Is Positive Thinking Dead?

Book Review:The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” by Oliver Burkeman

My Rating: 1 Star

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“I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, ‘What the hell good would that do?’” – Ronnie Shakes

That admittedly funny quote precedes the Table of Contents for this book, and it’s quite appropriate given the title. I love it!

Burkeman theorizes that many well-known self-help techniques, such as positive thinking and visualizing your goals, ultimately backfire. His assertion is that when one is trying to think positively, the mind is then constantly “scanning” for negative thoughts, in order to judge the success of the task (of thinking positively, that is).

That scanning, he insists, only highlights any negative thoughts that might be lurking around the mind.

He then makes the case for Stoicism, a philosophy born in Athens way back in 3rd century B.C.  I immediately recoiled at the thought, because I’m not very fond of the term – it seems so…grim.

However, Burkeman insists that true Stoicism doesn’t mean what we think it means, that it is not about “weary resignation,” but instead, a “tough-minded calm in the face of trying circumstances.”

Well, that certainly seems more palatable to me. I’d never be the kind of person to say “Hey, why don’t ya turn that frown upside down!” cheerily to someone in the midst of a painful life circumstance. I’d risk getting slapped (and I’d deserve it).

Unfortunately, after that quick explanation of why Stoicism isn’t so bad, the chapter went on and on (and ON) in dreary prose, so dreadfully boring I could only skim through it.

The next part of the book caught my interest, as it was about Buddhism and how it relates to rejecting the positive thinking mindset. Unfortunately, if you have a basic working  knowledge of the tenets of Buddhism (“the root of all suffering is attachment,” for example), you will find nothing new here.

This chapter was another disappointment to me. It had too many words but said very little.

The last few chapters covered:

 

  • Why making goals can be counter-productive
  • How to get over yourself
  • Hidden benefits of insecurity

 

It wrapped up with chapters called “the case for embracing your errors,” which seems sensible enough, and “death as a way of life,” which does not seem sensible or desirable in the least.

I really wanted to like this book. I too, struggle with tiring of the cheesy, worn out mantra of “think positive!” I too, think that it is a throwaway term that is essentially hollow from overuse.

However, I just could not keep my attention engaged. I slowly plodded my way through this book, but found nothing worth highlighting, nothing that gave me an “A-HA!” moment of clarity.

I think that this author, while clearly very intelligent and also with a good premise, just wasn’t able to express his ideas in a way that catches the reader’s attention.

I wish I had not purchased this book. It will be going to Goodwill with my next donation box.

 

 

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Does your life “suck?”

Book Review:Why Your Life Sucks…And What You Can do About It,” by Alan H. Cohen

My Rating: 5 Stars


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This is one of my all-time, well-worn favorites. Admittedly, the title is a bit off-putting, at least to me. I almost didn’t purchase it, but I had the time to browse it many years ago on a weekly visit to my local Barnes & Noble, and I was hooked.

The main thrust of this book is learning the signs and red flags in your life that you probably didn’t even realize were there. Signs that indicate you are in peril of allowing yourself to become a victim of your own mindset.

As Cohen states, if your life sucks in any way, shape or form, even just a bit, it is a huge wake up call, yelling at you to DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

This book explains how, in easy, engaging and conversational style. I felt like he was my personal coach when I first read this book, and for years I’ve been referring to it regularly, sort of like a personal tune-up!

What are some of the things we do that chip away at our chance at a happy, fulfilled life?

Well, to start with, many of us give our power away.

We simply hand it over to others without a second thought. I found this part of the book to be incredibly empowering – it was a real A-HA moment for me, and it enabled me to pinpoint exactly who and what I was relinquishing my power to, and how to stop.

Other things that hurt us (and hence, can make our lives suck) include:

  • Getting fooled by appearances
  • Trying too hard to prove ourselves
  • Saying yes when we mean no (or even “maybe”)
  • Trying to “fix” other people
  • Wasting our precious time/energy on things and people that, frankly, suck.

Cohen goes into great detail about these things, with engaging personal anecdotes, and of course, solutions to resolve them. I mean real, usable, realistic solutions, not some “pie in the sky” navel-gazing tips.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, conversational read with real-life, immediate solutions to improving our lives. Even if it just sucks a little.

 

 

 

Feeling Lazy? Here are 4 ways out of the funk

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 “UGH”

A very quick preview of what comes up on a web search is very revealing. Start to type in the words “how to stop” and guess what comes up in auto-fill? Usually “being lazy” and “procrastinating” are near the top of the search results.

One good takeaway from that is knowing that if you are struggling with feeling lazy, you are far from alone.

Apparently, millions of other people are having the same problem. In today’s hectic, fast-paced world, our plates are overflowing with to-do lists, meetings, obligations, and of course, the ever-present smartphone continually buzzing out notifications.

It’s enough to make you just want to forget it all and go take a nap. Since that isn’t usually possible, apathy can set in, and minds can stubbornly just refuse to cooperate with that inner voice saying “get more done!”

When that happens, we feel lazy. Indifferent. Passive. And weary, oh so weary. Our goals end up getting short shrift in while we are drowning in minutiae – that state where we just put off things that are important because of…

“The tyranny of the urgent.”

This is a phrase coined by Charles Hummel in 1967.

So fifty years ago, people were struggling with this dilemma, and this was in an era free of smartphones, texting, emails, and the resulting suffocating feeling of being “on call” 24/7.

We all want to know how to overcome laziness and get things done, so let’s figure out how.

1. Are you truly lazy?

No, really – this is a serious question. Plenty of people think they are “lazy” when in fact they just feel guilty about not getting more accomplished. It’s possible that you are not lazy at all, and in fact just a perfectionist. And perfectionists rarely think they are accomplishing enough, if ever.

If you’re a perfectionist, then you likely won’t ever feel like what you do is enough. Or good enough, for that matter. Give yourself a break.

Another thing to consider: you’re not lazy if you truly have too much on your schedule. You have 24 hours a day, or more likely 16, if you manage to get 8 hours of sleep a night. There is only so much one can accomplish in that time, given that you also have to eat, take bathroom breaks, wait in lines, possibly commute to work, and so on.

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If you are kicking yourself because you aren’t working out enough, yet you also have a demanding job, a spouse, 3 kids, and a mortgage to pay – you aren’t lazy. You have a scheduling challenge.

In order to determine how best to define your problem, you have to establish what it actually is. A litmus test for this is to take a typical week in your life – making no radical changes – and track it.

There are several time tracking apps and sites that can do the heavy lifting for you. Just pick one, any one of them – and start tracking.

After the week has passed, take some time to review the results:

  • If you see that your time was jam-packed with activity – work, eating, exercise, etc. – and you just aren’t getting to your dream goals, like say, working on a novel – you don’t have a problem with laziness. You just need to tweak your schedule.
  • If your time tracking reveals that you are putting in hours, but not accomplishing as much as reasonably possible (“reasonably” is the important word here), then you could probably use a tune-up on self-discipline.

2. Don’t count on “the right mood” (hint: there isn’t one)

The number one, unquestionable habit of people who are highly successful, is this: they never, ever wait until they “feel like it” to get something accomplished. If you are waiting for just the right mood to come wafting by, you will be waiting a long time. Possibly forever.

Moods are funny things. They are unpredictable, testy, fickle, and most of all, hard to pin down. You might as well try to throw yourself on a wave in the ocean and hold it down. It’s not going to happen. Waiting to do something until you “feel like it” is a recipe for failure.

3. Drop the excuses

George Washington Carver, a man who clearly did not make excuses (he invented hundreds of uses for peanuts), said “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

What are some of the most common excuses people make?

 

  • “I’m too tired”
  • “I don’t have enough time”
  • “It’s too late”
  • “ It’s too hard”
  • “I can start later”
  • “I need more money”
  • “I’m too old”
  • “I’m too young”
  • “I’m too fat”
  • “I’m too scrawny”
  • “I’m not smart enough”
  • “I’m too busy”
  • “I don’t know how”
  • “I might fail”
  • “I’ll do it when the kids are in school”
  • “I’ll do it when the kids graduate from school”
  • “It’s not the right time”
  • “I’m waiting for ___ to happen”

 

Surely some of these sound very familiar. Don’t beat on yourself if you’ve made some of these excuses, everyone has. It’s part of the human condition.

Cave men, if they could talk, probably said they were too tired to go out hunting and gathering.

The difference was, they had no choice. It was hunt and gather, or starve to death.

Given that in our gilded age of excess, we typically won’t starve if we put off a goal, so we tend to lack the appropriate motivation. If we were facing starvation, or had a charging rhinoceros behind us, it’s guaranteed we would get up and get going. Fast.

The solution? Find something that motivates you.


4.Finding motivation

Motivation is the carrot that propels the donkey to keep plodding along, he wants that carrot!  What is your “carrot?”

  • Fear – probably the strongest motivator out there. Remember the rhinoceros scenario? Being motivated by fear means you are scared of possible negative or painful consequences.
  • Self-improvement – if you have a fire inside yourself, eager to achieve greater knowledge, power, and personal growth, then you are motivated by the desire to become a better version of yourself.
  • Connection – an inner longing to connect and bond with others is a very powerful motivator. This goes hand-in-hand with the need for acceptance.
  • Helping – the aspiration to contribute to others – or society in general – is a motivation based on wanting to “make a difference.”
  • Power – this can be based on a couple of things: wanting to control others in some way, or just have personal autonomy (in other words, not needing others to help). The desire to take the wheel of control in our own lives is another aspect of this.
  • Rewards – if you get stars in your eyes and a flutter in your heart over the idea of making a ton of money, then you are motivated by rewards. Of course, you could also just want outside validation, not money, as a reward, Either way, you are motivated by the idea of gaining something.


Think of motivation as fuel for your tank
– just like your car requires gasoline in order to move, and your body requires food in order to survive. Motivation is really no different – it is simply the fuel that gets you from where you are now, to where you want to be.

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No more self-sabotage!

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We human beings are quirky. We are endowed with several wonderful qualities, such as the ability to communicate, love, dream, and find courage in the face of daunting circumstances.

 

We also have quite the tendency to self-sabotage, often right on the cusp of success. Why is this? Why would we knowingly, purposely quit, give up, cry uncle, back out, and buckle under just when success is within our grasp?

 

It’s a brain thing. Call it a minor malfunction or glitch, if you will. Our mind can trip us up far more than anyone, or anything else in this world. It whispers into your subconscious sneaky lies such as:

 

  • You can’t really do this.
  • You don’t deserve this.
  • Eh, you don’t really, truly want this.
  • Even if you make it, it won’t last
  • This is boring. Let’s screw this up.
  • Hey, look over there – something shiny!

 

You’d think your own brain would be your friend, but apparently it has other ideas about your dreams and goals. The mind seems to be kind of a prankster, actually. So if you are serious about accomplishing something, and don’t want your meddling mind getting in the way – you need to trick it right back.


Strategies to strengthen perseverance

 

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs” – Victor Hugo

 

The word “perseverance” sometimes seems a bit intimidating. After all, it’s commonly associated with highly successful athletes, corporate kings, miracle stories, and other things that seem slightly out of our reach.

However, perseverance isn’t some magical pill some are given, leaving the rest of us in the cold. It is a skill, nothing more. A skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered by anyone. It’s like a muscle, work it out a bit every day, and before long, it will be strong.

 

Ways to strengthen your perseverance muscle include:

  • Start small – think of a minor project you’ve been meaning to get done. It can be something as simple as cleaning out your closet (admittedly this isn’t minor for many). Assign yourself a very specific time allotment per day to get this done, say, 15 minutes.
  • Question your perspective – how you perceive a task will define how much of a challenge you think it is, and whether or not you can do it. It’s all in how you see it – like the old “half glass full or empty” experiment we all know. If you can take a negative thought, such as “I’ll never get this done,” and then challenge it, telling yourself “yes, I can, and here are 3 reasons why,” then you’re gold.
  • Define the WHY – keep in the forefront of your mind what it means for you, and why it is important to you.

 

Just as important as perseverance is the ability to keep your goal realistic. That’s not raining on your parade, or saying you shouldn’t aim high and “shoot for the stars,” as they say. It means don’t set the bar for success so high that you virtually are asking for a major melt-down.

 

Room to breathe

Goals and dreams are like us, in some ways. They need support, love, encouragement, pep talks, perseverance (of course) – but like us, they also need room to breathe.

To make this happen, you need to create margin. In the book “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,by Richard Swenson,  margin is described as

…the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

 

If in your quest for your goal, you leave no room for mistakes, rest, and breaks, you will undoubtedly begin to burn out. This is the point where your mind starts to whisper “this is too much work, you can’t do this.”

Don’t let that happen. Learn how to create margin so you can have an emergency reserve of perseverance when you need it the most – likely when you are close to the finishing line.

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Benjamin Disraeli once said,

 

“Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.”

 

What he did not say was that many people seem to have a tendency to, as some joke, “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”  You don’t have to be one of them. You can stop the cycle of self-sabotage.

You can challenge yourself, develop self-awareness, press on, and reach your goal.

 

 

Wishful thinking, or a wish come true?

Book Review: “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want,” by Barbara Sher and Annie Gottlieb

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My Rating: 5 Stars


This is the book that started it all for me – that is, my love of all things “self-improvement.”  Written in 1979, when I was eight years old, the book “Wishcraft” has sold over a million copies in more than a dozen translations.

Although it was clearly a hit – I still consider it a “cult following” kind of book because very few people I know have even heard of it.

First of all, they think I’m saying WITCHcraft – so that conversation gets kind of awkward. In any case, you can find thousands of cult-like followers of this book on the web. And I am a proud, card-carrying member of that cult.

This book, more than all the other ones I’ve read combined,  gave me a new outlook on my dreams, and it does so every single time I’ve read it.

I found it at a Half-Priced Book Store back in the early nineties when I was still in college. The day I bought it, I stayed up all night long reading it. I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail of dreams, and in a way, I did.

I’ve always been a daydreamer – and always will be – but the whole “follow through” part was my stumbling block. Oh, I can come up with a hundred fantastic ideas – but they remain just that, ideas. That is, unless I go back to this book and follow all the steps. Step, by step, by step – whatever dream or goal I’ve accomplished, I have done so because of this book.

Because of “Wishcraft,” I got my very first paid freelance writing assignment while still in college. It had been my dream for years to be a (paid) writer, and because of this book – I made it happen. And because of this book, I’m still a writer. Get this: I get PAID MONEY to sit at home and do what I love more than anything in the world!

Thank you, Barbara Sher.

If anyone knows me, they know that I’m a procrastinator, and I tend to be lazy – I’ll take a day on the couch reading a novel or biography over doing almost anything else. But this book takes you by the hand and leads you with baby steps, right to the completion of your goal.

It’s not hard, I assure you. I immediately zone out with any self-help book that looks too complicated, and I immediately get irritated with any that are too “fakey cheerful rah rah” – those just don’t do it for me. I’m all about positive thinking, but it has to be authentic – not cheesy and fake.

Now, back to the book. It is divided into four sections:

 

  • The Care and Feeding of Human Genius

 

  • Wishing

 

  • Crafting 1 – Plotting the Path to Your Goal

 

  • Crafting 2 – Moving and Shaking

 

 

 

The first two sections go over some material that you are probably already familiar with, for example:

 

  • Finding out who you really are
  • Finding your personal style (no, this does not mean clothing – though it can certainly be a part of it)
  • Finding out what your main goals are
  • Dealing with hardships and fear or anxiety during the dreaming and brainstorming phase.


The last two sections are the real heart of the book – helping you create uniquely tailored and very specific steps to reach your goal.

The only caveat I’d give about this book is that you have to be willing to get a notebook and actually DO the exercises and goal planning she recommends. Or, since it’s no longer 1979, open up a Word or Google doc and do it. Doesn’t matter – the point is, if you don’t like doing things like this, then this book will not help you.

If you have a dream that just won’t get out of your heart and mind no matter how hard you try, a dream that you think is silly, impractical, impossible – for whatever reason – do yourself a huge favor and get this book. It could change your mind, and your life.

 

 

5-minutes to happy!

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While no one really expects to feel happy every minute of every day, there are times when the doldrums hit. To kick the doldrums out and sweep out the dull mopey feelings, check out these five easy, quick (5 minutes or less! ) ways to turn your “happy switch” back on.

  1. Watch a funny short video

You don’t need a two hour comedy to get your smile back, just Google “funny videos” and you’ll have thousands of choices! Sometimes we have an old favorite that never fails to get a laugh out of us – if so, go right to that one.

Just take just a couple of minutes to find one that tickles your fancy. In five minutes you could be having a fit of laughter – and laughter heals a lot of ailments, especially the doldrums.

This adorable bulldog trying to get through a door with his bone is hysterical!

  1. Listen to a favorite song

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Now isn’t the time for a slow dance favorite – it’s time to get your happy on! Everyone has that “one song” (or hopefully several) that makes them want to get up and dance.

That’s probably why the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams was such a smash hit – it made people want to get up and dance! The official music video will give you a huge smile.

Another timeless mood boosting song is “Footloose,” by Kenny Loggins. It is almost impossible to listen to this song without smiling!

Surely you have some favorites up your sleeve – but those two songs are definite happy-makers.

  1. Look at pictures of cute baby animals

This admittedly sounds pretty hokey, but try it! Google images for “cute baby animals” and you will be smiling in under five seconds. Often, it’s the things considered downright “hokey” that makes us happiest!

If you want to take it up a notch, look for videos of adorable baby animals – the happy-boost-factor will go up ten-fold!

Here’s my baby kitten Blaze – when he was just 3 weeks old (someone left him in a box in front of a local PetSmart).

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Isn’t he precious! Just looking at him makes me smile!

  1. Take a 5 minute meditation break

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This is rather low key – but the results leave you feeling refreshed and recharged – two very big components of happiness. There are numerous meditation apps you can download right on your smartphone!

If you want to get that refreshment in five minutes flat, you’re good to go with the “5-Minute Meditation” app available for both iPhone and Android.

  1. Get up and MOVE

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Sometimes all you need to shake off the blues is to get your blood flowing. Get up and start dancing, or stretching – anything really. March in place if you’re not the dancing type – it doesn’t matter as long as you get your heart pumping for a bit!

You might want to combine this one with tip number two – play your favorite happy song and bust some moves! The sillier the better – act like a complete goofball and make yourself laugh!

Another great way to get your blood flowing is to take a brisk five minute walk outside if it’s a nice day. If it’s a clear day, the sunshine will be your friend in overcoming the blues – fresh air and sunshine are two of nature’s best remedies.

Do you have any quick tips for boosting your mood?

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