a deeply nerve-wracking experience, I know it is something I can do’). To use an ‘I can’ phrase, is to use optimistic, go-getting and ambitious language that shows you are willing to try new things, to move beyond the comfortable and into new untried areas which just might prove to be fulfilling. At worst, you will experience temporary discomfort. At best, the experience may open up entire new vistas and opportunities. Ban the phrase ‘I am too old – I can’t do that’. There is no rule saying that age precludes certain behaviours. Instead of the phrase ‘its not in my nature to do that’ say ‘although this does not seem to come naturally to me, I will try it because it is something I think I can do’. By saying ‘I can’ you are opting for growth; by saying ‘I can’t’ you are choosing ossification. Don’t say ‘I should’ or ‘I shouldn’t’ To say ‘I should’ or ‘I shouldn’t’ implies that you accept that there are a set of standards, conditions and criteria which you are expected to adhere to, or rather, believe you are expected to adhere to. The ‘I should(n’t)’ phrases reflect the conformity expected of us by those around us. As children we are brought up and shaped by the ‘shoulds’ - ‘you should do this’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that’ phrases which have been drummed into us by parents and educators and society in general. Society, for example, uses disapproving glances and looks and sneers (via television or directly) to transmit what it thinks are unacceptable behaviours. This is how society constrains us to behave n ways it thinks we should behave. Of course it is true that the ‘should(n’t)’ phrases are healthy in that society functions well when we

all adhere to a similar set of standards of behaviour. In other words, on one level, conformity is a highly desirable feature of society – it oils the cogs of interaction. But we need to be wary because these phrases can be easily abused, especially by those close to us who want to have control over our lives and our choices, such as domineering parents, siblings, partners or friends. These significant others become the arbiters of what is ‘acceptable‘ behaviour, attitudes and morals. By adhering to the ‘shoulds’ we seek people’s approval; by listening to the ‘shouldn’ts’ we seek to avoid their disapproval. Others become the final arbiters and judges as to the acceptability or unacceptability of our behaviour. By using such language, either in internal dialogue or in conversation with others, we are in effect prioritising their opinion over ours. Be careful that you don’t do this excessively. Think carefully about how you phrase sentences Use phrases that make you active not passive, the doer not the receiver, the actor rather than the viewer. Passive phrases, such as ‘he made me angry’ deprive you of control. By saying ‘he makes you’ angry you are endowing ‘him’ with the capacity to make you angry. You are giving him control over how you feel. In fact no one actually has such power over you unless you give them that power. If you got angry it is not because he made you angry, but because you allowed yourself to get angry at something he did. Make sure your language reflects this reality. Avoid deterministic phrases – use phrases that evidence your free will To use phrases such as ‘it is/is not in my nature or character’ is to imply that you are a fixed entity not capable of changing. To talk about nature or character in this way is to state that you lack the capacity to change in any way you wish, to develop characteristics which will make you a better and stronger person, and to abandon characteristics which hold you back, and encumber you. None of this is true – you are capable of changing in pretty much any way you want to. So, describe yourself in terms that reflect that you can be who you want to be, and that you possess or are capable of possessing any attributes you choose to. By describing yourself in terms of your ability to change, you free yourself to make whatever changes you deem necessary. ‘I have always been like that’ doesn’t mean you always will be.

Focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot It is true that we cannot achieve the impossible - as a male, I cannot bear children; my wife cannot lift the weights I can. In addition, I cannot, not sleep or see well without my glasses. I have certain inherited genetic tendencies which I cannot overcome. I have to eat. Christopher Reeve, the quadriplegic former ‘Superman’, was clearly never going to regain his former mobility. Yet even within these most narrow of physiological constraints he found room for manoeuvre: he often said that if focussed on everything he couldn’t do he would have committed suicide. Instead he chose to focus on all of the things he could do.

So he stopped thinking about his inability to walk, talk and eat unaided, drive, go swimming, scratch his nose, comb his hair, and the thousands of daily activities that we take for granted. Instead, he started to focus on the fact that he could witness his children growing up, watch TV, read, talk and listen, have hopes, observe beauty, direct plays, dictate books, promote health research into conditions such as his. He made a far bigger impact as a quadriplegic than he ever did as Superman. ‘Failure’ as feedback What you once termed failure, you might now consider calling ‘feedback’. What others call failure is to you information about a less than optimal past performance. It is useful information which you can use to produce an optimal performance in the future. Not getting a job, failing an exam, failing a driving test, losing a job are all examples of feedback. Knowing that you were not well prepared for an exam, or that you need to improve your interview technique, or that there are people who are even better than you who got the job and that therefore you will need to be even better if you are to launch a successful challenge next time, empowers you. Thanks to that information you can be successful next time. Of course there will be times when whatever you do, you might still not get the result you wanted – the insider got the job or an unpredictable thing happened on your driving test. But overall, the laws of probability are on your side and the chances are that if you get accurate feedback, and act on that feedback you will succeed eventually. The only ‘failure’ would be if you were not to act on that feedback. There may be times when you are hit hard by the feedback you receive. At such moments draw on your reserves by reminding yourself of your achievements and that you have what it takes to succeed. (On this occasion you can forgive yourself being backward looking.) Then, buckle down and carry on. Focussing on your achievements will remind you of your own strengths and of the link between effort and reward. Focussing on achievements reminds you that you have abilities which have brought you success in the past – there is no reason why they can’t do so again in the future. Get through this bad patch by putting those skills and abilities to good use. Although the phrase has been overused it is worth quoting here: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Looking back at past achievements is one way of reminding yourself that you are one of the tough ones, and now is the time to put that toughness to good use. Focus on the here and now Focussing on the here and now prevents you from thinking about the past and daydreaming about the future. Both are wasteful activities that prevent you from extracting everything possible from each day. Other than in a few isolated instances (one of which was mentioned above), there is no obvious benefit to spending time pondering the past: it has

gone and there is nothing you can do about that. Neither spend too long on pondering the future – it has yet to arrive. The essence of life lies in the here and now. Focus on what you can do now – action now is what produces results. Ask yourself: what can you do in this day, this minute which will contribute to your success? To you achieving your goals? To you being a better person? What pleasure can you extract from this very moment to ensure that its uniqueness will be preserved? You may argue: ‘If I live in the now, why bother working hard, why bother chasing qualifications, why bother saving?’ The answer lies in the following quote: live today as if it were your last; plan as if you were to live forever. By ‘live today’, it means enjoy the day, extract maximum pleasure of the day. Do as much as you can within this day: do all you can, read all you can, laugh all you can, work all you can. But do so with an eye on the future. Enjoy the work of the day in pursuit of the best possible future you can create. After a particularly famous victory by his Formula 1 racing team, Enzo Ferrari, when asked what his favourite victory was, replied ‘My next one’. ‘But surely’, you could argue, ‘if I am always working towards the future, the future never arrives’. Wrong. It does. It has arrived and is arriving all the time. It is here with you now. The now is the future of the past. The time spent in the past investing in your future is benefiting you in this very minute. For example, if you worked hard at gaining a university qualification, that work has received its reward many times over – the degree, prestige and the enhanced salary that comes with it. But do not dwell on this success, because resting on your laurels is living in the past – move onto your next qualification, your next career move, your next strategic objective. And when they arrive, you should have already moved onto the next one. This constant process of moving forward means that you will already be working on the next thing as earlier work delivers its’ rewards. In sum, our present efforts will be reflected in our future successes. Our future successes are built in the present. Therefore we need to focus our thoughts on the here and now and, in doing so, we can do to move closer to our life goals. If we think about the future at all, it is for goal setting not for daydreaming. Have a plan Planning matters. There is a saying ‘Fail to plan? Plan to fail’. How do you know where to go if you don’t know where you are going? Think things through. Start with a view of the bigger picture but keep an eye on the smaller challenges you are going to have to meet. Break your strategy into manageable chunks. Make things do-able and avoid things that hinder the doing of them. Start now. For example, if your career has stalled, what can you do to invigorate it? You have some achievements behind you, but maybe find the challenge of moving onto the next level daunting. Develop a plan – learn the skills needed to

ensure your success, obtain the qualifications you need, make the contacts necessary to promote your chances, and give yourself a timeline: where do you want to be in one, three and then five years. Or you may be in a dead end job and would like to have a career say in teaching or nursing. A first step would therefore involve contacting the appropriate training agency and find out what qualifications you need. Then, where can you train for this qualification. What are the entry requirements? How much will it cost? Do they do evening courses? Distance learning? Have you got a suitable area at home where you can study? Is financial help available to contribute to the costs of the course? By breaking down your grand plan into something doable you are making it easier to achieve. Having an overarching goal is significant – identifiable steps to make it achievable is your first step towards reaching it.

Being positive does not involve self-deceit
I want to voice a note of caution about positive thinking just to make sure you don’t misinterpret anything that I have said. I have maintained that positive thinking will give you the motive force to spur you on to new goals. However, being positive about yourself and your past and your future is not the same as denying a negative reality which you may have experienced. I am not asking you to make up things about yourself, to cover up your weaknesses or to exaggerate your strengths. Being positive is about seeking out real positives, that is, things that have actually happened or that actually exist. It is not about inventing them or making up some. We all experience failure and pain. We should not deny failure. But neither should we dwell on it. Being positive is not the same as self-deceit. Self-deceit is about fooling yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, about successes and failures. Self deceit is in no one’s interest, and arguably may even be damaging to you. This needs explaining. Each of us has a self-concept. A self-concept is basically the relationship we have with ourselves. All of us have an internal dialogue in which we talk to ourselves - cajoling, castigating, encouraging, denigrating. However, under some circumstances this relationship can get distorted. How? Our self concept is made up of three components: our ideal self, our actual self, and our self esteem (you might remember these from an earlier section). Our ideal self is how we might answer the question: ‘how would I ideally like to be?’ Our actual self is the answer to ‘what am I really like?’. In theory, the bigger the gap between the ideal self and the actual self, the lower your self-esteem. The smaller the gap between the ideal self and the actual self, the higher your self-esteem. Too great a gap between the two (i.e. very low self-esteem) presents us with a challenge. Very low self-esteem is a warning that we are so far from our ideal self (an ideal, which may be unrealistic) or we have such a low perception of our actual self (perhaps because we are over self-critical) that we cannot

possibly feel good about ourselves. The response of some people to this very low self-esteem is denial. Up to a point some self-denial is not overtly damaging. Freud called denial a defence mechanism. It protects us from thoughts and memories which are potentially damaging to our wellbeing. If our actual self is very disappointing, it is easier to deny some of these inadequacies than face up to them. However, very low self-esteem can lead to a particularly destructive type of denial – the denial of reality. In order to feel good about ourselves, we (consciously or unconsciously) deny fundamental truths and may interpret events in ‘favourable’ ways. Let me give you an example. Most of us know people who are prone to either exaggerating experiences or literally making up things about themselves. They have a famous relative. Their parents are millionaires. They went to Oxbridge. They went out with somebody famous. Such pathological lying (‘bullshitting’) is designed to raise their standing in the eyes of others. They believe that they are so inadequate or unimpressive they need to embellish their life. They boost their sense of self-esteem by lying rather than trying to be a better person. Denying reality prevents growth. It can also do far worse things. An extreme example of someone denying reality would be the ‘Medallion Man’ syndrome. A male who is in fact deeply unattractive (either due to looks or personality or behaviour or all three) believes himself to be a gift to women. His interactions with women are characterised by over-confidence in his attractiveness. In reality women find him deeply abhorrent. He preserves his sense of self-esteem by denying this reality and interpreting the women’s reluctance as ‘playing hard to get’. Men have been known to use the ‘hard to get’ argument as a defence in cases of rape – the male is convinced he got the ‘right’ message and that there was no misinterpretation. He cannot face up to being rejected as he would sustain further damage to his already low selfesteem. So instead he denies reality. Positive thinking does not require a denial of reality. It is not about having false beliefs about yourself, about making things up or denying that you have the past you have. It is not about refusing to accept certain truths. In fact an acceptance of reality is the key to growth. Realising that you are not the finished product is an important sign that there is more work for you to do on yourself. Imperfection is a stimulus to self-improvement. Positive thinking will give you a spur to put in whatever effort is necessary to achieve growth. Acceptance of reality is about recognising that you have strengths and weaknesses and that the latter are not a drawback as you can build on your strengths. Honesty is necessary for self-improvement. The essence of positivity lies in truthfulness. You need to base your positivity on truth and facts and a recognisable reality. Positive things have happened to all of us. Negative things have happened to all of us. Focus on the positives and remember you have them. Don’t exaggerate them. On the other hand, don’t focus on the negatives. But don’t deny them. This way you build bigger and stronger positives thoughts and the negative thoughts will wither away.

Chapter 7

What You Think Determines Who You Will Be

have written a great deal in this book about extracting maximum pleasure from your life, from this day, about choosing what is in your best interests. I have emphasised your right to feel good. This sounds awfully like I am encouraging you to be selfish. I’m not. Selfishness is behaviour that is focussed solely on your own well-being without undue concern for the well-being of others. Indeed, it is about being so focussed on yourself that you don’t care if your behaviour harms anyone else. Selfishness is win-lose behaviour. You win and you don’t care if others lose at your expense. You are focussed on your own needs irrespective of the damage it causes to those around you. You don’t particularly care if those around you come with you on the journey you have chosen to undertake. In this respect selfishness is isolating in that your lack of concern distances you from those around you. I have been writing about something totally different to selfishness: I am writing about independence, self-reliance, individuality; self-fulfilment, selfactualisation, but not selfishness. The reason it is not selfishness is because you care and very much wish that those close to you join you on the journey you have chosen to undertake. You welcome the contribution others can make to your journey and you relish the prospect of helping them on theirs. But you don’t want them to hold you back. In this regard, the behaviour is about the self, but it is not selfishness, as you shall now see.


Independence Being focussed on the needs of the self is about being an autonomous actor who is willing and able to take decisions without undue regard for the views of others. That is, you take into account the opinion of others, you don’t subordinate your opinions or wishes to those of others. But neither are the views and behaviours of others irrelevant; they are but one of the factors taken into consideration when making a judgement. Being independent also benefits others as, to obtain true independence you have to give those around you independence. It stands to reason – if you constrain those around you, you give them the right to constrain you.

Negative thinking breeds dependency. If we believe that we are inadequate, we are incapable of prospering without the assistance of others, that we lack the skills to function on our own, that we are not competent in making good decisions in our own best interests, then we are more likely to turn to support from those whom we believe can do these things for us. Positive thinking makes you independent of those around you – you become less reliant on others for support, for ‘helping you through the bad times’ because a) there are less bad times b) you know what to do when bad times occur and c) the bad times are less bad than they were previously. Positive thinkers become less reliant on others to feel good about themselves but in a positive way. Others are welcome in their lives, not as crutches but as colleagues and collaborators. By being independent, you become immune to the negative thinking of others. Negative thinking is contagious. In a group, all it takes is for one person to vocalise his negativity to create negativity in others. Opposing such negativity attracts support from others who are not so negatively inclined. It has been suggested that the independence of positive thinkers equates to the devaluation of others such as partners. After all, if you are independent of others, you no longer need them. Up to a point this is true – you will no longer need others. But something far more preferable will obtain – you remain with your partner not because you need them but because you choose to be with them. Negative thinkers and dependent thinkers want someone to be with them. Positive thinkers and independent thinkers want someone to want to be with them. The voluntary element makes a massive difference. People who stay together voluntarily rather than out of circumstance or lack of choice are a stronger pair. Such an approach keeps both parties in a relationship on their toes – each is continually striving to do the best possible thing to keep the other keen and interested. Each, by respecting the other’s independence and right to choose to leave or stay, knows that he or she has to keep him or herself as alluring as possible. So do not confuse independence with devaluing others. Arguably it is the opposite – if an independent person chooses to be with another, it is because they are judged to have real worth and value and not because they have to. Some people will struggle to accept the independence of the positive thinker. They might interpret the independent positive thinker’s behaviour as betrayal or rejection. The rejoinder is straightforward. You cannot control the thoughts of others, in the same way that you cannot control the feelings of others. Therefore you cannot be held responsible for the thoughts another person adopts or how they feel. If they feel bad as a result of a decision you made that is a choice that they have made. If they choose to interpret your behaviour in a negative way, if they choose to see your independence as a form of rejection, that is their choice. You can only be responsible for your choices and not theirs. You are not asking for special privileges. You are merely insisting on your right to think and behave in a way which is in your best interests. You offer

them those same rights. It is up to them whether or not they wish to exploit those rights. You should not make your happiness conditional on others being happy. Others cannot make their happiness conditional on your being happy. Thus if another chooses to have negative thoughts and be unhappy, that is up to them. They have to accept your right not to allow their unhappiness to influence your choices. They have to accept that their right to choose negative thoughts cannot be allowed to influence your right to choose positive thoughts. While you can encourage them to choose positive thoughts, ultimately it is their responsibility and their choice. This is the nature of independence for you and those around you. In the same way an independent person does not want others to mess up their life for his benefit, he will not mess up his life in order to keep others happy. We cannot be responsible for the well-being of others no matter how much they wish to make us responsible for it. We can contribute to it, and viceversa – but not be responsible for it. They have to be responsible for their own feelings. This is an enduring truth. This of course does not mean that we should abuse the feelings of others. Self-reliance Self-reliance is a natural partner of independence. If you want to be independent, you have to be self-reliant. Self-reliance is about not depending on anybody else to deliver your successes or wellbeing. It is about standing on your own two feet. Self-reliance involves taking responsibility for your own life and the life choices that underpin it and for developing the skills necessary to promote success and for the realisation of ambitions. It is the opposite of selfishness as it strengthens the individual and reduces any reliance on others. After all, what could be more selfish than relying on others to satisfy your needs? Or less selfish than not relying on others? A self-reliant person can be passionate about the wellbeing of others. In any marriage or relationship, a man should dearly want his wife to be happy and do whatever he can to make her happy and vice-versa. However, he ought not do so if it means sacrificing his own happiness. Neither should she. Let me explain. If the wife is happy in a marriage and the husband is not, the marriage is liable to fail as is the case if the husband is happy and the wife is not. But as long as the benefits exceed the negatives for both parties, the marriage stands an excellent chance of continuing to prosper. Any partner’s job is to enjoy the marriage and to make sure it is enjoyable for the other. A selfish partner does not care if the other is happy or not. He or she is only interested in that which he or she can extract from the marriage. But a self-reliant partner will be concerned with his partner’s well-being as well as his or her own. But not at the expense of his or her own well-being. Some people imply that such a rational approach to a marriage negates the concept of love. I would argue that the answer to this depends on how you define the word 'love'. If by ‘love’ you mean a desire to spend physical

and mental time with a person, a wish to help that person become fulfilled, and that person to help you become fulfilled, a desire for that person to help expand your boundaries rather than narrow them; if by ‘love’ you mean a wish to be constructively challenged by the person in pursuit of self-fulfillment, to go along with that person on a journey of self-discovery, a journey which you could enjoy with few other people; if ‘love’ is about encouraging the independence of your partner so that they are extremely strong without you, yet still want to be with you because of the way you are, and if that person can help you become a fully rounded and independent person with whom they wish to be, then I would argue no, I do not contradict the notion of ‘love’. If however you mean ‘love’ as a weak relationship of dependence, in which people latch onto each other out of fear of being alone, in which people stay together because they will struggle to find anybody else, or they think that this is as good as it gets, and their standards are low and they do not want to push themselves nor be pushed by others, then yes, I contradict the notion of ‘love’. But I do not acknowledge this as 'love' – I call it dependence, habit, a means of getting on, of killing time. I see the two parties in this latter type of ‘love’ as two leaning columns perched one against the other, each holding the other up. The structure stands and supports itself. Neither of the columns is independent of the other. Neither is free standing. The two columns have no role other than to support each other. Take one away and the other falls over. Individuality Each of us is unique insofar as we are a unique biological entity developing in a unique set of circumstances. No two of us, not even twins, could possibly have an identical bringing up – even twins are exposed to different reinforcements, experiences, role models, and the plethora of other factors which affect our development. Because of these different experiences, we develop our own specific needs, requirements, hopes, expectations, ambitions, goals, and choices. It is not selfish to wish to express this individuality or to satisfy the needs of that uniqueness. Similarly it is not selfish to require others to respect our individuality and uniqueness. Our potential for being special lies in our individuality, primarily because of our ability to make a unique contribution. Being an individual means doing only that which you can do. So why not do it to the very best of your ability? This is not selfish. Self-actualisation To self-actualise is to realise your full potential. What does it mean to fulfil your potential? Clearly there are any number of meanings each of which is determined by what we mean by the words ‘fulfil’ and ‘potential’. If ‘fulfil’ is taken to mean ‘develop to the fullest’ and ‘potential’ means ‘any talents’ then few of us ever fulfil our full potential. More realistically, it means to try to develop and exploit one or a number of talents or skills we have in order to personally derive for ourselves or confer on others some form of psychological, material or social benefit from that talent or skill. It could also be taken to mean

working at something by pushing ourselves towards the limits of our abilities. Or, are we putting in more than we are getting out? If we are, it is likely that we are moving towards some form of self-actualisation. Is it selfish to want to self-actualise? Is it really so selfish to want to push yourself, to develop your skills, to not want to waste a particular talent? Whatever your skill, its exploitation, wanting to utilise your abilities to the fullest is not a selfish act. Why self-actualise? Why should you fulfil your potential? In order to not let your talents go to waste or be frittered away in marginal and insignificant activities. The sports world is littered with figures of prodigious talent, to whom success came early and perhaps more easily than it did to others, and who squandered their talent in wine, (wo)men and song. Later, a great many of these came to regret the waste of their talent. They realised that they had the opportunity to be significant, to be great, to have made their mark on the world and they failed to do so. Some try a comeback, often with sad consequences (you come this way but once – there is no way back, even for those of unsurpassable talent). Self-actualistion lies in the doing of something in the here and now, in exploiting whatever skills you may have, day in day out, with the aim that one day you will not regret not having done so. How do you want to be able to look back on your life? Do you want to look back and feel that you really had a go and that you set out and tried to achieve something and leave your mark on the world? Or do you want to feel that you wasted a magnificent opportunity, that you could have achieved something significant but never bothered, that you passed through, unnoticed by anyone? The only way you can avoid the feeling of being ‘unactualised’ is by doing something about it now. Is that really so selfish? Self-fulfilment If self-actualisation is the drive to realise yourself or of having realised yourself, self-fulfilment is the sense of satisfaction you get from having done so. You will feel self-fulfilled if you have self-actualised; you may feel fulfilled from having tried to self-actualise; you are unlikely to feel fulfilled if you have not even tried to self-actualise. We are surrounded by role models of self-fulfilment, people who have tried and often, but not always, succeeded in exploiting their talents. Any time you see a successful business person, sports star, singer, musician, politician, you see somebody who has not sat back and waited for fame and glory and success, but who has gone out to look for it. They had the intention of achieving something significant even if they didn’t achieve it. They still have a right to feel fulfilled. Why? Because they tried. Those least likely to have a sense of selffulfilment are those who had the talent but didn’t even bother to exploit it. They squandered it. Now that is selfish – to have a talent or skill and not even bother to exploit it.

In the West, students have some of the world’s best education systems at their disposal. Many of them, instead of taking advantage of this marvellous opportunity to learn, waste their own and their teachers’ time, disrupt lessons ending up with poor qualifications or none at all. Or if they get some marginal pass, they get to university and spend the whole time in the university bar at their parents’ expense. A precious place of education that could have been used by somebody else, wasted. At the same time, there are deeply impoverished parts of the world where the whole family works and saves in order to give one of their number an opportunity to learn. They may club together and send them abroad to study by making huge sacrifices. Such students tend not to squander this precious opportunity. Which of the two is more selfish? And equally obviously, which of the two is most likely to feel self-fulfilled? Any teacher will tell you about students they have taught with very limited ability but real dedication and desire to succeed. The student knows he is never going to get an A grade, but wants to at least achieve something. The teacher can also tell you about students they have encountered of exceptional ability who do the least work they can get away with. Which of the two is more selfish? Which of the two will feel more self-fulfilled? The answer is obvious. Few societies are in a position to allow for this kind of individual selffulfilment. For most people, life is hard in terms of just making ends meet – the higher things in life are way beyond reach. Fortunately, we live in a society in which self-fulfilment through the achievement of higher things is attainable. This is because one of the many privileges of living in a wealthy society such as ours is that we have gone far beyond our subsistence needs and can focus on the ‘higher things’ in life. (Maslow’s so called hierarchy of needs reflects this. At the bottom of the hierarchy are our physical needs – food, water, sex, shelter – while self-actualisation is at the top. According to the theory, only once the lower layers are satisfied can we go on to the next layer – we would find it very difficult to fulfil our potential if we were hungry and cold.) While people starve we squander opportunities, life chances and wealth. We might fail to self-fulfil; they have no chance to. Self-fulfilment is the feeling that we will have in the future about something we did in the past. To aim for self-fulfilment is to try to put yourself in a position where one day you will be able to look back at your achievements and feel satisfied that you tried to achieve something a little bit special. ***

Why you are not selfish for wanting to be independent
To be self reliant, to be independent, to express your individuality, to be selfactualised and to obtain a sense of self-fulfilment is in no way selfish. To want to work hard at something, to want to achieve something, to feel that the time spent here has not been wasted is not selfish.

There will be those, of course, who will argue that anybody who is so centred on the self is selfish. They are wrong for one simple reason: to want to be independent and achieve does not mean that you do not care about the well-being of others. People who feel good about themselves – about their achievements, about where they are going – are more likely to feel concerned about the well being of others. This is because you are far more likely to attend to the needs of others when your own needs are satisfied. We can really help others be self-fulfilled and self-actualised, if we feel fulfilled and satisfied with life. If somebody really cares for us they will want us to self-actualise and feel self-fulfilled. If we really care for them we will want them to self-actualise and feel self-fulfilled. We don’t want them to constrain us and prevent us from achieving our potential, and neither do we want to constrain them. And if we are moving towards fulfilment the more likely it is that we are going to want them to move towards fulfilment. If somebody has your best interests at heart they will realize that they must give you the chance to fulfill yourself. If they don’t really want to give you the chance to fulfill, you have to question the nature of the relationship. The beauty of putting ourselves first, is that others benefit. When we are happy we are in a far better position to be there for others. When we are positive, we are the ones who have the answers. If we are the depressed ones, dependent on others, we are the drain on their energies. Having a positive, independent spirit benefits those around us.

Chapter 8

Developing the Willpower to Achieve

hanging your own behaviour is easy. All you need to do is identify the behaviour you are unhappy with, eliminate it and then replace it with more desirable behaviour. The problem lies in keeping the behaviour changed as we soon revert to our old habits. In other words, while you will make significant progress in your journey away from negativity towards positivity and dynamism, there will be setbacks. This might seem like a contradiction having gone on about the importance of being positive for so long. After all, am I not being a little negative by acknowledging the possibility of failure? The answer, you will not be surprised to hear, is no, I am not being negative, for three reasons. Firstly, because having a setback is not the same as ‘failure’. (We have already determined there is no such thing as ‘failure’). Secondly, because it is a wise precaution to acknowledge that there will be times that are more challenging than others. Blind optimism without any allowance for reality is rather naïve. It is like setting out on a journey of vital importance where you have to be somewhere by a given time and just hoping that there will be no delay. If you are wise you will build into your timetable plans to deal with delays. But there is one final overwhelming reason why it is important to anticipate the danger of setback. If you believe something might go wrong, by building in a mechanism that reduces the probability of setbacks, you reduce the likelihood of the setbacks occurring in the first place. By building in extra time on a journey because of the danger of delays, you reduce the chances of being stuck in a delay because you anticipated where they might occur and have planned to avoid them. Setbacks in behaviour change can be avoided through developing willpower, persistence (the motivation to stay motivated), determination, indefatigability (the ability not to give up or get tired), or sheer bloody mindedness (the ability to keep going come what may). It is the capacity not to give up, to continue at a give task until successful, to keep going when you really don’t want to.


Lack of willpower tends to explains why people have failed to successfully implement significant change in their life in the past. Willpower is necessary for success for at least three reasons. Firstly, because performing any worthwhile task gets harder by its nature (e.g. learning a language gets harder the deeper you go, losing weight becomes more difficult the longer it takes). It is hard to sustain difficult tasks. Secondly, often, after starting out on a given task, you get dispirited when you realise how little you have achieved and how much more work lies ahead of you. The difficulty of losing a single kilogram in weight makes the challenge of losing fifteen kilograms seem insurmountable. Thirdly, the very task of keeping going at something challenging is tiring and demanding. It soaks up our energy. Of course, we all have a degree of willpower – most of us end up completing some of the more important things we set out to do: we get the degree, we finish doing the house, etc …. But we fail at so many of the other challenging things in life (staying fit, losing weight, learning a language, writing a book). ‘Life is just too short’. In addition, inadvertently, in the past, we may have made our task harder than was necessary. Whenever we started to tackle a challenge, and failed to see the challenge through to its end, the very process of not completing increased the likelihood of not completing other tasks we undertake in the future – by giving up we reinforce the process of giving up. As Mark Twain once said ‘stopping smoking is easy; I’ve done it hundreds of times’. The key is in staying stopped. This is where willpower comes into it. Willpower is the key to staying stopped when you want to keep going (e.g. smoking), or, keeping going when you want to stop (e.g. losing weight). There is a large body of popular knowledge that holds that willpower is the key to success. Genius has been identified as the ability to persist at a given task. (Einstein said that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration). Those that have climbed Everest, ridden a bicycle around the world, learned a new language from scratch to a high standard (other than children), restored a house or a car, ran their own business, pursued a dream, tried to change the law, stood up to dictatorial and autocratic governments have in many cases displayed almost unimaginable levels of willpower. Whenever you see a champion weightlifter you see a marvel of humanity. You see somebody who has pushed his body beyond that which it is naturally capable of achieving, often causing himself long-term damage in the process. But you also see someone with phenomenal determination to achieve a goal. The sheer scale of achievement can be assessed easily – go out and try and lift a forty or fifty kilogramme weight over your head. You will probably find that it is doable, but not comfortably so. Then lift that weight ten times. It will probably start to get unpleasant. Then lift it ten times, ten times a day. Then double the weight. And do that for ten years. Top tennis players have to train so hard that they often get blood appearing under their toenails owing to the pounding that their feet take. Formula One drivers finish races with three or four

inch blisters across the palms of the hands owing to the battering they take from holding the steering wheel at the ferocious speeds they travel at. They are prepared to lose limbs and die such is their willpower to succeed. Any top athlete has put himself through unimaginable levels of agony for five, six or seven hours a day, day-in day-out enduring excruciating pain in pursuit of glory, self-fulfilment and self-actualisation. They have willpower in abundance. Mundane examples often inspire the greatest awe. Consider the true case of a young single mother, with four children, who undertook to take a degree in medicine. She would wake around 4am to do some studying. At around 6am her kids would start waking and she would get them all washed, dressed, fed, stocked up and ready for school. She would walk three of them to the bus stop, and drop the eldest off at school on her motorbike before going to continue with her own demanding studies. (She would catnap during breaks). At the end of the day she would pick up the oldest and get home in time to start preparing tea for the others. Family time would commence with chat and play and games and homework and TV until around 8pm at which time she would start getting them ready for bed, a process which was finally complete around 9.30pm. At this point she would sit down to her studies, until around 1am. In sum there appears to be one thing which distinguishes the best (the achievers and the tryers) from the rest (low achievers, non achievers or nontryers) – the best have immense capacity to stay motivated, to keep going and persist when others have given up. They keep going when others are relaxing. They are studying when others are playing. They are setting themselves goals when others are happy with too little. Willpower drives them forward. It hardly needs stating that willpower is at the root of most forms of greatness, achievement and noteworthiness. What is it about such people, that nothing will stop them from reaching their objective? How is it that some people can pursue a goal to its glorious end, to its final conclusion, while others fail soon after the start, if they even bother starting at all? What makes the achievers different from those who fail to achieve? I will put forward an explanation of a process that is fairly well accepted by psychologists to explain the phenomenon of persistence (or willpower). (The difference between persistence and obstinacy is that persistence is an expression of the will, whereas obstinacy is the expression of the won’t. To all intents and purposes, they are the same).

Explaining willpower and persistence
Animals in the wild show extraordinary persistence. Or rather, that is how we see it. They are just being what they are, doing what they do. They hardly know anything else other than to keep trying to get what they are trying to get, or keep trying to do what they are trying to do. Rooks will wait by the side of the road for a carcass for hours on end, until the traffic subsides so that they can eat it. Foxes and badgers have been known to gnaw off their own limbs to

escape a trap. Animals do not have the luxury of giving up on the search for food or drink or escape – if they don’t find they go hungry or thirsty, if they don’t escape they become the prey. On the other hand, socialised animals, e.g. our cats and dogs, can be seen to show a lack persistence at some things but be highly persistent at others (perhaps by waiting for some scraps at the table at mealtimes). Why the difference between wild and socialised animals? Why the difference in the behaviours of socialised animals? The answer is that the tendency of socialised animals to not persist is trained into them by humans. In other words we have the capacity to shape an animal to give up quickly (or if we so choose, to not give up quickly or be highly persistent). The explanation is simple. A pigeon (and other types of animals) can be trained to work to obtain a reward. For example, it can be trained to peck at and press a button in return for a small morsel of food. The pigeon can then be trained to have to press the button twice or thrice or more for that reward. (This is done by ‘tricking’ the pigeon. Once the single peck-reward behaviour has been firmly established, you ‘trick’ the pigeon by letting him peck once and then not give him a reward. When that happens, there is a very high chance that the pigeon will deliver a second peck, at which point you reward him – give him food. He is learning that he gets food for every two pecks. After a while that can easily be extended so that he only gets a piece of food for every third, fourth and so on pecks. He is learning persistence - to keep going in the absence of an immediate reward in pursuit of an eventual reward.) Psychologists have shown that pigeons can be trained to produce 16,000 pecks for one morsel of food. So much energy are the pigeons expending in pursuit of that one morsel of food that they are in effect committing suicide as they are using up more energy to get that one piece of food, than the food provides energy. That persistence (willpower) was trained into a pigeon. Equally, persistence can be trained out of the animal. A friend of mine, Theo, managed to do it to his dog Fred. Fred was a bright and boisterous German Shepherd. Every day, Theo used to go with Fred for walks in the hills near where he lived. Because Fred was a big dog, which needed plenty of exercise, my friend used to throw him a great many sticks to chase, find and bring back. Naturally, sometimes the dog would spend a long time looking for a stick, and Theo would wait until he found it. After a few months of this, Theo got fed up waiting for Fred to find the stick and started to throw him another stick instead and off Fred would go chasing it, abandoning the search for the previous stick. After a few weeks Theo noticed that Fred spent less and less time looking for sticks. He had started to give up earlier and earlier. He had learned that if he could not find a stick, Theo would throw him another one. Theo had trained the dog’s natural persistence out of him. The point is this: in the same way that we can train animals to display extraordinary persistence, we can train them to develop very low levels of persistence. Theo’s lack of persistence had transferred onto Fred. This was

behaviour was a characteristic of Theo’s behaviour at the time – he was prone to starting things (hobbies, courses) and not seeing them through to completion. As he was due to embark on a medical training to become a doctor, this was a concern to him. Therefore the answer to the question of why some people have high levels of persistence and others don’t is easy to answer – some of us expect quick solutions and give up if we don’t get them. On the other hand those with high levels of persistence have somehow learned not to give up if they don’t get quick solutions. These people have learned that sometimes you put effort into something and not get an immediate reward. But they have also learned that once they set out on a path, they must go right to the end. So, on the basis of what he had seen in Fred, and aware that the behaviour he had shaped in Fred reflected his own inadequacies, he determined to change his behaviour. What he did will be obvious to many of you. But for others, there may be something of use in what follows. He resolved to strengthen his willpower in the following ways. Firstly, he decided that if he had said he was going to do something he would do it. This had not always been the case. For example, when he used to take the dog for a walk up the hill, on the way there, he might decide to walk to the top, some two hundred meters up. However on some occasions, (quite often in fact) while half way up the hill he decided that he actually could not be bothered to go to the top and would either come back down or walk around the hill instead. He had trained himself to give up when the going got tough. This extremely bad habit had to be changed. He therefore determined that in future, if he said he was going to go to the top of the hill, he would go to the top, even if it started pouring with rain, even if he had to stop ten times to rest in order to get there, even if he really didn’t want to. But he would get there. He would finish what is said he would. Secondly, he made sure that if he said he was going to do something that he was able to do it i.e. he did not overreach himself. So, if he knew he would not feel like walking to the top of the hill, he would not say he was going to do it. Instead, he would say he was only going half way up – but then he made sure he went half way up (as per rule 1). Thus he made sure that whatever the commitment he made in his head, he kept to it. It was his agreement with himself. It reaffirmed the first point. Thirdly, he determined that if he didn’t think he could do something, he would not say he would do it. If he knew he was not even going to go half way up the hill, say because he really didn’t feel like it, then he would not commit himself to do it. Fourthly, he started to apply these rules to all the little things in his daily life. For example, if he got out five shirts to iron, he made sure he ironed all of them. So if he got fed up after three, he would make himself a coffee and then made sure he ironed those last two. If he was cooking something and got out four onions to cut up and decided that he only needed three (usually because he was getting fed up with the slicing) he made sure he cut up the last one. Or, he found that he was increasingly prone to getting bored with newspaper

articles and rarely making it to the end. Instead, he decided that if he had started an article he was going to get to the end of it, no matter how boring. Within a few months of this ‘training programme’, its effects were beginning to show. He developed the resilience to see tasks through to the end irrespective of how tedious or difficult they were, all the while being careful not to make the challenge insurmountable – it had to be achievable. This successful programme consisted of four simple rules which he adhered to religiously:  Start by giving yourself small goals AND  Finish what you start BUT  Don’t start if you think you might not finish: only start something you know you will finish  Make the goals more challenging in increments It was as simple as that. And he made sure he stuck to those rules - always. And it is after that period in his life that things started to really take off for him – he is now a highly respected surgeon. He had learned persistence, one of the keys to success in life. Remember: starting is easy; finishing is hard. In this chapter you are learning how to be a finisher. Developing willpower is like learning to run a marathon. There is virtually no adult alive who, after a decade or two of a sedentary lifestyle could run a marathon without training. It is probably physically impossible – our lungs would not have the capacity to carry the oxygen and our heart would not be capable of pumping the blood which the muscles need. The heart and lungs are literally unable to deliver what is needed in the right quantities. However, with sufficient practice, gradually, after training, they slowly enlarge to the stage where they can deliver. I think developing willpower requires a similar approach. Few of us who lack willpower can suddenly make a decision and follow it through in the longer term. We lack the mental resilience necessary to achieve this. But with practice, whereby day after day we slowly expose ourselves to ever more challenging goals, we develop it. A word of caution. Start on the little things; wait before you start on the big things. If you follow the rules outlined above, you will get to the stage when you know you are ready for the big things. One day, you will make a decision in line with the rules outlined above without realizing it. When that happens, you will know that your thinking as regards goal setting and goal attainment is entrenched. It is now part of you – you don’t have to consciously start thinking about being determined, about being persistent. When you are ready, you can ask yourself whether you would pass the ‘Napoleon test’. Napoleon loved smoking but was determined to give it up. To keep his willpower sharp he always kept some tobacco to hand in his bedroom. But, even this great man while lying in bed, was sometimes tempted by the fatal weed. However, he sensed a quandary – if he were not to get up to have a smoke, this might not be attributable to willpower but laziness i.e. the laziness was stronger that his desire to have a smoke. But getting up and having a smoke was evidence of a lack of willpower.

To resolve the quandary he did the following: when tempted he would get up (and thus evade self-accusations of laziness), go over to the tobacco case, open it, have a good smell of the tobacco (to elicit maximum temptation) and then go back to bed. He was not lazy; his willpower was tested and proved to be up to the task. Better still, every time he tested his willpower he strengthened it. Willpower is like a muscle – it needs to be exercised and developed if it is to get stronger.

Chapter 9

Look Forward And See the Present in the Past

ou are eighty. You are lying on your deathbed, with hours maybe days to go before you take your last breath. You are looking out of the window and wondering – where did those 80 years go? What did you do in that time? Was it a life worth living? Soon you will reach a time when you will never be conscious ever again – you will not wake to another day, to another sound, to another sight, to another experience. You will not be again. When that moment comes, will you be able to say that you have lived? By lived I do not mean shopped or watched TV, but lived? That is taken full advantage of your skills, your talents, your time, and exploited chances, created opportunities, pursued challenging goals and constantly looked to improve? This book has tried to elicit in you the realization that one day it will be too late to change yourself, to utilize your talents, to push yourself, to squeeze the moment for all it is worth. It will be too late because you will have run out of time. In addition, this book has therefore tried to get you to anticipate how you will feel when that moment arrives. It will. How will you feel when it does? Most people will feel that they have loved and been loved and achieved bits and bobs, but ultimately not as much as they could have done. They will feel that they spent a little too much time watching television and shopping and too little time pushing themselves. They will feel that they were perhaps too passive. Had they only worked a little harder, wasted a little less time, been a bit more ambitious, been a little less satisfied with what little they had achieved then maybe they could have been somebody noteworthy, done something significant. Instead they die, having not even really tried to achieve more than the basics. But there will be those who lie back with some satisfaction knowing that few could have done more. They will be comfortable with the fact that while they may have wasted some time, they still managed to exploit a significant part of it and will leave some kind of mark on the world. They will know that they worked hard, had been ambitious, and this in combination with the fact that they tended not to be satisfied with their achievements meant that they were


constantly striving to do bigger and better things. They may or may not have achieved those goals, but at least they tried to. Which are you going to be? I have tried to get you to recognize that in this moment, right now, you can choose how you are going to feel in that final moment which will come. I have also tried to motivate you into acting now, before you run out of time, while you can still do something about all those things that have gone undone, those things you can still achieve, and those things which you will one day regret not doing. The book had tried to encourage you to find strategies to enable you can take advantage of who you are, exploit your skills and find ever higher limits which you can then strive to exceed. Above all, this is a book about how you relate to yourself. This perhaps needs a bit of explaining. It is clear that each of us has a relationship with our self. This is because each of us consists of an ‘I’ and a ‘me’. The ‘I’ is the inner person looking out on the world. The ‘me’ is that part of the world which the ‘I’ is looking out on. The ‘I’ watches while the ‘me’ does. The ‘I’ observes the ‘me’ going about the world. The ‘I’ is the parent and the ‘me’ is the child. If we recognize ourself in a picture we might say ‘that’s me’ something which we might also say if we find ourselves on a list. In addition, we often say things like ‘take hold of yourself’, or ‘I am not feeling myself today’. The phrase ‘pull yourself together’ seems to suggest that that there is an ‘I’ and a ‘me’. This ‘I’ and ‘me’ distinction reflects a dialogue which we are having on an ongoing basis with ourselves, in our own heads, using our ‘inner ear’ and our ‘inner voice’. The relationship is a complex one as the ‘I’ has to play so many different roles. For example, it is the critic of the work of the ‘me’ – ‘that was a bloody stupid thing to do’; it is the source of positive reinforcement – ‘well done you clever so-and-so’; it is an adviser – ‘perhaps you had better not do that’; it is the critical friend ‘I am not sure that was the best decision you ever made’; it is the voice of conscience – ‘that was a bad thing to do, so apologize.’ It should be the source of support when we are down – ‘come on, things aren’t that bad’ or the voice of caution ‘be careful here – things are going well but prepare for the downside’. There are so many other roles it has to play – it has to be the parent, the moral custodian, the older brother/sister, the guru, the font of all knowledge, the best friend, and so on. The relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ is exists in our internal world - in our heads, where we spend so much time. Just have a think about how much time you spend analyzing your behaviour, how your behaviour impacts on others, how the behaviour of others impacts on you, your goals and ambitions, your failures and successes, the point of life, planning your life and reflecting on it, who you fancy and why they might not fancy you, who does fancy you, your ageing, your mistakes, your achievements – all these things are features of our inner world, and reflect the dialogue taking place between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’.

Much which has been written has been about clarifying and where necessary improving that relationship. Implicit in what I have written is that negative thinking reflects a damaged relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ – the ‘I’ is critical, destructive, dismissive of success, overemphatic about failure, intolerant, cold, harsh and rejecting. The ‘me’ is on the receiving end. It is eminently obvious that in such cases, the doer – the ‘me’ – will become demotivated, underachieving, depressed, anxious, trying to please and never managing to, failing to prosper, fearful of the future and depressed about the past. It is a relationship predisposed to failure. You are now, hopefully, determined to change the relationship, in particular by changing your own ‘I’, by getting it to be more accepting, to acknowledge successes, not to dwell on failure, not always to criticize (although by the same token not to avoid constructive criticism in the right way under the right circumstances), to be more tolerant and warm. The ‘I’ needs to avoid being a critic that drones on about our failings and seeks out our failures. Instead, once it has pointed a flaw out, the critic should then become the best friend who will encourage and support and elicit the motivation to improve on that weakness. Such a positive harmonious internal world is the key to a positive external world. Where the ‘I’ is positive, the ‘me’ is motivated, dynamic, with high expectations of the future, and positive perceptions of the past, living in a world of opportunity, which it feels comfortable tackling. This book has tried to get across that work to improve this relationship really needs to start now. It needs to start now because the longer there is disharmony between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ the longer you will fail to fulfill your potential, and the less time will be available for you to start fulfilling it. This moment is the only moment within your grasp, and the only moment that can be effectively exploited. Yesterday’s moments have gone, while tomorrows’ do not yet exist. The only ones you have are in the present. By exploiting these present moments, at some stage in the future you will be able to look back on the past ones aware that they were great times (i.e. exploited effectively), and comfortable with the fact that you have the good habits to exploit those which have yet to come. In other words, by using the ‘now’ effectively, your ‘yesterdays’ and ‘tomorrows’ come alive with achievement, success, satisfaction and contentment. All by being effective in this moment. Change can start now, because you have decided that it be so and because nobody can stop you. The fact that so much can be achieved in so little time should be highly motivating. Weight can be lost in days, fitness can start to improve in hours, jobs can be changed in months, degrees can be obtained in a couple of years, doctorates only a couple of years more. And the primary reason you have to start now is that there will come a day when you judge yourself. Be a harsh but fair critic as ultimately you know your own potential and how much or little you failed to exploit it. Only you will

know how many of your 450,000 hours of consciousness were used to the full and how many you wasted in passive pointless activities. Not all of us can be geniuses or prime-ministers or brain surgeons. But the question we may one day ask ourselves is: could we have been more than we were? However, until that day arrives, our situation is rectifiable at least to a certain extent. We can never turn back the clock, or undo that which has been done, but we can make every moment from now on count. We can release ourselves from our past insofar as it need not burden us or impede us from pursuing our fate anymore. You have hopefully concluded from what has been written in this book that the solution to any challenges facing you are within and not beyond you. You can stop blaming parents and spouses, and teachers and brothers and sisters, and fate and bad luck and your genes for anything that has happened and gone wrong. You can stop wallowing in the past. The solutions to your ‘problems’ lie within yourself - you will only find solutions in your own achievements. Self-esteem comes through achievement, through gaining things with your own efforts and hard work. Self-esteem is the by-product of the extraordinarily powerful if always not unambiguous relationship between effort and reward. You can also conclude that waiting for a magical event to somehow change your life is probably not only futile but counterproductive – you cannot afford to waste any more time for the highly unlikely lottery win, or for the right partner. Therefore you can also conclude that the time to make this shift is now. Not tomorrow or next week. The longer you delay, the less time you have to achieve your full potential.

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