Does Positive Thinking Work?

Readers of my first book email me from all over the world, usually to ask questions. The most common question I've gotten has been about positive thinking. People say things like, "I try to think positive, but I am overwhelmed by negativity." Many people have concluded that either positive thinking doesn't work, or they are somehow not trying hard enough.

The fact is, positive thinking can be a very effective tool in the right circumstances, but it has to be done the right way and at the right time. But before I get into that, I want to get off on the right foot and say it is best to consider positive thinking as self-coaching. It's a more accurate description of what you're trying to do, and it's the name researchers use when they try to determine if self-coaching makes any difference. And they've discovered it does.

For example, in a study of Olympic gymnasts, they found that those who made the U.S. men's gymnastics team employed more self-coaching than those who weren't able to qualify.

In a different study, "positive self-talk" made it easier for a gymnast to do well. Researcher Susan Jackson did a study on twenty-eight elite athletes from seven different sports. She found that confidence, ability to focus, and level of motivation were key factors in their ability to consistently succeed. Self-coaching can enhance those key factors.

Self-coaching, which many people call positive thinking, can indeed make a difference. But to make it work for you, apply the following principles:

1. Coach toward a purpose. The first step in self-coaching is to make sure you know what you're coaching toward. Clearly define your purpose. Make it simple. Don't complicate it and don't attempt several purposes at once. Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." That's funny because you can't take a fork in the road. You can't go two directions at once. Choose one and then coach yourself toward it.

Championship race-walker Curt Clausen starts preparing for competitions by saying, "I want to win this race." Does that seem too basic? Setting your goal clearly in your mind is a first step that should not be overlooked. Clausen then makes a detailed plan — what he's going to do and when. He talks to himself about what he'll do if this or that happens. He makes a plan for how he will achieve his purpose. And he runs that plan through his head over and over during the race. He is self-coaching toward a purpose — not just trying to feel good or look positive. He's trying to accomplish something and his self-coaching is toward that end. That is the first and most important key of "positive thinking." It's got to be toward a goal.

2. Give yourself commands. Literally tell yourself what to do. Step back from the situation and think about what you need to do, and tell yourself, for example, "Okay, relax. Take a deep breath. Good. Now just walk over there and ask the question. Keep your face relaxed, etc."

Kayak champion Kathy Ann Colin and her pair teammate, Tamara Jenkins, were having trouble balancing. Their warm-up before the qualifying competition for the 2000 Olympics was awful. Colin had an additional distraction because her parents had been robbed at the airport when they flew in. Colin and Jenkins both felt scattered and nervous. But before the race, Colin turned to Jenkins and said, "We can do this. Focus and relax and don't worry about anything else." It worked.

Coach yourself with commands — but not necessarily in a commanding or domineering way. Do it like a hypnotist giving commands: Gentle and confident.

And use the right tone of voice (you have a tone of voice inside your head) because even if you are encouraging yourself or giving yourself advice, your own internal voice can rub you the wrong way and ruin the good effect. Don't yell angrily at yourself unless that creates the effect you want. Simply changing your own tone when you talk to yourself can make your coaching more effective.

I was lying in bed this morning when the alarm went off. I felt like sleeping some more, so I hit the snooze button. When it went off again, I still felt tired, but this time I said to myself, "I'm going to count to ten, and when I reach ten, my eyes will open, and I'll feel awake and rested.

I counted to three and said the same thing again. Up to seven, and said it again. Eight, nine, ten. And I opened my eyes and said to myself, "I feel rested and awake." And I did.

Simple suggestion like that can make a big difference. I know this is a trivial example, but it can be used in lots of different ways and it makes a difference. We need to lead our minds more than we do. We can create our experience more than we do.

3. Give yourself advice. Look at your circumstance the way you might see it if a friend of yours was in your situation. And then advise yourself the way you would advise your friend. "It's not as bad as it seems. You'll get through this. You can handle it."

Be kind and gentle. Reassure yourself and use your good common sense. Give yourself your best advice and then follow it.

4. Give yourself encouragement. It makes a difference to tell yourself, "I can do it." That's all encouragement is: The basic message "you can do it." This is what people call "belief in yourself." It's nothing more than coaching yourself, encouraging yourself, saying to yourself, "I can do it." Talk to yourself in a confident and reassuring way. Encourage yourself without overstating your case or trying to feel enthusiastic. Talk to yourself genuinely and sincerely, like you would talk to your best friend, and give yourself some encouragement.

5. Give yourself reasons. Remind yourself of the reasons why you can overcome this obstacle. Tell yourself about your past successes. Remind yourself of your strengths. Also, remind yourself of why you really want it. Think up new reasons. Good reasons will motivate you and strengthen your determination.

6. Aim for your favorite positive emotion. I have often wanted to have a good attitude, so when I was dealing with others — co-workers, my neighbors, the clerk at the store, my wife — I tried to have a positive attitude. I tried to be cheerful and enthusiastic.

But over the years I have found something better. I didn't like the forced, phony quality of my effort to be cheerful. What I like better is love. Love is a very "positive attitude" and it changes my state to aim for that, rather than just changing my external expression. And it takes my attention away from me and puts it out there on the other person. I have a better effect on the world. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

Often my cheerfulness annoyed people. Sometimes it was envy, I think. Sometimes it was just the difference between how they felt and how it looked like I felt. But my love, my feelings of kindness, never annoys people. It is simply the difference of what I'm aiming for. Am I aiming to be a positive person? Am I aiming for being cheerful? Or am I aiming for letting the other person feel loved? Or just loving them? It feels different, both to me and to the other person.

Remember, cheerfulness and enthusiasm are not the only positive emotions. My two favorite positive emotions are determination and love. In my opinion, these are much higher states than cheerfulness or enthusiasm, and you'll never slip into a phony show of positivity aiming at these. Please remember this. I believe this is the most common mistake people make when they're trying to "be more positive." They aim for cheerfulness. What they end up with is the show of positivity and a negative feeling of phoniness.

Aim for love instead. Or gratitude or feeling relaxed or determined. These are easier to attain and worth more than cheerfulness.

7. Try anti-negativity. You can read more about this principle here. It's about getting rid of negative, self-defeating thinking. It is attacking and finding fault in your pessimistic assumptions. When you're in a negative mood, this is probably the easiest and most natural way to be more "positive."

Instead of trying to pretend you feel positive or somehow drum up a positive feeling, you attack your negative thoughts with as much venom as you like. It works. Sometimes positive thinking is too much of a step. Use anti-negativity to get yourself up to neutral before attempting anything positive.

8. Keep it simple. Keep your sentences short, to the point, and directed to action or bearing.

9. Reframe "negative" events. This is probably what most people think of as "positive thinking." Reframing is looking at a circumstance in a different way deliberately. If you change the way you think about it, you can change the way you feel about it, and that usually helps you deal with it more effectively. Learn more about reframing here.

10. Use visualization. There are many different ways to use visualization as positive thinking or self-coaching. And it has many possibilities beyond those. It's too big a subject to cover here, but you can read more about visualization here.

11. Repeat what works.

You may have noticed that good coaches develop "sayings." They have certain things that they say often. As you coach yourself, you will often coach yourself the same way on the same activity over and over, and you'll develop short, pithy sayings that capture a useful meaning. Use those. Once you get very good at coaching yourself, you can do a whole coaching session with one sentence and be back to the activity with a good attitude.

Have you ever read the book or seen the movie, Alive? It is the true story of a plane crash. Not all the people survived. The ones who successfully endured the incredible seventy-one day ordeal in the Andes mountains developed slogans they repeated often, giving them the determination to keep trying. "The loser stays," meaning the weak would die. "A man never dies who fights." "We've beaten the cold." And the most common, "To the west is Chile."

If you have ever thought positive thinking was bunk, try using these ideas and see if it changes your mind. I think you'll find that when it's done with skill, positive thinking can be very effective. It can improve not only the way you feel, but how effective you are at accomplishing your goals and dealing with people.

This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.

The Only Technique You Need to Live the Life You've Always Wanted

That's a big title to live up to, but assuming you're willing to do the work, the technique will more than match the title. The method is simple: Clearly and persistently envision your goals. In detail.

That's it. Everything else flows from it — the work you do, the ideas for what to do, the motivation to do it, the insights into how to solve problems — all this springs forth naturally when you clearly envision your goals often.

It's a good idea to set goals and write them down. But deliberately visualizing your goals in detail adds so much power to goal-setting, it'll put you in another league.

"But," you might be thinking, "whenever I set a goal, I already have a picture of what I think it will be like." And I'm sure that's true. But have you closed your eyes and relaxed and imagined your goal in its completeness? Have you envisioned all the details you can come up with? And have you done that many times?

My guess is: Probably not. Visualizing goals is one of those things you often hear successful people mention, but you hear it and ignore it, for one reason or another. I ignored it for a long time because I wasn't very good at visualizing. But making mental pictures is a skill like any other, and I've gotten better with practice.

If you're ready to take your life to a whole new stratosphere, start envisioning your goals. Give it twenty minutes at a time. Sit down, close your eyes and relax as deeply as you can. It's best to sit up so you won't fall asleep. Sitting up rather than lying down also helps you control your visions better. On your back, your images tend to drift.

If you relax first, it will be easier to envision positive outcomes. When you're not relaxed, fears and worries are more likely to pop up in your visualizations.

Once you're relaxed, imagine the accomplishment of your goal. See what you would see. Start with how you would know. For example, I envision a million subscribers to AdamLiKhan.com. When I accomplish the goal, how will I know it happened? I would look at my stats and see the number 1,000,000 (or more).

After you've reached your goal, what will you do? Who will you tell? What will you do next? Visualize all these things. See the look on your spouse's face. On your kid's face. How will you feel? See and feel and hear all this and more, in detail. Hear what they would say and how they would say it.

Let yourself become absorbed in the vision.

Doing this regularly has tremendous consequences. First of all, it will put you in a good mood more often. When you have a clear goal, when you know what you want and are working toward it, your mood will rise.

One of the most powerful consequence of envisioning your goals is the way it changes your interpretations of ordinary events. You will find yourself naturally — without trying — reframing the events of your life in a more constructive way. For example, after envisioning my goal of a million subscribers, the next day if a reader writes to me and says, "I'm unsubscribing because your articles are too long," how do I take that?

Normally I might feel bad, at least a little. But with a clear, tangible, envisioned goal, this same comment doesn't bring me down. Instead, it makes me think, "I should look into this because if this is a common opinion, I could get more subscribers by keeping my articles short."

See what happened? My clearly envisioned goal caused me to automatically reframe the criticism in a constructive way.

You'll find this happening a lot. Annoyances or upsetting events are transformed into the perfect lessons to help you get where you want to go.

The most noticeable consequence of regularly envisioning your goals is the way it changes how you think about your goal and how you can make it happen. Solutions and ideas pop into your mind spontaneously. Something about getting a clear mental picture of your goal stimulates your creative powers.

It feels like reverse engineering. When I imagine my goals, it gets me to think about how it happened. What led to the accomplishment? I'm looking back from the future, and I can see things I need to be doing now for that to happen. It's a very natural process, but produces surprising insights and great ideas. I have often thought, "Why didn't I think of that before?" Something about envisioning the goal changes the way you see the space between then and now.

You already set goals. You already work toward them. Now add one more thing: Envision your goals clearly and in detail. It will lead to more accomplishment and better moods. I can see it now. Can you?

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.

Recessions Might Be Good For Your Health

There may be plenty of bad things about a recession, but it may have at least one very good side: Evidence is strong that bad economic times are good for your health. Read more about this result here:

Scientific American article

Bad news may sell better, but good news is better for you. Read more good news here: Good News Network.

World Smile Day

One simple way to raise your mood is to raise someone else's mood. This is a way to raise your mood that's available to you almost anywhere and almost anytime.

Today is the first Friday in October. And the first Friday of every October is World Smile Day, a celebration created by Harvey Ball, the man who invented the original "smiley face" back in 1963.

To celebrate this day, all you have to do is make someone smile today. And notice how it improves your mood when you do.

A Fountain of Youth

Our bodies haven't changed genetically in a very long time. But we're getting fatter. What changed?

We now have a steadier supply of food than any of our ancestors had for the last three billion years. And the steadiness and regularity of our food supply is unnatural. Our bodies didn't evolve under such opulent conditions.

There is only one thing to do about it: Artificially induce lean times. That is, fast occasionally. Go without food occasionally. Your mother might have always tried to get you to eat regularly, and you often hear how bad it is for you, but when it's done right, going without food is very healthy indeed.

Learn more about it here: Fasting Articles.

Simple Goals Improve Your Mood Best

When a waiter at a restaurant has one table, he usually isn't stressed at all. He can concentrate and do a good job, and it is no problem. Two tables, okay. Still no problem. Three tables, and he has to start paying attention, because it's like juggling — the more balls you have in the air, the easier it is to drop one. When he gets up to seven or eight tables, it can become very stressful. The juggling of tasks becomes too complex to handle well.

In the same way, the number of purposes you have is directly related to your stress hormone level. Depending on how you handle your goals, a strong sense of purpose can help you manage stress well, or it can make your general stress level much worse.

The problem is that the natural drift for people is toward complication. In other words, if you don't try to do anything about it, your life will get more and more complicated; you will collect more and more purposes. So you have to make a continuous effort to simplify your purposes. Your life will naturally and constantly drift toward complication, just as a rose bush will constantly try to sprawl. You must continually prune. You can't prune once and for all. You have to keep pruning.

For example, the waiter had several goals. He wanted his guests to be happy. He also wanted to get along well with his fellow waiters. And he wanted to please the cooks so interactions with them were pleasant. And, of course, he wanted the managers to be happy with him. And so on. Too many purposes. His attention is scattered in too many directions. If he knew about simplifying purposes, he would have trimmed his purposes down to something manageable: To make the guests pleased with his service. That's enough to concentrate on, and that would keep his tension level lower, because it is manageable.

Manage your purposes. Make a list: What are your most important purposes? Trim the list down to something manageable; something simple enough that you can manage it without stress. Get few enough purposes that it feels good.

Having strong purposes can improve your mood tremendously, but only if you keep your purposes trimmed down enough to feel good.

Be aware that after you trim your purposes, complexity will gradually creep back in. Simplifying your purposes is something you'll need to do once in awhile for the rest of your life.

Keep your purposes strong and clear, simple and heartfelt, and you will find the most powerful source of self-generated happiness that exists in this world. As George Bernard Shaw said, "the true joy in life is being used by a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one." Experience the true joy in life. Be used by a mighty purpose. Find yourself a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment and get to work.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

National Thank You Day, September 24th

Have you thanked anyone today? The day isn't over yet! Even if it's late, you can send a heartfelt email. Not only does it make the other person feel good, it makes you feel good too.

Back in August, I told you about the first National Thank You Day. It has finally arrived: Monday, September 24th. The original post I made, Who Deserves a Thank You, has some suggestions for how to make a good acknowledgment and why appreciation is such a good thing to do.

I first heard about this event at the Good News Network. They had this to say:

National Thank You Day, to be held annually on the last Monday of September, was inspired by the findings of a recent survey conducted by merci and The Emily Post Institute that found that while 87.3 percent of Americans said they are bothered when people don’t say thank you, 90.2 percent feel that they don’t say thank you enough. The 1,088 people surveyed believed saying please, thank you and you’re welcome are the most important good manners to observe, followed by practicing patience while waiting in lines.

One hundred first prize winners will receive an autographed copy of Post’s latest book, "Excuse Me, But I Was Next...": How to Handle the Top 100 Manners Dilemmas, and a box of merci Finest Assortment of European Chocolates. All nominators who submit an eligible entry will receive two boxes of merci — one to enjoy and one to pass on to the person they would like to thank.

The winners will be announced Monday on the merci site. The grand prize winner will be selected by Peggy Post, among other judges, and presented with their prize in person by the celebrity etiquette expert. The winner will be selected based on having the most inspirational and sincere story, and being the most deserving nominee.

National Thank You Day hopes to encourage you to recognize everyday acts of kindness shown to you by offering a heartfelt thanks – in any form – to all those whose good deeds have gone a long way to help or inspire you.

Sponsored by merci Finest Assortment of European Chocolates in collaboration with the Emily Post Institute, National Thank You Day is held annually on the last Monday of September.

Who Deserves a Thank You?

Giving appreciation to someone raises her mood, and it raises yours at the same time, which is why I'm talking about it here. It is a simple and easy way to feel better.

Because of your brain's naturally negative bias, you tend to notice what's wrong easier than you notice what's right. But you can override that tendency fairly easily. Simply find a system that reminds you to look for what you appreciate.

Here's one such system: Put five pennies in your left pocket at the beginning of the day. Make five good acknowledgments or thank-you's during the day. Every time you make a one, move a penny from your left pocket to your right.

Having this game keeps you on the lookout for what you appreciate. Which means it keeps your attention focused on the good stuff. And when you find something and express your appreciation, you'll feel even better.

To maximize the impact of an acknowledgment, follow these guidelines:

1. Be specific. People have a tendency to write off general acknowledgments as merely someone "being nice." But when you talk about something specific the person did and how you specifically feel about it, you make your appreciation almost impossible to write off.

2. Talk about what the person did. If you acknowledge an action, you're acknowledging something she had a choice about. If you acknowledge her height, it doesn't mean as much because she didn't have any choice in the matter.

3. Talk about what you feel. Describe your feelings about what the person did. This is what really makes your thank you meaningful.

One of the most important things you can do to become happier is say thank you, show your gratitude, and give good acknowledgments often.

You know this already. But could you do better at it? Starting today? Try it, and then leave a comment letting us know how it worked (did it make your day more enjoyable?) and what worked best.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

10 Ways to Squash a Bad Mood

The Achieve It blog has a list of ten ways to improve your mood. The one I liked best was:

"List 20 things you are thankful for...You can’t be genuinely thankful and grumpy at the same time. Try it and see!"

If you've never done this, I think you'll be surprised at how well it works. And it really has to be done by writing. Try to do it in your head and your mind will probably wander, and whenever the mind wanders, it tends to drift into something negative and then it sticks there, bringing you down. So get paper and pen and spend a few minutes writing down what you're thankful for.

Researchers have been trying to find out what makes people happy, and this exercise has been one of the most effective and easiest for people to do. In one study, spending a mere five minutes writing down what they're grateful for every day made people measurably happier.

And you don't have to wait for a reward. You don't have to do it every day as some sort of burden. You can do it today and you will feel better...today.

Why does it work so well? Because the human brain has a negative bias. Your brain is better at noticing what's wrong than what's right. It pays more attention to what's wrong, and thinks about it longer. This may be a good strategy for survival in dangerous times, but doesn't help us feel great.

By deliberately trying to think of what you're glad about, you change the focus of your attention to the good stuff you've been overlooking. It works like magic on your mood.

Further reading: One of my favorite books on the research on happiness and how you can apply it is Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

Does Dirt Need Saving?

What does it mean to "save the topsoil?" Dirt is just dirt, right? When some washes away in the rain, there's just more underneath, isn't there? Isn't the earth made of dirt?

The dirt beneath your feet is only the top layer — maybe only one or two feet thick. Maybe not even that much. It is made mostly of small particles of rock, some clay, and dead plant material. And if it is healthy soil, it also contains an astounding amount of life. One handful of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on earth. These living things include worms, bacteria, very small insects, and fungi.

Underneath the topsoil is subsoil, also about a foot or two deep. It has less life in it, and some plant roots don't penetrate into it. Beneath that is bedrock.

It takes a long time for topsoil to build up into something that plants thrive on. Erosion naturally and inevitably removes topsoil by wind when it's dry and by washing some away some topsoil when it rains. If the topsoil is building up — by falling leaves decomposing and feeding the microorganisms, and by the action of plant roots feeding fungi, which feeds other soil organisms, and by earthworms and other creatures — if the topsoil is building up at the same rate as soil is eroding, then everything is fine. But if soil is eroding faster than it's being built, eventually plants won't grow very well on it.

Have you seen what the Middle East looks like? When you see the vast areas of bare ground, you're seeing what happens when erosion happened faster than topsoil accumulation. Eventually nothing can grow in it. The topsoil is gone and the subsoil is gone. This is not unique to the Middle East, but that's where agriculture originated, so they got a "head start."

The same thing is happening everywhere. "Around the globe," says Judith Schwartz, "we're losing topsoil somewhere between ten times (in the United States) and forty times (China and India) faster than we're generating it..."

When a field is plowed (and before crops have taken root) it is vulnerable to erosion. If it dries out and the wind starts blowing, some of that topsoil blows away. If it rains, some of that topsoil washes away. When it rains and you see a river that looks muddy, you are usually looking at topsoil on its way to the ocean.

When grasslands are grazed unnaturally, bare ground starts to show. That bare ground can also blow away in the wind or wash away in the rain. Much of the living organisms in the soil die off, releasing their carbon back into the air.

All of us have a stake in the health of soil. Topsoil is a thin barrier between survival and starvation. History is a broken record playing the same thing over and over again: Agriculture in fresh land is productive, and the human population grows. Farming practices expose and exhaust the soil, causing diminishing agricultural returns, which eventually causes people to move somewhere else and do it all over again. Read the book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization for the history of the world as seen through the ultimate driving force behind most historical events — soil erosion.

And here we are in the present, still doing the same thing. The population is growing and we're losing topsoil. But we are all out of new places to move.

One long-term solution to this is to reduce the human population. Luckily, the best way to achieve that is something that ought to be done anyway: Make sure women everywhere have human rights.

But in the meantime, we need to restore our precious topsoil. Holistic grazing management does exactly that. Here's how it works.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Who Should We Blame For Climate Change?

The carbon in the atmosphere is building up. Two thirds of the dry land areas on earth is turning to desert. Why? Primarily because of the way we produce our food. Domesticated animals are grazed in an unnatural way, causing the organisms living in the soil to die, which releases their carbon into the atmosphere. And the conventional way we grow crops also kills the soil, releasing the carbon in the soil into the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels also add carbon to the air, but a greater cause is farming and grazing, and even if we stopped all fossil fuels, it wouldn't solve our problem (read more about that here). But if we farmed and grazed correctly, we would solve our problem, even if fossil fuels were still being burned (we address the fossil fuel issue here). But the point here is that climate change is caused primarily by agriculture.

Not all agriculture is a problem, however. Organic farms take carbon out of the air and sequester it in the soil. And holistic planned grazing does the same. So why aren't all farmers and ranchers using these methods? Farmers and ranchers, like everybody else, like to stick with what is familiar. They're not sure they could pay their bills or make a living if they tried something they've never done before. The ultimate cause is expediency. Farmers that use chemical fertilizers and pesticides and GMOs are doing the easiest and most profitable thing rather than what will be good for the health of the planet the people eating the food.

This is not some modern affliction. In the book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, the author takes you on a tour through history, showing that every civilization since the beginning of civilizations has done the same thing. Many of those civilizations even knew they were doing it, but couldn't stop it. And so they vanished, leaving us to ponder their ruins and wonder what happened.

Now we know what happened. Archeologists have been digging through the layers of earth for decades all over the world, reading the record of the rise and fall of empires. They've discovered that every civilization started with agriculture, which allowed a steady and abundant food supply, so their population grew. With a growing population, they needed to put more and more land under cultivation to produce more food.

But there was a slow-moving problem — so slow, nobody could see it happening. Every time a field was plowed, it was vulnerable to erosion. When the dirt was dry, a stiff wind would blow some of the topsoil away. When it rained, some of the topsoil washed away. If the farmer didn't know how to keep the topsoil building up, then every year, their fields eroded a little, and over many centuries, the topsoil got thinner and thinner and eventually the yield per acre started to drop. But the population had been growing all along, so food shortages occurred, which precipitated the collapse of the civilization. This happened to the Mayans, the Romans, the Greeks, and to many other great and powerful civilizations.

These days, in conversations about ecology, we see a lot of focus on GMOs and Monsanto. But this is only the most recent incarnation of the same old story. Back in Roman times, they knew a lot about agriculture and topsoil — their knowledge was surprisingly sophisticated — but they couldn't stop what was happening because the need for food was urgent. The politicians needed to make sure their citizens were fed. And each farmer needed to make a living.

So those civilizations individually and collectively chose expediency over what would be good for the health of the planet and the survival of their fellow human beings.

Many people hate Monsanto. I don't much like Monsanto or GMOs myself. One night some time ago, as I was drifting off to sleep thinking about this problem, I sat up in bed with a surprising thought: I was doing the same thing as Monsanto! I didn't always buy organically grown food, which means I was choosing expediency and my own financial well-being over what was good for our long term survival. A lot of people do this.

Organically grown food is often more expensive. Today, for example, my wife was going to make some cookies. She and I were in the grocery store to get some sugar, and we discovered to our delight that our grocery store carries organically grown sugar. But it was six times the price of conventionally grown sugar.

Most organic prices are not that extreme, but the principle is the same. If organic food and grass fed meat is more expensive, and if we don't buy it because it's expensive, we are doing exactly what Monsanto is doing, and what civilizations in the past have done: We are choosing expediency over the planet.

If I buy regular sugar instead of organic, I am choosing my own selfish immediate needs over the welfare of the living ecosystem of the world. Who is really to blame here?

This insight reminds me of what Gandhi once said when the people around him were blaming and hating the British for the trouble India was experiencing. The British should be vilified, or at least punished. But Gandhi had a very forgiving approach. It's not just forgiving — it may also be more practical. As he put it: "The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought." I don't know if that is an absolute principle that applies to everything, but it certainly applies here. It is the most natural thing to blame others, blame the government, blame big corporations...but you and I eat almost every day, and every time we do, we have a choice: We can be part of the problem or part of the solution. We can put our money where our mouth is. We can financially support those farmers and ranchers doing what's good for the planet, or we can have more money in our pockets.

Gandhi also said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." And we can do exactly that by always buying organically grown food and grass fed meat, even if it costs us more. The change we want to see in the world can start right here and now.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and podcasts at The Adam Bomb.

Grazing Animals Can Make Grasslands Thrive by Regenerating the Foundation: Living Soil

The following is excerpted from the book, Cows Save the Planet by Judith D. Schwartz:

Cows saving the planet? Why not? An idea that sounds preposterous begins to make sense if we stop to take a soil's-eye view of our current environmental predicament. To crouch down to ground level — literally or metaphorically — and see how human and animal activity enhances or does violence to that fine earthy layer that hugs our planet. To appreciate the imperceptible animal-vegetable-mineral dance that keeps us alive.

You see, that brown stuff we rush to wash off our hands (or, depending on our age, our knees) is the crux of most biological functions that sustain life. Soil is where food is created and where waste decays. It absorbs and holds water; or, if exhausted of organic matter, streams it away. It filters biological toxins and can store enough carbon to reduce carbon dioxide levels significantly and relatively quickly. It is home to more than 95 percent of all forms of terrestrial life. In any given place the quality of the soil greatly determines the nutritional value of food, how an area weathers drought or storms, and whether an ecosystem is teeming with life or the equivalent of a ghost town.

Where do those cows fit in? Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, help build soil. When moved in large herds according to a planned schedule, livestock will nibble plants just enough to stimulate plant and root growth, trample the ground in a way that breaks apart caked earth to allow dormant seeds to germinate and water to seep in, and leave dung and urine to fertilize the soil with organic matter (aka carbon). The result is a wide variety of grasses and other deep-rooted plants and rich, aerated soil that acts like a great big sponge so as to minimize runoff and erosion.

Reversing Global Warming While Meeting Human Needs

The video below is Allan Savory's presentation on January 25, 2013, about how Holistic Management restores grasslands from land that has degraded to desert. This innovative, natural, and simple idea mimics nature by using careful management of livestock to stimulate the regrowth of grasses, and takes large amount of greenhouse gases from the air and puts it into the soil. The event was sponsored by the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Planet-TECH Associates.



The video below is a question and answer session following Allan Savory's presentation (above) on January 25th, 2013 at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. Students, environmentalists, and concerned citizens asked questions. The event was sponsored by The Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, The Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, and Planet-TECH Associates of Somerville.

An Introduction to Allan Savory's Grazing Management Principles

This is a video profiling four farmers discussing how they use Allan Savory's holistic management principles with their land and livestock.

How to Gain Perspective

The late Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps, often helped his patients gain perspective, and when he successfully did this, it changed their lives. When you know how to gain perspective, your life will be changed, and you’ll be better able to help others.

For example, because Frankl knew how to gain perspective, he was able to help an elderly and severely depressed man who came to him for therapy. The man’s wife had died and she had meant more to him than anything in the world.

How could Frankl help this man gain some perspective on such a tragic event? “What would have happened,” Frankl asked the man, “if you had died first, and your wife would have survived you?”

The man answered: “Oh, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” The man was beginning to gain a new perspective, wasn’t he?

“You see,” said Frankl, “such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.”

The man didn’t say anything. He shook Dr. Frankl’s hand and calmly left. He’d gained an entirely different perspective on his situation in an instant.

Frankl wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Frankl changed the man’s perspective, and it had a profound affect on the man’s feelings. When you know how to gain perspective, you know how to change the meaning of a circumstance. Your new perspective changes the meaning of the event, which changes the feelings you have in response, which changes what actions you take.

Here’s how to gain perspective in the simplest and most direct way: When something happens, ask yourself, “What perspective would help right now?”

My wife just went on a 12-day trip. I couldn’t go. And I was sad about this. I miss her when she’s gone. But I asked myself, “What perspective would help right now?”

I realized I would be alone and entirely uninterrupted by any consideration of another person, and this is, of course, potentially useful for a writer, and I thought I should take full advantage of it.

The question shifted my attention in a new direction, totally changing my feelings about the upcoming event. Ask yourself the question. That’s how to gain perspective quickly and easily. My wife has been gone four days now and I’ve been doing some great writing. I’m able to really concentrate and organize more complex material than usual. All this attention to my work has also kept my mind from dwelling on my loneliness.

When you’re facing an upcoming event you really don’t want to happen, try asking yourself, “What perspective would help right now?” If no answer comes immediately to mind, that’s not the end of it. Ask the question over and over. Or sit down and write out a list of ten answers to the question.

The question works for events that WILL happen, and it also works for events that have already happened. For example, right after I self-published my first book, I called bookstores to ask if I could fax them a blurb on my new book, and about a third of the people I called had a negative reaction. They were probably bombarded by ads, which wasted their fax machine’s paper (this was before fax machines could receive the fax without printing), and besides, I may have interrupted the person with my phone call.

For whatever reason, I got some negative reactions, and when I did, it brought me down. When I had several negative reactions in a row, I felt dejected and I thought negative things like, “This is hopeless.”

But I asked myself, “What perspective would help right now?” Almost immediately I thought, “The world needs this book!” The negativity I heard on the other end of the phone line didn’t make these people happy or healthy or more successful. Their negativity was the result of the four negative biases, and they needed help! I couldn’t give up now.

With this new perspective, I shifted from dejected to determined and motivated — a nice shift. I went back at it with renewed resolve.

You don’t have to ask this particular question. Other questions could work just as well. For example, I once had an appointment with the dentist for the following day, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. So I asked, “What do I want to feel?” Of course, my answer was: I wanted to be glad I was going to the dentist, or at least no longer feel dread.

My next question was, “What would I have to think that would make me feel good in these circumstances?”

One of my answers was, “I would have to think I was grateful that I live in a time and place that has dentists to take care of my teeth.” I thought about the fact that during all of human history prior to the development of dentistry, people got painful cavities, lost their teeth, and suffered tremendous agony, and here I was ungratefully wishing I didn’t have to go.

And the truth is, I didn't have to go. It was my privilege to be able to go. With this new perspective, I felt genuinely glad about going, and no longer dreaded it.

I changed my perspective without asking “What perspective would help right now?” but the two questions I asked essentially produced the same result.

In fact, many of the most effective techniques for self-improvement help you gain a new perspective without using the word “perspective.” The three biggest ones are comparison reframes, gratitude, and setting goals.

Comparison reframes take advantage of the fact that your mind naturally and automatically compares your situation to something else. Usually to something better, so it makes you feel bad.

But you can, of course, deliberately compare your situation to something worse, and feel better.

Gratitude is another way to gain a new perspective. And this simple act can make you measurably happy. In one study, spending a mere five minutes a day writing in a journal, answering the question, “What am I grateful for?” made people happier. Even after they stopped doing it, they were still measurably happier for some time after.

And setting a goal can automatically change your perspective on events. It casts the event in a new light. For example, Nelson Mandela had been in prison for much of his life. He was fighting for the end of apartheid in South Africa and the government had locked him up. He still had his goal, though.

One day they moved him to a new area of the prison, away from the people he knew. He was now isolated. He was in a dark, damp cell instead of the sunnier cell he used to have. All of this made him feel bad at first.

But then he started thinking this might be a good time to begin negotiations with the government — away from the eyes of his fellow political prisoners (many of whom would have tried to dissuade him from negotiating). because of his goal, he had a different perspective on his new circumstance. In a sense, the goal changed his perspective.

Use comparison reframes, gratitude, and your own goals to gain a new perspective on an upcoming event, on the past, or on a situation you’re dealing with right in the present.

Or you can simply ask, “What perspective would help right now?” And start coming up with answers. A mastery of perspective can reliably, authentically, and dramatically change your life.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

How to Handle People Who Bring You Down

It is the most natural thing in the world to dislike the people in your life who bring you down. We tend to feel angry and frustrated with them. But keep in mind that they aren't born that way. Children aren't usually born with genes that make them frustrate and anger other people — it is a learned trait. And it's usually learned because it happened to them.

It happens like this: Let's say I'm in a position of authority — a parent, for instance — and I bring you down. I make you feel sad or angry or sorry for yourself or whatever. Since I'm the one who's winning all the time, you'll start to think that the only way you can win is to be able to bring people down. In circumstances like this, you would quickly learn that to be a winner you need to bring people down.

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies," wrote William Wadsworth Longfellow, "we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."

THE OTHER KIND

That's one form. The other form of people who bring you down are those people who are not deliberately trying to bring you down, but who bring you down because a) you love them, and b) they are miserable. Dealing with someone you love who acts against his own interests can bring you down. There may be psychological causes for this, or even brain damage that causes the person to act in a self-defeating way, but it can drive you crazy trying to save him from himself.

Either way, people who bring you down are not happy people. When you understand this, you will have some compassion for them. When someone feels good and likes what's happening in her life, she's not likely to bring other people down (except maybe by accident once in a great while). When you feel good about yourself, you don't belittle others. It is people who have trouble and misery, people who don't feel good who bring others down.

If someone feels bad about themselves, they can notice something bad about you and point it out, and they feel more equal to you, which brings them up a little. Or they are simply down or out of control and it brings you down because you love them.

It's important to be cautious in dealing with these people, but I also want you to have a degree of compassion for them. I could probably take anyone and if I put him down long enough and hard enough, he would probably eventually start doing it himself.

At the same time, be cautious of these people. What they're doing when they bring you down is very dangerous to you. It's not lightweight. Later, we'll describe a demonstration we do in our courses that illustrates what happens to you when someone brings you down. It's something to take seriously.


HOW CAN YOU TELL?

There are lots of different kinds of people who bring you down. On one extreme is the very gruff person with an obvious chip on her shoulder, and when she comes in the room, she makes no bones about the fact that she is going to put you down or invalidate your ideas. You have no doubt who those people are.

On the other extreme, you have people who are very polite and gracious. And yet, after talking with them, somehow you're aware of your faults and shortcomings, your limitations, the misery or danger of everything, etc. These people may compliment you and smile and do all the other stuff you associate with a friend, and yet somehow you feel bad after being with him or her.

Once upon a time there was a very powerful man. He was a really nice guy to a lot of people. He was a dutiful son to a very doting mother. He loved children and dogs. He was a vegetarian. He didn't smoke or drink. His chauffeurs and secretaries loved him. He came to power in a country in the depths of a horrible runaway inflation and turned it around, making his country one of the strongest economic powers in the world. He had done so well, he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1938. His name was Adolf Hitler.

People can be gracious, kind and thoughtful, and still bring you down. Hitler brought down millions of people and completely destroyed millions more. Someone can bring you down with a smile. It can be somewhat confusing at times to know who is bringing you down. Appearances can be deceiving. Some people, of course, you know for sure, but what about the others? You can't just say anyone who criticizes you is someone to look out for because some people can bring you down without making even the slightest criticism. Some can do it without even uttering a word!

On the other hand, people who love you and support you and make you stronger sometimes criticize you and it does you good. You might pay a racquetball coach, for example, to come onto the court and help you improve your game. What she will do is criticize you and tell you where you could be better and how you're doing things wrong. But the criticism is designed to make better at the game, not to stop you from playing. It's still a criticism; it might hurt your feelings a bit, but it makes your game better and that brings you up.

THE LITMUS TEST

The way to tell whether a person is someone who brings you down or not is to ask yourself a question the moment you disconnect from him. The moment you hang up the phone, the moment he drives off in his car, stop and ask yourself, "What was the result of my contact with him?" Do you feel inspired and more able to go on and get what you want out of life? Or do you feel doubtful now because maybe your idea is not such a good one after all? Do you feel confused? Have you been convinced your goal will take more of an effort than it's worth? Or that your chances are very small? Do you feel in a worse mood because he talked about all the bad news in the paper or his did he talk about his own personal miseries that he somehow won't do anything to solve?

If you feel less motivated, if you feel worse about yourself, if you're more aware of your faults, then regardless of how smiley and friendly that person is, he has damaged you and brought you down.

Start being aware of how you feel after you've been in contact with people. And cut some slack because we all have bad days and we're all grumpy sometimes. Try to detect who chronically or consistently brings you down. Every time you're around that person, you come down. Is there a person in your life who brings you down almost every time you interact with him? Think about that now.

HOW THEY DO IT

There are some common ways people use to bring you down. Knowing their methods will make it easier for you to both detect it and to cope with it. Understanding alone can sometimes ease or eliminate pain. But be aware there are thousands of ways to bring you down, so we won't spend a lot of time trying to get you to understand about different "personality types". We're not going to give labels like, "gruff," "whiner," "sad sack," etc., because the best way to deal with people who bring you down is to concentrate on the way you handle yourself, not them. That's not to say it's your fault. It is a simple matter of pragmatism. But we'll get into that a little later.

Right here we will give you some clues about how they do it, so you can recognize it when it's happening to you. One of the things they do is talk to you about negative things. They might tell you about some bad news they heard or read or saw on TV. Or they'll tell you about something bad that happened to someone else. They are likely to talk to you in a certain way about things. They tend to use what is known as a "pessimistic explanatory style".

Here's a breakdown of how a pessimist thinks:

1. Good things don't last. Good things are only temporary. This way of explaining things (as well as the other two below) tends to put the pessimist himself in a bad mood, and when he shares this pessimistic point of view with you, it tends to bring you down too.

2. Good things are small and unimportant and don't influence much of your life.

3. If a good thing happens to you, it is a fluke — you had nothing to do with it. You don't deserve much credit for it. The economy changed in your favor, or it was mostly luck, etc.

That's what a pessimist does with good news or when good things happen. Here's what they say and think when bad things happen:

1. It's going to last. It is a permanent change. A bad thing happens and they say, "It's going to be that way forever. It has always been bad, it will always be bad; people are never going to change, etc."

2. The negative event has far reaching consequences. It will "ruin everything." Bad stuff is perceived to be even worse than it is. Exaggeration is the name of the game. Blowing it out of proportion.

3. If a bad thing happens to you, it's your fault. And they'll make you feel responsible for it.

This breakdown of pessimistic ways of thinking and talking is from the excellent research by Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. After 25 years of ground breaking research, Seligman and his colleagues created the most effective form of psychotherapy known today — not in the opinion of the therapists themselves, but as shown by controlled experimental studies. It is called cognitive therapy. In his research, Seligman and his colleagues discovered that people learn to be optimistic or pessimistic, and that it can also be unlearned. And further, that optimistic people are happier, have better health and make more money than pessimistic people.

The people in your life who bring you down are probably pessimistic, and their ways of thinking come out when they talk to you, which can effect the way you think about events, making you more pessimistic (at least temporarily) because everyone is susceptible to suggestion to some degree. And that's not all they do.

THE SOURCE OF HAPPINESS

Out there in the future somewhere is a goal of yours. You are always headed somewhere. That's human nature (for mentally healthy people), and I'm sure it's true of you. There's something you want, some condition you are aiming for or trying to move towards in your life. You have a goal, maybe many of them. You would like to be in better shape, you would like more money or a more secure future, you'd like to have a better relationship with your mate, or maybe there is something you'd like to create, some deed you'd like to do for no other reason than it feels right.

Regardless of what you're aiming for, the point is that we're never really satisfied with where we are (for very long at least), and we're always trying to get to someplace better, and that's a wonderful part of life. Lucky stuff happens now and then, of course, and it can make you happy, but you can't count on it. The only happiness you can count on is the kind you create with your own effort. This kind of happiness comes from the process of progress.

We think we'll be happy when our goal is attained, but that's not so. A great example of that is Christmas. Christmas night, when it's all over, people often have a feeling of sadness. You got all those presents, but you're sad because having what you want doesn't really make you happy. Getting it is where all the fun is. And no matter how many times we hear that and agree with it, it almost always feels like we'll be happier when we arrive. But that's part of the game. Human nature.

The happiness that you can create comes from the process of progress. If I want to lose ten pounds and I get on the scale and see I've lost one pound, I'm not where I want to be, but I've made progress, and I'll feel pretty good about that. I'm moving in the direction I want to go. If need to save $3000 to achieve my goal of vacationing in Greece, and I'm saving a hundred dollars every week, I will feel good about it each week when I put that hundred bucks away. I'm making progress toward my goal.

We want to move toward our goals. People who bring you down do things that make progress more difficult or more painful. They'll remind you of the barriers in the way ("You're too young"), or they become the barrier ("I forbid you to go"). Or they'll try to hold you back or put your attention on what holds you back ("What about the children?").

Another way to slow your progress is to distract you: "You can do that later; come on, let's go to the show." Distraction is the hardest to fight. It is like enticing you with temptations that you yourself enjoy. Like the person who is trying to lose weight and her spouse cooks her favorite (fatty) meal. People who bring you down tend to minimize the importance of your goals, and keep bringing up other (more immediately fun) things to lure you away from your purpose, slowing your process of progress. You will experience a short term enjoyment and a long-term misery. You might not feel any worse immediately, but it will begin a subtle depression as your goals lose out to entertainment or socializing. This is distraction.

Another form of distraction is to occupy your mind with unpleasant thoughts — reminding you of your "obligations," or telling you things that you worry about or things that make you angry. Fuming and fretting are not good uses of your mental resources. They slow your progress and bring you down. When you are worrying or angry, your mind is not being used to further your goals. And it's bad for your health and relationships.

Someone who brings you down might also tell you you're doing too much or too little, and in this way mess with your own rhythm and pace, tripping you up. They can make you feel bad by telling you you're doing more than you ought to, or make you feel bad by telling you you're not doing enough. An insidious way of keeping you distracted is for someone you love to be sick or out of control (drinking, for example) or in some way making it necessary for you to take care of him, effectively erasing the time you would otherwise work toward your goal.

THE FAMOUS DEMONSTRATION

In our courses, Klassy demonstrates the effect of all this with the audiences' participation. She asks for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room and let her bring them down. Let's go into the course room now and listen to Klassy do the demonstration. The following has been transcribed from one of the courses:

"I need two people. The only requirement is that you're wearing comfortable shoes. You? Good. Thank you. Come on up. And you? Excellent. Now [speaking to the two volunteers] I'd like you to look at the audience and find someone who would be a good match for you in a tug of war — and who is also wearing comfortable shoes.

"Okay [to the audience] these two people [referring to the first two volunteers] are going to represent you in your life. You're going to see what your life looks like. You two volunteers stand here and here and face that wall across the room [the wall to the right of the stage from the audiences' perspective; the volunteers are to the left of center-stage]. That wall will represent a goal of yours. You're going to try to reach it while the two people behind you are going to try to stop you. They are the barriers to your goal.

"Not just yet, but in a little while I'm going to ask you two barriers to come up behind them and put your arms around their waist, and be a drag on them while they try to reach their goal.

[She turns to the audience]: "We all have things that hold us back. If we didn't, we'd just go get what we wanted. So if you don't have what you want, it's because something is acting as a barrier to hold you back.

[Speaking to the two people (the barriers) that the first two volunteers have chosen]: "You two barriers, we're going to do the demonstration twice and I want you to stay consistent. Hold them back equally the first and second time because I want the difference to be a result in them, not because of something you are doing differently, okay? [They nod].

[Speaking to the goal-seekers — the first two volunteers]: "With your permission, I'm now going to bring you down. Then when I say, 'Go for what you want,' I want you to start moving toward your goal, represented by this wall [the wall to the right of center stage].

"But first, I'd like you to think of some bad news you've heard lately...[Klassy gives them time to think of some. When it looks like they've both found something, she continues]:

"Think of a mistake you've made...

"Now think of something good in your life...

"and realize it's not going to last...

"Think of something bad in your life...

"and realize it's probably permanent...

"and you're going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life...

"Think about a weakness you have, a fault you have, something that holds you back...

"Think of something that stands in your way and prevents you from getting what you want...

"and realize it is more than you can handle...

"Add up all the barriers you can think of that stand in your way...

"and all your personal weaknesses...

"and come to grips with the fact that your goal is completely hopeless...

"You'll save yourself a lot of heartache if you just give up now...

"Now I'd like the barriers to come up behind you and put their arms around your waist and interlace their fingers. And I'd like you to look down at their hands and keep looking at their hands, feeling the strength in their arms. Keep your attention on the barriers, and think about all the things that the arms represent: the barriers, your weaknesses, the hopelessness of the task. In your thoughts, I want you to hear what you tell yourself about all your failures and shortcomings and everything that's wrong with you. When you feel down, what do you say to yourself about yourself?

"Remember vividly all the times you have failed..."

"Keep looking down at the hands and be aware of the strength of the barrier holding you back. With all your attention on the power of the barrier, I want you now to come and get your goal.

[At first there is no movement. Then they slowly inch forward, eyes down, looking serious, even sad. She lets them struggle that way for a couple of minutes. Very little progress is made.]

"Okay that's enough. Thank you. Now I'd like you to go back to where you were again. We're going to turn it around. Think of something good in your life...

"it's probably going to last...

"Think of something bad in your life...

"it's temporary, you'll get through it...

"Think of some success you've had...a time when you did something and you won or it came out right and you felt really pleased with yourself, proud of yourself...

"When you think about a new challenge, you can remember, 'Well, if I could do that, I can do this.'

"Think of all the strengths you have, talents that many other people don't have...

"There are quite a few once you start thinking about it...

"I've got a little gold star in my hand [it's a gold Christmas ornament about 4 inches by 4 inches]. I want you to focus your attention on it. Ignore the hands around your waist, and keep your eyes on this star. Let the star represent what you could have. This star is your goal.

"Imagine you achieved this goal...

"would you dress any different?

"Would you go places you now don't go?

"When you achieve this, what great things will you be saying to yourself?

"Think about the good things other people will say when you have this goal...

"What will it feel like to know you have attained this goal?

"What will it feel like to know you had what it took to achieve it?

"Barriers, please put your arms around them again.

"Now, you two: Keep your eyes on the goal. Remember a time when you did very well at something...

"and I want you to know if you did very well once, you can do very well again...

"I want you to know a lot of people are behind you and want to help you...

"You will reach your goal!

"You have the strength. You have the talent. You have the determination.

"Keep your thoughts on this goal now. Stay aware of your feelings about this goal, and how you'll feel when you reach it. Now come get it! [Without hesitation, they both suddenly pull forward, smiling and laughing. The barriers are no match. The barriers unsuccessfully try to hold them back, but their effort is futile. In about three seconds, everyone is at the goal. One of the people reaches up and touches the gold star with a big smile on his face. Everyone laughs.]

"Thank you. I'd like to ask the barriers a question: Did you notice anything different between the first time and the second time? [They both nod yes.] Okay, what was the difference? [One of them says, "He had more energy the second time." Klassy goes to the chalkboard and writes "energy".]

"Anything else you noticed? [One of them says, "She did it easier."] Klassy writes "easier" underneath "energy" on the board.]

"Anything else? [One says, "They were faster the second time." Klassy adds "faster" to the list.] I don't know if you in the audience could see their faces, but there were more smiles the second time. We'll assume smiles have to do with fun. [She adds "fun" to the list.] Okay, thanks to both of you. You two barriers can sit down.

[Klassy turns to the audience.] Now I'd like to ask you: What did you notice was different between the first time and the second time? [Somebody calls out, "More confidence the second time." Klassy adds "confidence" to the list. People say more things, and she adds them to the list: determination, strength, focus.]

[She turns to the two main participants in the demonstration — the goal seekers]: "Now I'd like to ask you, 'What was the difference for you?' [One of them says, "It reminded me of learning how to drive. When I first started I focused my eyes on the front edge of the car, and I wasn't very effective. My Dad said over and over to look out ahead, and when I did, my driving got a lot better and I could relax." The other one says, "I felt stronger and more determined."]

"Thank you. That's a good one. Anything else you want to add? Okay, thank you for helping. You can sit down now.

"What I want you all to know is these things [she points to the list on the chalkboard] that happen when someone brings you up are exactly the opposite when someone brings you down. When they bring you down, they make you weaker. When you come down, it saps your energy. When they bring you down, it becomes harder for you to accomplish things, and it will take you longer to accomplish them. The task of achieving your goal won't be as much fun, you're going to lose some of you confidence, you'll have less determination, you'll become confused and unfocused, and you won't feel very good about yourself or others. That's what happens to you when someone brings you down. It's a dangerous thing. It doesn't just feel bad. It has real consequences in your life, in your ability to accomplish your goals in life.

"There are other things you can't see in a demonstration like this, but they can be tested in an experimental setting. For instance, when someone brings you down, it weakens your immune defenses. One way to test your immune system is by checking your saliva for a substance called "immunoglobulin A" — part of the immune defense system. It's an anti-bacterial substance, and it's one of the first lines of defense against airborne diseases. When someone brings you down, it measurably lowers the amount of immunoglobulin A in your saliva — a concrete demonstration of a weakened immune system.

"When you come up, when your mood improves, just the opposite happens: Your immune system gets boosted. Other experiments show that injuries heal faster when you're in a better mood.

"If someone is bringing you down in your life, you're more likely to get sick. If you get sick, it'll last longer and be more intense. If you get an injury — pull a back muscle or sprain an ankle — it'll take you longer to recuperate. These are things we couldn't demonstrate here, but they can be and have been measured by researchers. The point is, if you only look at what they do to your body, you can see it is somewhat dangerous for you to have someone in your life who brings you down.

BAD MOODS ARE BAD FOR YOUR BODY

A bad mood effects your body. Anger, frustration, worry and depression all impair your body's ability to heal itself. They weaken your immune system. The scientific evidence for this is overwhelming. As Dr. Howard Friedman (professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine) put it, "Depressed, anxious, angry or hostile people are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, asthma, arthritis and headaches as are happier, more relaxed individuals."

Researchers have been finding that what makes people "catch a cold" is not what we thought. When they measure the amount of virus in the blood stream, it seems to have nothing to do with whether the person gets sick or not. Some people with lots of virus in their system did not get sick, and some with very little did get sick. One factor that was related to getting sick was stress. If the person experienced negative emotions, it was a good predictor of upcoming illness. The more negative feelings a person had during a given week, the more likely they were to "catch" a cold.

Apparently bad moods weaken your immune system enough to make your body a nice place for a virus to raise a family.

But your body is not the only thing impaired. When I bring you down, I make you less able to access your intelligence. Have you ever noticed when you're upset or in a bad mood or depressed that you feel confused and can't sort your thoughts very well? When someone brings you down, she literally makes you less able to use your intelligence. When you're upset, it's like looking at your life through a carnival mirror. In other words, you can look at your life, and you know it's your life you're looking at because when you move your arm, the reflection moves its arm, but your head looks enormous, your body is elongated, your feet are gigantic. It's your life, but it's distorted.

Just like a carnival mirror, bad feelings distort your perception. Big things seem small and small things seem big. For example, sometimes when people bring you down, they make you angry. When you're angry, you treat little things like big things. It is commonly known as 'blowing things out of proportion.' Sometimes you can argue for quite awhile and the next day not even know what it was about because it was so insignificant — but it was a big deal to you at the time.

Your state of mind and emotion changes how you perceive things. You are still perceiving the world — you're not hallucinating or seeing things that aren't there, but the emphasis has changed. You interpret an innocent remark as an attack. You remember all the times what's-his-name let you down, and you forget all the times he did you right.

We distort in the direction of the state. Anger biases you to see more trespass. Sadness biases you to see more loss. Fear biases you to see more danger. Let's go back to the course room for a demonstration of this principle.

"[Klassy says to the audience] Look around the room and call out loud and point to everywhere you see the color red. [People start pointing to other people's clothing, notebooks, pens, jewelry, etc. It keeps going as people notice more and more things with a red color.] Okay. There's quite a bit of red in this room. Now find all the blue in the room. [Again people call out and point to all the things in the room colored blue.] You can see more of what you're looking for, can't you? Well, our state of emotion colors our world, changing our perception so that we look for and find all the aspects of our world that match our state, that match what we're 'looking for.'

"The same thing happens when you buy a new car. You never noticed before how many of them there are on the road! But there are no more on the road after you buy than before (well, there's one more — yours!) It's just that your attention is more drawn to that kind of car now, so you notice more of them. And the same thing happens to your perception, depending on what mood you're in. If a person is worried, she will notice much more danger than someone who is not worried. She'll see more knives and fast moving cars and poisonous things. She'll remember news about danger with much more clarity than other pieces of news. The state she's in focuses attention in a certain way, and it distorts her world by causing her to miss a lot of non-dangerous things and to emphasis and pay closer attention to even the smallest chance of danger. Just like when you were all looking around the room for the color red. At first you noticed the big things, the obvious things, and it didn't seem there was very much red. But as you looked, you saw more and more. You noticed smaller and smaller things that were red. Some of you even pointed out red pieces of lint in the carpet! Your emotional state does the same thing.

"Fear and worry are bad feelings, and they influence our perception. Fear tends to focus the mind so much on the threat that we overlook some good options. It's like the man who fell to his death because he had a left-handed parachute on. Did you ever hear about that tragic accident?

"The man's parachute worked fine, but when he couldn't find the pull-cord where it normally was (on the right side), he panicked and frantically focused on pulling that cord, ripping to shreds the right side of his jacket and even his own skin trying to pull the cord.

"Had he been sitting on the ground, no doubt he would have quickly realized the pull cord was on the left side. Instead, he was in the air, and his fear focused his mind so completely that perfectly good options became unavailable to him.

"Apathy distorts your perception in a different way. Important things seem unimportant. So you have something big and important and you know you ought to be getting to it, but you just don't care. You don't do things you know you should do.

"Bottom line: When someone brings you down, it distorts your perception of life and impairs your ability to get an accurate view of the world, and further, it impairs the access you have to your own intelligence.

"In a bad mood, you're looking at your life through a carnival mirror. Yes, it's your life you're looking at, but it's so distorted, when you try to make decisions or come up with solutions, they don't work very well because you aren't seeing things truly. It would be like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. You would be seeing the real world, but it would be distorted. You'd have a tendency to misjudge distances and run into things.

"If you look at the world through a bad mood, any solution you create will likely be inappropriate for your life. And a bad solution tends to cause more stress. First, the stress causes the distortion. Then the distortion causes more stress. It's a counter-productive cycle: Stress leads to more stress.

"Bad moods also effect your ability to think. You aren't as intelligent when you're in a bad mood, and you're prone to do irrational, counter-productive things.

Stress may even do damage to your brain. Recent research by Robert Sapolsky (a neuroscientist at Stanford) exposed rats to prolonged stress or injected them with the same hormones their bodies produce in response to a threat. In both cases, the rats lost brain cells in a vital region of the brain (the hippocampus). Dr. Sapolsky points out that although humans haven't undergone the same kind of direct experimentation, there is indirect evidence that humans also lose brain cells in the same way rats do when they experience prolonged stress.

"Bad moods also damage your character. You don't act as well when you're down as when you're up. When you're down, you've brought your worst into the world. I'd be willing to bet most of the things you wish you hadn't done, you did when you were down.

"Researchers Eliot Aronson and David Mettee wanted to see what influence (if any) put-downs have on a person's level of honesty. They took a group of students and gave them a personality tests. Unbeknownst to the students, the researchers didn't even look at the test results. Then they told the students they had checked all the tests and now they were ready to reveal the findings. They split the students at random into three groups. The students thought the split was based on the test. One group was told. 'The test showed you to be very mature, interesting, deep, etc.' These people felt good about this.

"The next group the told, 'The test showed you're shallow, immature, etc.' These people got shot down.

"The third group was told nothing about the test results. Then they were all told the experiment was over, and thank you very much. Now they were going to do another experiment. The two experiments were related, as you'll find out, but the students didn't know it.

"The students had to learn a card game. But the game was rigged so they would lose unless they cheated and if they cheated, they could actually win a lot of money.

"The people who got shot down in the earlier experiment cheated more readily than the other two groups.

"What does this tell you? When you get brought down, it is easier to do unethical things. You don't have as much courage to tell the truth. When you're down, you behave in ways you're not as proud of. You aren't as likely to keep your commitments or accomplish what you wanted to accomplish. You are more likely to participate in malicious gossip. You're more likely to be mean to people. Most of the things you've done in your life that you're ashamed of are things you've done when you feeling negative emotions.

"People who bring you down weaken your character and impair your self-discipline.

"They also harm your relationships. You come down and bring your worst side into your relationships. Someone at work brings you down and you come home and snap at your spouse. Do you like being around someone who is down? No. People have a tendency to pull away from someone in a bad mood. Relationships are about being close together. When you're down and in a bad mood, people don't want to be around you, so you have a tendency to weaken your relationships. Plus again, you probably don't do anything bad to your relationship when you're in a good mood. Probably most of the damage you've done to the people you love and care about was when you were in a bad mood. You weren't feeling good and you said something mean to them. Or you acted less ethically than normal. Or you were more selfish. You hurt the people you love most when you're in a bad mood.

"When someone brings you down, you're not as healthy, you're not as capable of thinking straight, your character isn't as strong, and you damage your relationships.

"That's the bad news."

Bad moods also influence your level of energy. You've noticed this, haven't you? When you're in a bad mood or really stressed out, there are times when everything seems just too much effort.

So the stress drains us and we don't get as much done. And when we don't get as much done, we're not as capable of meeting our challenges. Once again we have a snowball effect: When we feel bad and we don't have enough energy and our bodies are down, we can't get as much done and we're sick more often, and that, in turn, causes more stress in our life.

YOUR CHARACTER

Let's be very clear about this. Researchers have discovered a link between bad feelings and ethical behavior. Your mood influences your character. When we're in a bad mood, we're more likely to:

1. lie
2. avoid facing problems squarely
3. be sneaky

In the experiment above, notice the results: People who felt good about themselves (the ones given the compliments earlier) were reluctant to cheat, even with the temptation of lots of money.

But people who had been made to feel bad about themselves — people who were in a bad mood — cheated easily and often.

So when you're in a bad mood, you've really threatened your own integrity. You've brought your worst into the world. You will do things you'll regret. We've all been angry (which is one kind of bad mood) and said something we wished we hadn't said. Out of our anger, we've hurt people intentionally (something that doesn't make us feel good about ourselves). And we've all been afraid of something (another kind of bad mood), and because of the fear, we avoided doing something we wanted to do — something that would have made us proud of ourselves.

Here again, you can see the downward spiral: You're in a bad mood and you do things you're ashamed of, which adds more stress (negative emotion) to your life.

THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE

Being in a bad mood is also harmful to every one of your friends and family — and the community at large. When you're in a bad mood, you're not as pleasant to be around. And you're more likely to say snippy little nasty things to people and bring them down. You're not available to people when you're stressed out, so you really don't have it in you to help anyone. In a bad mood, you probably wouldn't even notice people around you needed help.

Our families suffer. We snap at them; we can sometimes be mean to them. These things not only make us feel bad later, but we make them feel bad.

It is likely to have an effect on not only your family and friends, but strangers. If you've ever been in a bad enough mood, you are more likely to cut someone off on the freeway, or glare at a grocery clerk who made a small mistake. It's bad for the community at large.

Okay, no more guilt. Bad moods are bad.

It's important to have a healthy respect for what a bad mood does. That's the first place to start. When we know what stress does to us, the motivation to do something about it becomes stronger.

When we battle stress by trying to get rid of stress, it creates a negative, self-perpetuating cycle. Battling stress creates more stress. Battling stress is a stressful thing to do. Have you ever seen one of those Chinese finger-pulls? The harder you try to get out of it, the more tightly it grips your finger. Well, that's kind of what stress is like. The harder you try to fight stress and not be upset, the more stressed-out you are.

Stress weakens you and makes you unhappy and less productive.

Luckily, being in a good mood is a total antidote for all of that. Good moods are nearly magical in the power they have for you.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

How do you handle someone who brings you down? The answer is: You can't. You heard right: You can't. You've been had. You've read this article to find out how to handle them, and here I am telling you "you can't."

Let us draw an analogy to show you why this is so. It is as if the people who bring you down live in the low parts of life. They live in the swamps. They live where there's a lot of depression and worry and hostility. Have some pity — they live there. We have trouble dealing with them, but it would be even worse to be them. They are like someone from a swamp who is slimy and smells bad and has spores of slime-mold they leave behind (seeds of doubt and worry in your mind). And you're asking, "How can I relate to this person without getting slimy?" It's not going to happen! You will get slimy and stinky every time you interact.

If I talk to you about your barriers and about everything bad in the world, and I imply everything bad is going to last and nothing good will, and I feel bad about myself (moods are contagious), you can't listen to that for too long without coming down. A person can make a good case for anything with the manipulation of the facts, some exaggeration, selective deletion and lots of personal conviction. You might not want to be persuaded or influenced, but you are human.

The question, "How can I deal with someone who brings me down without coming down?" is like asking, "How do I wrestle with someone who is covered with mud without getting myself muddy?" It is impossible (or at least very difficult)!

STAY OUT OF IT

So is there anything that can be done? Yes. The first thing is going to seem very simple and you might accuse me of being flippant, but I'm not. Not at all. One of the most practical things you can do with someone who brings you down — and it's the very first thing to do — is be vague. There's a lot of power in that. If you say specifically what you're going to do and where you're going to go, it's pretty easy to put a damper on it. If you say, "I think I'm going to go to Hawaii in February," they can say, "Oh, there's been an outbreak of a deadly disease in Hawaii, and it's the worst time to go because it's so crowded, and besides, you've got responsibilities." That's an overt example. People who bring you down use techniques that are often too subtle and tricky to describe, so let us say this: If you are open with your life and share information freely with someone who brings you down, they will use that information against you somehow. It will get twisted and embellished and come back to you in a monstrous form. You say you had a little cold. Later you hear that person telling someone else you didn't take care of yourself very well and were out with the flu.

If someone knows specifically what you're up to, it is very easy for them to zing it. So stay vague and put a kind of cloak of generalities over you. Remember the old Dial commercials where they had the "dome of protection?" Being vague is like a dome of protection. When they want to know what's going on with you, just be vague. Be warm, be gentle, be kind, be compassionate with them — I'm not talking about being rude or hurting their feelings, but it will be easier on them and easier on you if you're vague. When they ask how your work is going, say "pretty good." When they ask what you did over the weekend, say, "Not much."

When there's someone in your life who brings you down, it is a natural, normal, healthy response to want to fight it. But think about it: If you try to fight it, what if you win? Was it a pleasant way to spend your time? And you're probably not going to win anyway. It's an exercise in futility and frustration to try to get a person to change (especially when they don't want to change and even more especially when you do it with fighting).

Being vague is simply a gracious way to avoid the conflict. In the martial art called Aikido, it is basically about being so good at defense or deflecting the attack, that you don't have to fight. Most martial arts, like karate for example, is a contest to see who is going to be the most powerful, the most intense, the fastest, etc. If you try to fight that way with someone who brings you down, they are probably going to win. Some things in life you can't win at and keep your ethics. If I'm an aggressive person and you're a polite person, and there is a piece of candy on the table between us, who is going to get the candy? I am. So if the polite person wants to get the goodies, she is going to have to come to my level of aggressiveness to get it or she won't get it. The same principle applies to people who bring you down. You want to stay in a good mood and you would like other people to stay in a good mood. What if a person you're dealing with doesn't care if you're in a good mood? What if they want you to share their unhappiness with them?

Sometimes evil is more powerful than goodness, and we're lucky evil is so outnumbered. It may take 20 people an entire year to build an apartment complex, and one person with a lighter 30 minutes to destroy it. You may exercise, eat right, try to maintain a good attitude, work on your relationships so they are supportive and nurturing, and do everything in your power to be happy, and it then someone comes and brings you down in ten seconds.

One way to protect yourself is to first find out who in your life brings you down consistently and then make a rule for yourself to always be vague when talking with them.

It seems like someone would notice you being vague, doesn't it? And if that's all you did, someone probably would notice. But if you then ask a question, it is a sort of distraction, and it is all perfectly polite. "My work is going fairly well. How's your new job going? How's your new boss?" Of course, someone who brings you down can still bring you down when they talk about their life just by hearing their interpretation of the way life works. So you might want to simply be vague and evasive with them and not ask them about themselves. It depends on who you are dealing with.

People will talk forever about what they want, or what's in the way of what they want. So one very gracious way of handling someone who brings you down is be very vague about your life and try to focus the conversation on their life. Then when you walk away from them, you can often shed whatever happened with them easier because it was about their life. They haven't left as many barbs in your life, because the truth is, although you can be brought down during the conversation, they can also say things that bother you later. A really good way to avoid this is don't let them know anything about your life. It's a lot easier to drop their life out of your mind (unless it is a close family member — and we'll get to that later).

How can you handle people who bring you down? The first principle is BE VAGUE.

FIND SOMETHING BETTER TO DO

All human beings have two main drives. Everybody wants to be happier, and we don't want to be sad, mad or anxious. Given your own devices, you, like every other human being, would like to do things that are fun to do, that make you happy, that bring you up, that improve your spirits. And you shy away from anything that brings you down or has some pain to it.

I know something else about you: You want to make progress. There might be a few people sitting in a monastery someplace, totally content with their lives, but I'll bet you're not one of them. You want to make progress. You want to make gains. You want to have something more in your life than you have now. You want to make more money, you want to have a better relationship, and you want your body to feel better. Those are the big three. You want to make gains. And when you're making gains, you feel good about yourself. We do not want to have loss, or trespass or danger.

When we say "Find something better to do," we're saying, "Look, you only have 16 hours in your day (given a 24 hour day and you sleep for eight). How you fill these up, and what activities and people you put into those 16 hours is what your life ends up being." So the ideal, the most incredible, wonderful thing you can do with your time is toward what you want (that is fun and pleasurable to do) and that makes gain. That's the very best place to spend your time — doing something you enjoy doing and that simultaneously moves you toward something you want.

Given the two vectors — 1) you want to feel good, and 2) you want to make progress — you have four possibilities. You can do something that feels good and makes progress, you can feel good without making progress, you can make progress without feeling good, or you can do something that doesn't feel good and doesn't make any progress. We'll call those four possibilities the four quadrants.

One time a friend of mine and I were sitting around one afternoon having a great time talking to each other, and I noticed she seemed distracted. Turns out she wanted to get her lawn furniture painted because she was having in-laws over for a party. So we decided to do it together. We had a wonderful time because we were in this quadrant — getting something done she wanted to get done and we were having fun talking with each other while we were doing it. That's a wonderful place to spend your time. And if you can spend hours of your life doing things that are fun and move you toward a goal, the more of that quadrant you can use, the better your life is.

Of course, we have to be realistic. There are some things in life you have to do that aren't any fun, maybe even painful or frustrating. Do you like doing your taxes? But you have to do it. So there are some things that move you ahead but they're not very much fun to do. But when you're done with them you feel pretty good. Licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox feels pretty good. You may not have liked the several hours of trying to figure out, or even comprehend the form, but when it's over, you have the satisfying feeling of Ground Gained.

The point is, there are things in your life that are unpleasant to some degree, but they move you ahead, and they're worth it. Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but when you do it, your life is better off. Exercising, working at your job, etc. There are things you do in your life that are going to cause you a little pain or stress, but if they leave you better off, they're a good thing to do.

You can also do something that's fun but it has no gain to it. It's just fun to do. We're entitled to do that as human beings. In fact, it can have a positive effect on your health to do it, so I guess in that sense, there is a gain. But it is not directly gain-seeking. When it is, it isn't in this quadrant. This is stuff you do just for fun, not for the gain in health.

An afternoon out with a friend, having tea and going shopping, would fall into this category. It doesn't accomplish much. Going to the movies or going out to dinner doesn't get the dishes done at home, doesn't get the IRS forms done, doesn't make you any money or help you lose weight, but it lifts your spirits, and there are some valuable things about lifting your spirits.

The one quadrant that we should avoid at all costs is moving in a direction that is no fun and produces no gain. And that's where you'll find the people who bring you down. They're not fun to be around and not only do you not gain much being with them, but sometimes you're actually put back a little bit and have to recuperate from the damage they've done. When you find yourself in this quadrant, when you find yourself in a bad mood and not making any progress, find something better to do! In other words, do something any one of the other three quadrants.

The very best thing you can do is ask yourself if there is something fun you could do that would help you make progress toward your goals. If you can't think of something like that, find something unpleasant or at least non-enjoyable and productive and do that. It is something better to do. It's better to experience discomfort and have something to show for your trouble than it is to experience discomfort and use up your time and gain nothing at all. It will at least distract your mind in a productive way. You're better off going to a movie or reading a book than being around someone that brings you down.

You will have a certain amount of the fourth quadrant. People who bring you down already occupy a certain amount of your life. There's no way you're going to have a life that doesn't have people like that in it. But if you worry on the way home about them, you've given them more of your life. And if you go home and talk to your spouse about them, you've given them more of your day. And if you sit in the bathtub that night pondering how you can get even with them, you've given them more of your day.

You're not going to be able to eliminate all of the moments in the fourth quadrant, but as much as possible, crowd them out of the rest of your life. When you find yourself upset about someone, tell yourself there's got to be something better to do. Ask yourself, "Can I do anything that's fun and moves me ahead? Can I do anything that just moves me ahead? Can I do anything that's just fun?" And then find a tactful way to go do that. Just find something better to do. If Aunt Mildred is on the phone, and she does nothing but whine and complain, you can tell her, "I promised myself I'd get that closet clean today, so I've got to go clean the closet now because tonight I won't be able to because I have to take the kids to soccer practice. Sorry Aunt Mildred, but I've got to go." Realize it is more important to you and you'd probably be better off if you went and cleaned the closet rather than talking to Aunt Mildred.

Do it graciously. But find something better to do. That is the key core technique.

TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF

If you have spent time with a person who brings you down, you have been damaged. To be fully responsible for that, you need to say, "Okay, I'm in a bad mood now after interacting with that person. I need to do something to compensate for that." An automatic, natural response to these people is to try to find a way to diminish the person who is bringing you down, to make him smaller and less capable, because if he's smaller, he'll hopefully have less energy for stinging, berating, complaining or crazymaking. You want to stop him from bringing you down. If you're not careful, you'll focus your time and energy on how to make less of people who bring you down. But that approach is self-defeating and counter-productive, because you have to take part of your 16 hours to do it and the process itself will bring you down.

You can't fight your way out of quicksand with effort. In fact, you dig yourself in deeper the more you fight it. In the same way, you can't bring another person down enough to make him stop bringing you down. It will just get worse. You're not only wasting a precious portion of your sixteen hours, but you are compounding your problem by trying to fix it.

It's like trying to fall asleep because you have to get up early. Have you ever done that? You toss and turn and keep looking at the clock and get more and more upset that it's getting later and later and you will be tired tomorrow and you really need to get some sleep! You are compounding the problem by trying to fix it. The more you try to go to sleep, the more awake you are.

With some things in life, the more you try to make something better, the worse it becomes. This is one of those. The activity of trying to being someone down to prevent him from bringing you down will bring you down. And the other person will tend to retaliate by bringing you down even more.

It is very difficult to change someone else. Have you ever noticed that? It's as if they are inside a room and the only key to that room is locked inside with them. They can change their life when they decide to change their life, but probably you're going to put out dollars and dollars and get back maybe a couple pennies worth of effect. It's a poor investment of your time to try to change somebody else. What you can do, and what you have total control over, is making yourself higher (improving your mood) so you become a bigger, more capable person.

Let's make it like physical size. When you improve your mood, it is like getting bigger. You become smarter, stronger, healthier, more successful, and have more integrity. There is more of you. And when you come down, you get smaller. Using this as the analogy, let's say when you meet someone who brings you down, you are equal in size. If they bring you down, you become smaller. If you try to handle it by somehow suppressing them, it will bring you down — and they will bring you down all the harder. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. It is more effective and much easier to simply take good care of yourself.

You know when you're in a really good mood, things don't bother you as much. You can be in such a good mood that people can't get to you. Think of something that would make you supremely happy: Winning the lottery, meeting the perfect mate, whatever. Imagine someone trying to bring you down in that state. You are immune.

Taking good care of yourself if like building an immunity to people who bring you down. They are less able to infect you.

As another example, let's say you keep pulling back muscles every time you pick something up. So you start a weight-lifting and back-stretching program. When your back is strong and flexible, you can lift the things you were lifting before, only now there's no pain.

Concentrate on bringing yourself up and you strengthen and immunize yourself against people who at one time could bring you down.

The same principle applies to the part of you who brings you down. You know that radio station in your head that never stops and is always commenting? You have things about yourself you don't like, right? And there are also things about you that you like. Imagine a balance scale with a pan on each side.

The object of the game is to make it so there is more good than bad. There are two ways to go about it and the way that comes most naturally is to try to get rid of what's wrong. It's human nature to be negative. That's why people complain so much. That's why you find fault with people so easily. It's why people watch the news even though it's depressing.

So you see what's wrong with you and you try to change it. If you spend all of your 16 hours on this, you will have a pretty miserable life. Plus, when you're finished, even if you manage to eliminate some of the things you don't like about yourself, you've diminished your life and made it smaller.

The other way to go about it is to say, "Okay, I'm not perfect. But I like some of these things over here that I do, so I'm going to try to make more of it. I'm going to try to make the best of that strength or that asset. I'll take a class or spend some time practicing. I'm going to keep trying to make there be more good to me."

So one way is to take away things on one side of the balance scale (the things you don't like), and the other way is to add to the other side (strengthen the things you like).

Trying to put more good in your life is, first of all, a pleasant process. Most of the time when you're doing something that makes you happy, it's a pretty good time. So you fill up those 16 hours with enjoyment. And you end up with a bigger life with more options, more abilities, and more possibilities.

Over a period of time — have you ever noticed this? — some old people have tiny, narrow little lives. They got it by getting rid of what didn't work, getting rid of what they don't like, getting rid of people that disagreed with them, and so on. Now they've got a tiny life that works pretty good. That's one way to go. In our opinion, life is too short to waste that way.

There's a billionaire in the United States that always wears cowboy boots because he never learned to tie his shoes. Is he a dope because he can't tie his shoes? He didn't let it stand in his way. And you're always hearing success stories of people who have major faults — Thomas Edison was such a trouble maker in school, he was kicked out after three months. He became the world's greatest inventor with a total of three months of schooling! Some of Galileo's friends thought he "ruined himself by being so much in love with his own genius, and by having no respect for others." Walt Disney went bankrupt three times.

Remember we were telling you earlier that good moods strengthened your immune system and bad moods weaken it? In an experiment by Arthur Stone at the University of New York, a new angle has been uncovered. A good event like an enjoyable time with a friend or getting a compliment on your work increases your body's production of immune cells for two or three days. On the other hand, something negative, like criticizing yourself or arguing with someone depresses your immune system, but only for one day. That means it is in your best interest to focus your attention on the good stuff — it is twice as powerful!

Other research has shown that you are less likely to catch a cold because of an increase in unpleasant stress than because of experiencing fewer pleasurable experiences. The things that bring you up do more good than the bad of things that bring you down. So fighting the bad is unwise. Enhancing the good is the way to go.

There are four things you can do to make yourself bigger and more able to handle the people who bring you down:

  1. Do something good for your body because your body has been damaged. 
  2. Do something good for the world you live in because depression is a conviction that you're helpless.
  3. Do something to learn so you're more able to handle the situation you're in.
  4. Get it said.


YOUR BODY

The first one is do something good for your body. I used to deal with depression quite heavily, so much so that for a brief period of time in my life I was suicidal and under psychiatric care and taking drugs so I wouldn't kill myself. When you're at that state in life, first of all, you're very aware of who brings you down because they are the ones who push you closer to the edge. So you have an advantage. You look at people differently when you're that far down.

And you start noticing also what takes you away from the edge. Walking is literally, for me, a gateway to sanity, because when you start walking, first of all, you get a new perspective. If you're in a room or an office, and you've got trouble in that room, one of the best things you can do is get out of that room. Change your perspective. Go for a walk.

When you first start going for a walk, don't worry about how fast. Don't worry about what you look like or how far you're going to go. Just get out and start putting one foot in front of the other and maybe notice some things on the ground. As you start to walk, raise your sights a little bit and start noticing some bushes and trees, and you'll start changing your attitude. Sometimes when you are bummed you have a tendency to look down. Looking up changes your attitude all by itself a little.

They took clinically depressed people and told them to stand up straight and look up. That's it. You know, there's an emotion that goes with that. And what they found was, simply standing up straight and looking up made them feel less depressed.

So when you go out, try to raise your spirits up a little bit and start looking a little farther and farther away. As you walk, you'll find that you'll start feeling a little bit better. I think you'll be impressed with how well this works. I've gone for a walk feeling so bad I was crying, and 45 minutes later I'm smiling. That's an incredible transition to make in only 45 minutes. The more you walk, the better you feel, and the better you feel, the more you feel like walking, so don't worry about how fast you go in the beginning. Just get started.

For anyone whose body is fully grown, moderate exercise will give more of an improvement to you than strenuous exercise. Strenuous exercise damages you slightly, which you then have to recuperate from, and leaves you open to injuries. This is not my opinion, but a tested conclusion based on well-conducted scientific studies. So if you're going to go out and walk to exercise, you should always be able to talk, to carry on a conversation while you are walking. If you can't talk, you are walking too fast.

If you're uptight, or upset and you need to mellow out, go for a slow walk. They did a study where they gave one group of people a tranquilizer and another group went for a slow 20 minute walk. The slow walk was more tranquilizing than a tranquilizer.

On the other hand, if you feel sluggish and you don't have any energy, go for a brisk walk. Walk so you feel warm and you're breathing deeply, but not panting, not hot, not out of breath, and that form of moderate exercise will give you more gain than trying to go faster, harder, heavier. When you exercise like that, your body produces hormones which are mood elevators and mood stabilizers. By exercising, you've raised your mood and stabilized it.

The second thing that happens when you exercise enough to be aerobic is that your body starts producing extra endorphins. That's a coined word meaning endogenous morphine. It means morphine that your body medicates itself with. The wonderful thing about endorphins is that they soothe physical and emotional pain.

When you walk briskly, you will experience less physical pain — your back or hip that was bothering you when you first started out probably won't bother you as bad when you come back (if it hurts worse the more you walk, stop; if it happens every time you walk, make an appointment with a physical therapist), and it will help ease your emotional pain. If you're going through trouble, it' is a great therapy. You'll come back in a better, more stable mood with less physical and emotional pain.

Anything you do to improve your body will help you counteract someone who brings you down.

Get enough sleep. That's another way to do something good for your body.

Eating healthy food is another way. When you change something like your eating habits, try small changes rather than large changes. A little upon a little. If I decide to improve my diet a little bit and I decide to go from 2% milk to 1%, I can probably keep that change in my life long enough to get used to it — so much so that later I'll drink 2% and it won't taste good to me. It's a small change. Not drastic, but a move in the right direction. And it is better to move a little and keep it than to move a lot only to lose it. You will feel a little better knowing you've improved your health. Yes, you may be able to make a bigger change and feel even better, but greed is not good — even this kind of greed. It pushes you closer to the edge where you are more likely to fall off. Don't be greedy about it, don't be impatient about it. Go for the small changes and keep them. This is sane, practical, hard-won advice.

Three things to stay away from are white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives. These are bad for your mood. They conspire with other people to bring you down. The largest nutritional research project ever done was on over a million students in the New York City school district. They chose a school district because the researchers can control what food is served there. They found that when they increased the amount of complex carbohydrates and decreased the amount of white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives, there was a dramatic improvement in the students' attention spans.

Another place where nutritional intake can be controlled even more tightly is in jails. Stephen Schoenthaler, Ph.D. has been studying the diets of offenders doing time in jail. He found that when the subjects ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less refined carbohydrates, sugary desserts and chemical additives, there was not only an increase in attention span, but a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, tiredness and confusion. In other words, it improved their moods when they improved their diet.

Treat your body well: soak in a hot tub, get a massage, get a haircut, take a shower, have your nails done — do something to make your body feel better or look better.

Just ask yourself, "Is there anything I can do for my body that will put me in a better mood?" When you're in a better mood, you're better off, and the people you love are better off. And it makes you more able to deal with the challenges you face.

If you can't make the challenges smaller, you can make yourself more able to handle them. You will definitely be more able to handle them well rested and feeling good.

YOUR WORLD

The second thing you can do to take good care of yourself (and this is also finding something better to do) is: Do something for the world you live in.

We start with your body and your world, because they are the easiest things to do when you're down. They are concrete and physical. When you're really down, you're distorted — your perception of life is off. Respect that and don't try to make decisions or work things out with other people when you are feeling down.

Fix something, mend something, clean up a storage room, clean out a desk drawer, do something to improve your physical world. If you have a piece of paper that isn't finished, a thank you note that needs to be written, a report that needs to be done, pick up one thing and finish it.

Depression is a conviction of your own helplessness, a conviction that you can't make a difference, that you have no effect. When you physically accomplish something that you can see, it weakens your conviction that you're helpless. Your accomplishment, no matter how small, is proof positive that you can cause and effect. Your mood will rise.

Besides that, you have also physically improved your world — the environment you are in — and an improved environment usually has a positive effect on your mood.

When your personal life is in great shape, try volunteering. Volunteers experience what is called a "helper's high." It's a good feeling and boosts your immune system. People who volunteer don't have as much illness, rate themselves as having a better, fuller life, and there are also indications now that people who volunteer live longer. Again, take on a little thing. Maybe just volunteer one afternoon a month. Make the world a better place and you will feel better.

YOUR MIND

The third thing is: Learn something. Learn something to make yourself more able to handle your problems or something that will make you more able to achieve your goals. If you have an alcoholic in your family and that troubles you, read up on it. I had several in my family and tried for years to help them. One day I read a simple thing: I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it. A very large weight came off my back. It brought me up.

Learn about people and learn technical skills. People skills will make more of a difference in your success and happiness.

You're better off learning about your problems than you are trying to change another person. See the difference? If I try to change someone, maybe nothing will happen. Probably nothing will happen. If I go to a class and learn something to make myself more able, there's a pretty good chance my effort will make a difference.

Learning brings understanding, and understanding will improve your mood. Not being able to understand something that's happening will bring you down. A lack of understanding is a tremendous drain on your well-being.

Learn something that will bring you up. This might mean taking a class at the college, reading a book, finding a counselor, or doing anything that will help you learn more about what's troubling you.

GET IT SAID

The last thing is to get it said. If you have something you want to say and you stop yourself from saying it for some reason, do you know it doesn't go away? It stays there, hanging in suspended animation, wanting to be said. If you don't get it said, it is like a little piece of cancer inside you. If you will just get it said to someone, you will feel better.

If you have a friend in your life you can talk to, get it said to them. If you don't have anybody you can really talk to because you think it's too personal or involves someone else and you want to respect their privacy (or every person you know is a lousy listener — which is a pretty good probability), then go to the bookstore and get yourself a journal and write in that.

College students are under a lot of stress, so they were given instructions to write in a journal for 20 minutes a day about their emotionally troubling issues. Another group was told to write in a journal for 20 minutes a day about anything — what they had for lunch, what they did that day, etc. The ones who wrote about emotionally troubling issues missed less school because of illness and rated themselves as having a better attitude. All they did was get it said.

When you get something said, you can take your attention off it. It's not waiting to be said anymore. Have you ever been upset about something and spilled your guts to a good listener? When you finished, you probably gave a deep sigh of relief and felt you could go on. You had cleansed yourself of all those cancerous thoughts. Maybe you can't talk directly to the person bringing you down. If you can, try to work it out. If you can't, get it out of your system some other way. Don't let it sit in there and eat at you.

And get the good stuff said too. One common reason for leaving a job is also a common reason people leave their mates: They didn't feel appreciated. They felt taken for granted. So if you want to do something that not only brings you up, but also helps the people you're around to come up, is for you to appreciate someone. To take the time to say what you like. Take the time and notice the good in your life.

Once a day, look for something you can acknowledge in another. It's like a vitamin. It makes a big difference, in more ways than one. Be specific. Be sincere. Don't say stuff you don't mean. It will take effort. This is not some easy trick. It'll take effort and it will go against the natural negativity of your mind. Exert yourself to find something and say it. Tell someone what you appreciate and why you think it is valuable and worthy of comment.

When you have people around that you love and care about and you appreciate them, they feel better, and they're more able to handle the people in their lives who bring them down. And you have strengthened their moral backbone (increased their integrity), which will bring them up. You can make them bigger and better able to handle difficulties in their life, just by letting them know they're valuable. And it will help you.

SUMMARY

Here's how to handle people who bring you down. First of all, be vague. Second, find something better to do. Do something good for your body or your world. Learn something. And get it said.