how to be healthier without lifting a finger

It's simple: become more optimistic, not in the airy-fairy, everything-happens-for-a-reason, rose-colored-glasses kind of way, but become more optimistic in the scientific sense of the word.

Optimism has a strong impact on your general health and immune system, and this is no longer the fanciful opinion of fringe healers, but a thoroughly validated conclusion of large, long-term studies.

Read more: Optimism Is Healthy

why optimism can be a self-fulfilling prophesy

Optimism includes the assumption I can do something to change this situation for the better. Defeatism or pessimism includes the assumption probably nothing I do will make any difference.

Of course, when you're optimistic, you are more willing to take action to change things for the better, which increases the likelihood that things will change for the better. That's how optimism becomes self-fulfilling.

Pessimism can also become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If there is some area of your life that you have decided you cannot improve, you will no longer even try, which makes it more likely it will stay the way it is (or get worse).

Optimism is not the same as thinking positively, and it is actually easier than thinking positively. But it has far more evidence from scientific experiments proving its effectiveness than positive thinking does.

Read more: Optimism and Optimism is Healthy

why pessimism shuts down your immune system

Pessimism leads to depression, whether it is mild or deep. And when a person is depressed, certain brain hormones become depleted, creating a chain of biochemical events that end up slowing down the activity of the immune system. For example, two key players in our immune systems are T cells and NK cells.

T CELLS recognize invaders (like viruses) and make more copies of themselves to kill off the invaders. Pessimists’ T cells don’t multiply as quickly as optimists’, allowing invaders to get the upper hand.

NK CELLS circulate in the blood and kill whatever they come across that they identify as foreign (like cancer cells). Pessimists’ NK cells can identify foreign entities, but they don’t destroy them as well as the optimists’ NK cells. 

Read more: Optimism Is Healthy and Optimism Interview

invigorate your life using a technique developed in a concentration camp

You will feel strong and happy to the degree you feel your actions have some meaning. Life includes a good deal of suffering in one form or another. If the suffering has some meaning, you can tolerate it well and even find happiness while suffering. Viktor Frankl discovered this while he was in one of Hitler's concentration camps.

Choose something you're unhappy about. Now ask yourself: Is there some greater purpose or meaning that is being paid for by my suffering? It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or what they might think about it. What matters is that your life and your struggles have meaning to you. Does it serve some greater end? Is your suffering the price you must pay for some important purpose?

Don't come up with an answer right away. Ponder it, like a Zen koan, for days or even weeks.

Read more: Meanings And Feelings
and Master The Art Of Making Meaning

how to make people like you for five cents

When you notice and appreciate good things about other people, it improves your mood and the moods of the people around you. You get to live in a more pleasant environment.

I'll bet you know that already. But it's hard to remember, isn't it? That's where the five pennies come in.

At the beginning of your day, or even right now, put five pennies in your left pocket. Now try to find something nice to say about someone (something you actually think is true), either to their face or behind their back, and every time you do, move one penny to your right pocket. Try to move all five today. You may be surprised at the enjoyable consequences of this simple action.

Read more: One Way to Enjoy Work More

why failing to lose weight is a good thing

In a series of studies at Columbia University, it was found that people who successfully lost weight and kept it off had tried and failed a number of times before they finally succeeded.

When you change the way you eat or exercise, old habits tend to kick in and ruin your progress. To be successful, you first need to learn how to keep the changes and maintain them over time. Each attempt, even though it "failed," teaches you what you need to do to be successful in the future. In fact, the studies also showed that the more times you try to lose weight, the more likely your weight loss will be permanent.

So don't give up on yourself if you've tried and failed. Your very next attempt may be the one that succeeds.

The following chapters in Self-Help Stuff That Works will show you how to pick yourself up after a setback and continue. You don't need willpower, you need the ability to destroy the thoughts that suck away your soul; thoughts that take away your desire and motivation.
Master The Art Of Making Meaning
How to Deal With Setbacks and Failures

is there an easy way to stop feeling annoyed or angry?

Yes there is. Anger and annoyance come from the conclusions you've drawn about the meaning of an event. You conclude that you were insulted or disrespected, and then you feel anger in response to the disrespect.

For example, when someone does X, it means they think you're stupid. But what if that's not what it means? Then your anger would just be needless suffering, right?

Try this: Next time you feel angry or annoyed because someone did something, ask yourself what you think the action meant. Then ask yourself What else could it mean? Your first conclusion might not be the best one, so ask it a few times. Your anger will diminish as your certainty about the meaning of the event diminishes.

Read more: Master The Art Of Making Meaning

Master the Art of Making Meaning

Your mind is a meaning-making machine. Without even trying, you “know” what things mean, at least most of the time. When someone treats you rudely, your mind interprets that. It makes some meaning out of it. And it’s completely automatic. That is, you don’t stop and think about it. You don’t try to make an interpretation. It happens without any effort on your part.

The meanings you make affect the way you feel and determine how you interact with people and circumstances. The interpretations you make about the events in your life have a significant influence on the amount of stress you experience in your day.

For example, let’s say someone cuts you off on the freeway. And let’s further postulate, just for fun, that your automatic interpretation is “What a jerk.” The interpretation would probably make you upset, at least a little bit. But realize that it doesn’t feel like you’re making the interpretation “What a jerk.” The way it feels to you is that your assessment of the person is obvious, and anyone in their right mind would make the same assessment in the same circumstances. But believe it or not, your interpretation was your own doing, and it wasn’t the only possible interpretation you could have made.

The important thing about this is that your interpretations change the way you feel, and those feelings change the way you interact with the world.

The good news is: You’re not stuck with the interpretations your mind makes automatically. You can come up with new ones. You wouldn’t marry the first person you met after puberty, would you? You wouldn’t take a job at the first place you saw a “Help Wanted” sign, would you? Well, you don’t have to use the first interpretation that pops into your head, either.

In the example above, the possible ways to interpret someone cutting you off are virtually unlimited. How about this one: The person had unexpected car trouble and now is running terribly late to an important appointment. If the driver is a woman, maybe she’s in labor and needs to get to a hospital now. If it’s a man, maybe he was called at work and told his wife is in labor. Maybe his brakes went out. Maybe he’s having heart trouble.

None of those interpretations are better than any others in an absolute way. But which one leaves you able to go on about your day feeling fine? Or, if it’s a situation that keeps repeating itself and requires action, which interpretation will make you most effective at dealing with that situation?

Challenge yourself. Don’t settle for the first interpretation that comes to mind. Say to yourself, “Okay, it might mean that...what else could it mean? What’s another way to interpret this?” You will feel better, treat people better, and handle situations better. Do you know what this could mean to you? You tell me.

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

how to persist without willpower

The secret of success is persistence. But what happens when you hit a setback and feel defeated? When you conclude your goal is impossible, it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to persist.

But when you feel defeated, you have almost surely concluded something that is false: Nobody will ever want my product, I'm just a loser, Everything I touch turns to crap, etc. When a setback occurs, it brings you down. When people are down, their thoughts become overly negative, distorted, and exaggerated.

Learn to seek out the mistakes in your thinking and correct them.

Don't try to persist by forcing yourself to continue even when you feel defeated. Learn to poke holes in your defeated conclusions and you will persist naturally. Without willpower.

Read more: Pillar Of Strength
and Positive Thinking: The Next Generation

Positive Thinking: The Next Generation

Making positive statements to yourself when you feel down improves your mood — but only slightly. Thirty years ago, that was the best you could hope for. But since then, an enormous amount of research has been done on exactly how our thoughts affect the way we feel. This is the realm of cognitive science.

The most important insight from cognitive research is this: When you feel angry, anxious, or depressed, those feelings are largely caused by irrational (unreasonable) assumptions.

Of course, circumstances call for some kind of response, but your response will depend on your habits of thinking. When you’re in the habit of making faulty (irrational, unreasonable, unjustifiable) assumptions in response to certain kinds of events, you’re likely to feel a lot of anger, anxiety or sadness in that area of your life.

Cognitive science says, “Rather than trying to think positively, find out what’s wrong with your negative thinking. If you’ve got strong negative feelings, your thinking is inevitably distorted, unsubstantiated and overgeneralized.” Criticizing the assumptions behind your negative feelings measurably and significantly improves your mood. When you find yourself making an unreasonable assumption and it makes you feel bad, attack the assumption. Check it for illogic. See if you’re exaggerating or ignoring evidence.

Give your own negative thoughts the same treatment you would give to the statements of a fast-talking salesman: Question them without mercy. Don’t assume that something is true simply because you thought it. Check your own thoughts against logic and evidence as skeptically as you would the thoughts of someone else. You are fallible like any other human being, and you are capable of thinking thoughts that are not only untrue, but also counterproductive.

If you’ve got the time, criticize your assumptions on paper. Write an assumption you’re making — something you think is true about the situation, some assessment or opinion you have — and then write out all the reasons why that assumption may not, in fact, be true, and why it may be a supremely stupid thing to think. This is one of my favorite methods. When I do this, I often use two pens of different color, one for the assumptions and one for my criticisms of those assumptions.

Old-style positive thinking — the kind of Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses, everything-happens-for-a-reason positive thinking — ignores an important issue: truth. And that’s why it doesn’t work very well. Thinking positively only works if you believe it, and it’s very difficult for a modern, educated, rational person (you, for instance) to believe something just because it’s a nice thought.

Don’t bother with positive thinking. Something much better has been discovered. When you feel mad, annoyed, frustrated, stressed, worried, or down-in-the-dumps, pay attention to your thoughts and then argue with those thoughts on the basis of evidence and reason. At the moment you recognize one of your negative thoughts as irrational, you’ll feel better.

You may have to argue with the same thoughts over and over again, sometimes for months, but eventually you’ll get in the habit of making more rational assumptions, and the more rational your thoughts, the less you’ll be troubled by the negative emotions your thoughts were causing. When you’re no longer burdened by unnecessary feelings of sadness, anger, and fear, you’ll find your general mood and sense of well-being will rise to a new level. Cut yourself free of needless negative emotions with the blade of rationality.

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

Pillar of Strength

In his book, Grinding it Out, Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s what it is today, wrote about his father. Kroc senior was a hard-working man who was doing well in real estate before the Depression, expanding his holdings and using credit to extend himself even further. “When the market collapsed, he was crushed beneath a pile of deeds he could not sell,” wrote Kroc. “The land they described was worth less than he owed. This was an unbearable situation for a man of my father’s principled conservatism. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1930. He had worried himself to death. On his desk the day he died were two pieces of paper — his last paycheck from the telegraph company and a garnishment notice for the entire amount of his wages.”

Bad stuff happens, and sometimes it’s big. You don’t want it to crush you. You want to be strong. So start now taking every small bad thing that happens as an opportunity to repeat this idea to yourself:

There will be an advantage in this.
I will find it or I will make it.

Repeat it until you see or can make an advantage out of it. If you will do this, you will stand as a fortress of strength for your family in situations that would make lesser men and women collapse in hopelessness. This idea is not some namby-pamby, rah-rah, positive-thinking nonsense. It is a source of tremendous strength. It may save your life some day. For sure it will be good for your health. Ingrain that thought — make that pathway through your brain well-worn — and you’ll be able to face up to difficulties that would make a mere mortal crawl and whimper.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is more successful than most people know. He’s made a lot of money with his films and married a Kennedy, but he’s also a smart and successful businessman outside of the movie business, with real estate, books, restaurants, and fitness clubs. He is hugely successful. In his autobiography, he wrote,

I didn’t get certain things I needed as a child, and that, I think, finally made me hungry for achievement...If I’d gotten everything and been well-balanced, I wouldn’t have had my drive. [Because of] this negative element in my upbringing, I had a positive drive toward success...

He held up under the strain and turned it to his advantage. He didn’t let it crush him because of the way he thinks. This strength is within your grasp: Find or make an advantage in everything that happens.

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

the ancient hindus used the same technique as modern cognitive science to end human misery

There isn't much to it: Just give up desires. Of course, you can't possibly do that permanently, but you can do it right now. Ask yourself What do I want right now? You almost always want something. And the state of wanting is a state of discontent. Whatever you want right now, just give it up. Say to yourself I don't want that. Decide you don't want it.

Don't worry, it'll come back. But for right now, you'll gain yourself a peace-of-mind break. This is not difficult, and you can do it.

Notice what you want right now, and let it go. Give it up. Then notice what else you want and let that one go too. You'll notice a relaxing feeling of contentment come over you.

If you don't notice that contentment, and you want to feel it, give up that desire too.

Read more: The How Of Tao

The How of Tao

The attitude of Taoism and the Buddhist concept of nonattachment and the basic principle of cognitive therapy can be reduced to a single technique that creates calm, contentment, and peace of mind. The technique is to let go of an idea you’re clinging to. Remind yourself it is only an idea and stop clinging to it as if the idea were meaningful and weighty.

For example, Judy is a thirty-eight-year-old woman who lives in the same town as her alcoholic mother. Judy was upset about this. It bothered her that her mother drank so much every day. One day she discovered the prime source of her stress: The idea that it was her duty to save her mom.

So she gave up the idea. It was just an idea, after all, it was not The Law. And the idea caused her needless suffering. So every time she felt upset because of her mother’s drinking, she said to herself: The only one who can stop Mom’s drinking is Mom. She became happier, more relaxed, and probably healthier.

She let go of a fixed notion that she should save her mom. Giving up an attachment to an idea is known by Buddhists and Taoists as nonattachment. It is known by cognitive therapists as arguing against “should” statements. And in Rational-Emotive Therapy, they call it giving up musturbation. Clinging to an idea is the source of the bulk of human suffering.

Here’s the technique:

1. When you notice yourself unhappy about something, ask yourself what idea you are grasping, clinging to, clutching.

2. Say to yourself, “This is just an idea, and ideas are not reality. This idea doesn’t help me, so I’ll no longer use it as a guide. The idea is now dismissed, thank you very much.”

3. When the idea comes back later — as it probably will — dismiss it again. You may be in the habit of thinking the idea, so it’ll come up again after you’ve dismissed it, like an idiot employee who doesn’t understand he has already been fired. Send him home again. And again. And as many times as you must until he eventually stops coming back.

You will relax and feel happier every time you let go of an idea that has been causing you unnecessary stress.

This article was excerpted from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works: How to Become More Effective with Your Actions and Feel Good More Often.

If You Relapse

A therapist once told me he had a client, Dirck, who's wife didn't feel loved. The therapist helped Dirck find out what his wife needed to feel loved. She craved physical demonstration: Hugs, touches, kisses, holding hands. That was something that really got through to her and meant the most to her. Dirck had been simply telling her how much he loved her without doing much physical demonstration. So although she knew intellectually Dirck loved her, she didn't feel loved.

The therapist helped Dirck learn to demonstrate his love physically. Dirck returned a week later to say, "It worked!" His wife felt loved!

Six months later, Dirck was back. His wife didn't feel loved any more. The therapy apparently hadn't succeeded like he thought.

With some careful questions, the therapist found out Dirck had stopped doing what he was doing before and was merely professing his love with words again!

As stupid as that sounds, you will have to be careful to avoid making the same mistake. When things are going fine, you will tend to take your attention off the problem, which is good. But if you stop doing the things that help manage your anxiety, it will creep back into your life, and one day you'll realize you've relapsed, and you may even throw up your hands in despair because "Apparently this stuff doesn't work as well as I thought it did."

Well guess what? It works just fine. But the knowledge doesn't do anything. You have to take the steps if you want to reap the benefits. The only thing that makes this difficult is: It's hard to notice the absence of a negative condition (except immediately after it goes away). That's just a fact of life. And it causes relapses and backsliding. But it is really no big deal. Just remember what works. And when it seems you've relapsed, start doing again what worked before.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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 Change the Way You Think

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

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

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

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

Most phones can be used as a digital recorder too. Some have an app for it that comes with the phone, and there are plenty of other apps made for the purpose.

Read about another tool for change: Postables.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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 Change

1. Decide what to change. Narrow it down. For example, do not decide something like this: "I want to change the way I interact with people." It's too general. It is more difficult to change something general than it is to change something specific. Many times people fail to make a change only because they haven't been specific enough about what they were trying to change. So if you want to change the way you interact, get down to specifics. What do you want to change about the way you interact? Do you want to give more acknowledgments? Do you want to pay more attention when people are talking? Do you want to express more feeling when you talk? Be specific.

2. Make a slogan. Think about what you need to change and what's the best way to change it, and encapsulate that into a short sentence. Play with the words until the sentence is easy to say and remember.

But don't repeat anything untrue. Please pay attention to this. It's important. If you say, "I am slim and trim" when you weigh five hundred pounds, it may get you to think you're slim and trim when you're not. Anorexics believe they're fat, even when they are so skinny they're barely alive. They look in the mirror and see a fat person. They frequently think the thought, "I'm a fat slob" or something close to that, and they have convinced themselves it's true when it isn't.

If you want to lose weight, you don't want to merely think you've lost weight. You want to physically and in reality lose weight. So you'll have to do something physical. Instead of repeating a statement of "fact," repeat commands or rules of behavior: Exercise five days a week. Seven servings of veggies a day.

When you design a slogan, make it practical. Ask yourself, "Will it be good for me to believe this?" or "Will it direct me to useful action?"

3. Repeat it. Write your slogan on a card and carry it with you. Repeat it to yourself often throughout the day. The more you repeat your slogan, the faster you will change and the sooner the results will show up.

When you concentrate on one slogan until you accomplish the change you want and then stop repeating that slogan, sometimes you'll regress back to your old way of thinking, and the change you accomplished will fade. This is not a failure. Please remember this. It is only a regression to old habits. Simply start using the slogan again. The change will come back. This time, however, keep repeating that slogan even after the change is accomplished again, for awhile at least, just to make sure the new habit has really taken hold.

After repeating your slogan for awhile, it will start to come into your mind automatically when you need it. You have successfully changed the way you think, which will change the way you feel and act, which will change the results you get.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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 Change Your Life

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

I'm right there with you.

This web site contains simple and practical methods for making real changes in your life. So let's look at how real changes can be made.

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

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

Fair enough, you say, but how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complicated ideas require our full attention. That's fine when we're reading in a quiet room or listening to a lecture. But when it comes down to our daily experience — when we're late for work, the kids are crying and urgent tasks are taking our attention — we find it distinctly difficult to concentrate our minds on any concept that is even slightly complex. So even if only two days ago the book we were reading really made sense, today in the midst of the hustle and bustle, the ideas seem distant and ineffective. We can read the most beautiful philosophy, we can answer all the Big Questions of Life during the evening, and the very next day be right back in the soup.

Again, not because there's something wrong with us, but simply because most of the time, we need to focus on what's happening. We don't have much extra attention to devote to philosophizing about it. That's true for everyone: Rich or poor, genius or average, in free countries and in nondemocratic countries. That's just how the human brain works.

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

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

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

The repetition of a slogan is also a tool — a very powerful and effective tool. And it's a tool you can use to produce a lot of good for yourself. You can take advantage of the way your mind works. You can make your own propaganda campaign in your head; you can alter your thoughts and change your actions for the better.

The reason it's so difficult to change something in your life is that to change the way you feel or behave, you first have to change the way you think, and your thinking is ingrained and habitual. You think the way you think because those ways of thinking were repeated in some form or another, either by yourself or others, enough times that the thought-pattern became a habit.

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

When I was in first grade, I had just moved in the middle of the school year, and my first day at class, we had "show and tell." I was fairly upset by the move, and didn't have anything to show, and I felt embarrassed at being the new kid, so I said, "I don't have anything to talk about." And every week after that, I "forgot" to bring something to show. Every week that went by would have been more attention-getting if I had gotten up to speak, because everyone began to expect me to have nothing to say. Whenever I thought of getting up in front of the class, my thought was, "I can't do it." I repeated that thought to myself many times that year.

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

I took the Dale Carnegie course in public speaking, and the course was designed to get you up in front of a group gradually. The beauty of that, is it invoked that thought, "I can do it."

The first assignment was to sit on the edge of a long table with four other people and answer the instructor's questions about our names, where we lived, and what we did for a living. Of course, I could do that. Each speaking assignment gradually moved toward standing up there by myself, but it was so gradual, the whole way along I kept thinking, "I can do that."

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

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

Now you're an adult. And sometimes you get an insight about how you can change for the better. But it's harder than you expected, isn't it? Why? Because your insight is just one little thought against the accumulated force of your already existing habit patterns. Repetition cuts a groove like a trough in the dirt. Thoughts flow down that groove much easier than they do in other directions, just like water flows down a trough much better than on flat ground.

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

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

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

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

As you read this web site, some principles will stand out as important to you, as a principle that you would benefit from applying. Not all of them will stand out that way. Some you already habitually apply, some you're not ready for yet (or many not want). Pick one principle that really stands out for you and write the principle on a card. Carry that card with you to remind you to focus on that principle, repeating it to yourself, and applying it at every good opportunity, for a week a month, or until you're satisfied with your progress on it for now.

Repeat the idea to yourself. Literally practice thinking that thought. Repeat it to yourself often. Try to say it to yourself several times every day. Give advice to your children with it, saying that principle. Share it with friends of yours. Let it come out in conversations. Eventually that thought will become "just the way you think" and at that point, you have accomplished a real change. You have translated a good idea into real change in your life.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.

A Simple Way to Change How You Feel

Sometimes when you want to behave differently, you don’t feel like it when the time comes. And sometimes when you want to feel differently, you don’t really know how to get there from where you are. Maybe you want to feel confident talking with strangers or feel cheerful at work, but you don’t know how to feel confident or cheerful. Well, there is a way.

The principle is simple: Assume the posture you would have if you felt the way you want to feel, breathe the way you would breathe, talk the way you would talk, think the things you would think, act the way you would act — do the things you would do if you felt the way you want to feel.

Are you depressed and want to feel happy? Move your body like you move it when you’re happy. If you can’t remember what it’s like to be happy, move your body the same way you’ve seen others move when they looked happy. Put the same expression on your face. Imagine or remember the way you talk to yourself and the kind of perspective you might have about your situation when you’re happy, and then say those things to yourself and take that perspective.

In other words, act as though you were happy.

If you are angry and want to be calm, act as though you were calm. Do you feel weak and want to be strong? Act as though you were strong.

What you’re doing is changing everything that can be changed, and this changes your feelings, which can’t be changed directly.

Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed the dogs, and the dogs associated the sound of the bell with the taste of food. So when the bell rang, the dogs salivated, even when there was no food.

For your whole life you’ve been relating certain body postures, facial expressions, breathing patterns, etc., to certain feelings like happiness or calmness or strength. The postures and facial expressions and feelings belong together. So when you act as though you’re relaxed, you begin to feel relaxed. When you act as though you feel good, you begin to feel good. And after awhile, you aren’t acting. It’s like siphoning gas — you suck on the hose at first, and then it comes out by itself. “Acting as though” also changes reality, which tends to reinforce the feelings. For example, people who feel depressed typically aren’t very friendly. If they acted like a person who felt good, they would act friendlier, which would cause people to act friendly in return, which would make the person feel less depressed. It creates an upward spiral. Change how you act and what you do and your feelings will change. You will get a better response from the world, which will reinforce your good feelings.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.

One Goal to Rule Them All

This may be slightly overstated, but everybody is after the same thing: To be able to take in experiences the way we want to take in those experiences. If we did that, we'd feel better more often and we would be the people we want to be.

What do I mean by "taking in" experiences? I mean the way you interpret the experience. Your interpretation determines your emotional reaction and your physical reaction. For example, "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade." It's hokey, but how many times do you wish you could actually do that?

How many times have you been frustrated by something and wish you could have the perspective you have occasionally at better moments?

Two different people experiencing the same external, objective event will not necessarily take it in the same way. For example, Evelyn's marriage is on the rocks, she didn't get enough sleep, she drank too much coffee and she's late for work. As she drives along the freeway, she accidentally cuts someone off. He makes a rude gesture with an angry look on his face. Evelyn gets upset by this. It bothers her for an hour.

Shawn, on the other hand, has just recently fallen in love. He's happier than he ever remembers being. On his way to work, he accidentally cuts someone off on the freeway and the other driver makes a rude gesture with an angry look on his face. Shawn apologizes as best he can through his car window and hopes the other driver will forgive him. Ten minutes later, he's forgotten all about it.

Shawn and Evelyn experienced the same event but took in the event in a totally different way. Most of us, if we had a choice, would rather respond to those kinds of events the way Shawn did rather than the way Evelyn did, whether we are in love or not, whether we are late for work or not, whether we got enough sleep or not. Wouldn't you?

You would rather be what you want to be in your better moments, right? But sometimes it doesn't seem you have a choice in the matter. You just get upset. You don't mean to. You don't want to. But you do.

A cognitive therapist would help you find the irrational beliefs you have and help you see those beliefs as irrational. For example, maybe you expect others to always treat you with courtesy and respect and when they don't, you get upset. The therapist might help you see that while it is nice when people treat you well, it is somewhat silly to expect all people to do that all the time.

A positive thinker might tell you to get in the habit of forgiving bad behavior like the angry driver's by explaining the driver's reaction in a different way, or making up a story that helps you feel less upset. Maybe the driver's daughter just died at the hands of a rapist, and the poor man is out of his mind with grief and anger. His rude gesture is totally forgivable in that light.

An NLP practitioner might help you discover your see-feel circuits (seeing the gesture and the angry look and automatically feeling upset) and give you new choices in your responses.

A Zen master might try to help you experience the precious fleetingness of this lifetime and the miracle of being alive at all. And from that perspective, being upset by a stranger's momentary outburst would seem a defilement of this sacred moment. You might learn to wish that man better days and let it go.

Nobody wants to be grumpy. Nobody wants to snap at people. Nobody wants to be rude or hurt others' feelings. Nobody wants to ignore others or be a lousy listener. And yet we have all done all of these.

From the outside, it is easy to see someone else's expressed frustration or irritation as petty or uncalled for, or an overreaction. It is easy to see the cause of the frustration as unimportant and unworthy of such an outburst. But when it is you responding poorly, that perspective is sometimes not available to you.

We want to be what we want to be. We want to be wise and kind. We want to be calm when it is a good idea to be calm. We want to have a bigger perspective at times. In other words, we want to take in experiences the way we would at our very best, and we want to do that much more often. That's the goal. That's what we're all after.

The key factor is the way you interpret events. How do you interpret — what do you do internally with — the outward event? If you interpret events well (as you do at your very best), your internal reaction is what you want, and your behavior is what you want. Your interpretation is the key.

And you don't want your better interpretation to be forced. You don't want to make yourself, through gritted teeth, look at this in a "positive" way. You want to be open and relaxed and compassionate and to genuinely see things that way.

You want to take in experiences — external events — the way you would like to take it. And you don't want to merely respond the way you'd like, but we're looking for something deeper: To experience the events the way you'd like.

How? How would you be able to do that? There are hundreds of ways. Thousands. One reliable long-term answer is daily meditation. Another is improving your ability to connect with people. But many tools will work for different situations. One way to go about improving the way you take in events is to start with something you want to be better at dealing with, and apply a method that works for that specific situation.

But the method isn't our topic here. The reason I brought this up is to point out that while we are after more effective actions and feeling good more often here, we're actually aiming at something more important. A better mood makes you feel better, but it also makes you respond better. It makes you more like the person you want to be.

Anyway, it's a good idea to be clear about the real goal. A better mood is the immediate, short-term goal. The more meaningful, long-term goal is becoming the person you really want to be more often.

 Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.

Where to Tap

Ever hear the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom. Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read,

Tapping with a hammer............$2
Knowing where to tap...............$9998

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort in your life makes all the difference. And here’s something I’ve learned from experience and study: If you want to improve your life overall, the best place to tap is exercise.

I injured a tendon not too long ago and didn’t exercise for about a month. I’ve started again, and I’ve become a born-again exerciser! I’d forgotten how good it is for my sense of well-being. I have more energy, a better attitude, a gentler disposition. It’s easier to be the kind of person I want to be.

Our bodies need daily exercise, and when we don’t exercise, it makes us feel bad. I think it’s our natural state to be energetic and feeling good. But the lack of exercise prevents that. A consensus is building among doctors, psychologists and those trying to help others become saner, happier and healthier: Exercise is the place to start. If you were in a position to give advice, and someone unhappy or unhealthy came to you for guidance but you were allowed to give only one word of advice, the best thing you could recommend is: Exercise!

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.

Basic Principles

A program director at the BBC asked Adam Khan, "What are the basic principles of your work?" Khan's answer was the following:


Human beings need a sense of purpose to be happy, just as we need Vitamin C to be healthy. The higher quality the purpose, the more it will contribute to happiness. By high quality, I mean it should be something you personally feel is important and valuable or enjoyable, and something you feel confident you can accomplish.

Simplicity of purpose is important too: There is a kind of greed that is natural in people. We want more. And so we keep adding goals to our lives until it starts to stress us out. You have to constantly prune away the least important goals to keep a sense of purpose in your life, but not so much you get up into overwhelm. Read Why a Goal is Good.


If you're trying to be happy, it really helps to exercise. I see a lot or articles about how walking the dog and gardening can be considered exercise, but in my experience, working up a real sweat and breathing hard has a much more dramatic impact on a general feeling of well-being.

Eating right is also important. Taking care of your body. It is easier to be happy when the body is healthy. Read Administration of Food and Drink and Where to Tap.


Some ways of explaining setbacks can cause unnecessary negative emotions that spoil happiness. Specifically, it is important to train yourself to explain setbacks accurately. You do this by imposing the discipline of checking your explanations for mistakes: overgeneralizations, exaggerations, hasty assumptions, etc.

Sometimes you will find your explanations are neither true or false. Then the explanation needs to be assessed for its helpfulness.

This area is my hot spot. There has been a lot of research about it, showing how your explanations can affect your health and your ability to succeed. I have a few chapters on that in my book. The chapter called Fighting Spirit tells of an interesting study Seligman did on the Berkeley swim team. And another chapter, Optimism is Healthy, talks a little about the research on your explanations' impact on your health. Read more about how to change your explanations to improve your persistence: Antivirus for Your Mind.


One third of my book is on dealing with people. It is so important for happiness. It may be the most important. Conducting your relationships with openness, fairness, loyalty, etc., and choosing a few good people to bond with really makes a difference in how happy you will be. An alignment of purpose is also important. Conducting your relationships with deceitfulness will definitely reduce your personal happiness in the long run. Read Deep Honesty.


Advertisers are of course interested in promoting the worldview that happiness comes from acquiring things. And I think humans have a built-in tendency to want to accumulate possessions. But this drive can be curbed, and it contributes to happiness to curb it, because the time and effort it takes to accumulate a lot of stuff could be better used if what you want is happiness. Read We've Been Duped.


Being true to yourself, learning to trust yourself, doing what you feel is right, not doing what you feel is wrong, speaking honestly: All these are important contributors to happiness. They help you like yourself, they make a big difference in the quality of your relations with others, and they will reduce stress in the long run. Read How to Like Yourself More.


Getting enough time away from other people is very important. It is calming, it brings sanity and clarity, and it is essential for the development of integrity. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to know what is really right for you, and what you really think and feel about something important, when you are in the presence of other people. We're social animals, and we are naturally and strongly influenced by the opinions of those around us. Going for walks by yourself, and spending time alone and thinking will make your long term happiness more likely. Read Solitude and Time.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.

Why a Goal is Good

When Albert Einstein reached 70, he retired. He had reached his goals, assumed he had expended his usefulness to the world, and retired. He didn't set any new goals. He became depressed and listless, as people often do when they no longer have a sense of purpose. He stopped taking his dog for walks. Life lost its luster.

Then one day he realized it might not be over; he might still have something to contribute to the world. He decided to do two things:

1. develop a plan to control the destructive use of atomic power

2. to discover peacetime uses for atomic power

He came alive! The luster was back. He took his dog for walks again. He had a purpose. And as a result of his decisions and the ensuing efforts he made to make those goals a reality, medical and electrical uses for atomic power were found. He gave speeches and helped stir up interest in a worldwide police force that eventually culminated in the founding of the United Nations.

"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind," wrote Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, "as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye."

It is physically and psychologically healthy for a human being to have a strong sense of purpose. The state of mind you have when you're absorbed in the accomplishment of a purpose is called "flow," which is an engaged, pleasant state of focus. Those who have learned to develop a sense of purpose and who have learned to become engrossed in the achievement of purposes are the most likely to be happy and healthy. This has been shown in scientific studies and in everyday observations. Happy people are purposeful people because the most reliable self-created source of happiness is taking action along a strongly-held purpose.

Flow has been the subject of quite a bit of research. For example, swimmers who experienced flow while training made the most progress by the end of the training. In other words, experiencing frequent flow allowed them to develop their ability faster.

Another study accentuated those findings. It found that of all the things that influence how successful a person might become in their sport or skill — in whatever field — the most influential factor was how much flow they experienced while doing it. In other words, the amount of absorption they had was the best predictor of who would develop their talent the most.

A sense of purpose brings out the best in people. In his book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys, Michael Collins wrote about the enthusiasm of the people in the Apollo space program in 1964. "…the goal was clearly and starkly defined," wrote Collins. "Had not President Kennedy said before the end of the decade?"

They had a clear goal that the people at NASA were excited about. The moon! The impossible goal! The goal they said could never be done! People showed up early, worked hard, and stayed late. As Collins put it, "People knew that each day was one day closer to putting man on the moon…" This is the electrifying power of a strong sense of purpose.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the principle researchers into flow, says we usually see work as a necessary evil, and we feel leisure is what we want: time on our hands. Free time. Time with nothing to do. We long for it. And yet, he says, "free time is more difficult to enjoy than work." Or as Jerome K. Jerome put it, "It is impossible to enjoy idling unless there is plenty of work to do."

Work provides clear goals more often than leisure and a clear goal is the first and most important requirement of flow. If you want to experience flow, you must have a purpose. Work provides a purpose. It provides something to become absorbed in, so it provides opportunities for flow. To get flow from leisure, you have to provide the purpose. Many people don't know that, which means many people don't get much enjoyment from their coveted leisure; it isn't satisfying like they wish it would be. Some even suffer during leisure.

Sandor Ferenczi, a psychoanalyst in the early 1900's discovered that anxiety and depression occurred more often on Sundays than any other day of the week. Since that time, many observers have noticed that vacations and retirement also tend to produce anxiety and depression. When we are not on the job — when we are not given a clear purpose — many of us are feel adrift and don't know what's missing. Clearly, a large percentage of people don't have a strong sense of purpose for their off time, and it's a shame. Purpose is king.

A purpose to sink your teeth into gives your mind a healthy, productive focus and prevents it from drifting into negativity. Without goals, wrote Csikszentmihalyi, "the mind begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems that cause anxiety."


Goals put you in a causal position rather than a victim position and that is good for your psychological well-being. In the book, Survive The Savage Sea — the true story of a family who survived a shipwreck — the author and father of the family, Dougal Robertson, describes how their whole attitude changed when they shifted from "hoping for rescue" to "we're going to get ourselves to shore on our own; we're going to survive."

A ship was cruising by fairly close, seven days after their boat sank. They spotted it from their life raft. They lit off flares and yelled at the top of their lungs and waved their shirts in the air, but the ship sailed right on by. They were heartbroken.

Dougal looked at his empty flare cartons bitterly and, "something happened to me in that instant, that for me changed the whole aspect of our predicament," he wrote. "If these poor bloody seamen couldn't rescue us, then we would have to make it on our own and to hell with them. We would survive without them, yes, and that was the word from now on, 'survival' not 'rescue' or 'help' or dependence of any kind, just survival. I felt the strength flooding through me, lifting me from the depression of disappointment to a state of almost cheerful abandon."

Purpose has an almost magical quality. It can imbue us with extraordinary ability. It can make us almost superhuman — more capable than humans in an ordinary state.

Ulysses S. Grant was writing his biography near the end of his life. His publisher was Mark Twain. Even though Grant was famous and had been President, he was broke. Twain had assured him there was a market for the book if he could finish it. Grant had cancer and was dying. But he couldn't die. He had something to accomplish. It was very important to him to finish this book and do a good job because his wife would be destitute otherwise.

So he persisted. When he could no longer write, he dictated. Doctors said he might not live more than two or three weeks, but like I said, purpose has a mysterious power, and Grant continued dictating until he finished. He died five days after he completed his manuscript. And, by the way, Twain was right: The book, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, was very successful and is even to this day considered one of the best military memoirs ever written, and Grant's wife was set for life.

Charles Schulz declared many months ahead of time when he was going to end his comic strip. His last strip was published Sunday. The night before, Schulz died in his sleep.

After his family was shipwrecked, Dougal Robertson started adding up their stock. He discovered they had enough food and water to last them ten days. They were two hundred miles downwind and downcurrent from the Galapagos Islands: an impossible feat to get there. They were 2800 miles from the Marquesas Islands, but without a compass or means of finding their position, their chance of missing the islands was enormous. The Central American coast was a thousand miles away, but they had to make it through the windless Doldrums. They wouldn't be missed by anyone for five weeks, and nobody would have the slightest idea of where to start looking anyway, so waiting for rescue would have been suicide.

There were two possible places to be rescued by shipping vessels. One four hundred miles south; the other three hundred miles north.

Having roused himself enough to assess his situation accurately, his heart sank again. Their true and accurate situation wasn't very hopeful. His wife, Lyn, saw the look on his face and put her hand on his. She said simply, "We must get these boys to land."

This singular, clear purpose focused his mind the whole journey. The thought kept coming back to him, spurring him on, making him try when it seemed hopeless. This is the power of a definite, heartfelt purpose. They made it to shore alive.


Purpose gives meaning to your life. In many ways, your purpose is the meaning of your life. That gives this subject a superimposing importance.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in Germany when Hitler took power, and he spent many years struggling to stay alive in concentration camps. During that time, he lost his wife, his brother, and both his parents — they either died in the camps or were sent to the gas chambers. He lost every possession he ever owned. Because he already knew a lot about psychology and then experienced these extreme circumstances — and even managed to find meaning in his struggle — his slim book, Man's Search for Meaning, is definitely worth reading. His perspective on finding meaning in life is different from any other I have encountered. He writes:

The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion, "Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?" There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one's opponent. The same holds true for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

I love that line: "…to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment." And Frankl gives many good examples of what he means. For example, he tried to keep his fellow prisoners from committing suicide. The Nazi camps strictly forbid prisoners from stopping someone who was killing himself. If you cut down a fellow prisoner who was in the process of hanging himself, you (and probably everyone in your bunkhouse) would be severely punished. So Frankl had to catch people before they actually attempted to kill themselves. This, he felt, was a concrete assignment which demanded fulfillment. He was a psychiatrist and was the most qualified to answer this call from life.

The men would often confide in Frankl, since he was a psychiatrist. At two different times, two men told him they had decided to commit suicide. Both of them offered the same reason: They had nothing more to expect from life. All they could expect was endless suffering, starvation, torture, and in the end, probably the gas chamber.

"In both cases," wrote Frankl, "it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them." After talking with the men, he found one of them was a scientist who had written several volumes of a book, but the project was incomplete. It couldn't be finished by anyone else. The other man had a child in another country waiting for him.

Each of our lives is unique. The concrete assignment needing to be fulfilled is different for every person. And Frankl found that a person would not commit suicide once they realized their specific obligation to life — that life expected something of them.

Michael W. Fox, a veterinarian and author of Superdog: Raising the Perfect Canine Companion, was a lover of animals, as most kids are. One day he was walking home from school when he looked through a fence and saw a ghastly sight. It was the backyard of a veterinary clinic, and there was a large trash bin overflowing with dead dogs and cats. "I never knew the reason for this mass extermination," Fox said, "but I was, from that time on, committed to doing all I could to help animals, deciding at age nine that I had to be a veterinarian." Here was a concrete assignment life had presented to Fox, and he answered the call. He became a veterinarian and has done what he could to reduce the suffering of animals. He has spent his life educating people, writing books, and lobbying to create new legislation that reflects more respect for animals.

Dr. Seuss had a mission when he started. He wanted to turn children on to reading. "Before Seuss," wrote Peter Bernstein, "too many children's writers seemed locked into plots that ended with a heavy-handed call to obey one's elders. By the 1950s, educators were warning that America was losing a whole generation of readers." Dr. Seuss wanted to do something about that. And he did. He wrote books kids wanted to read. The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and forty-six others which have sold over two hundred million copies worldwide.


During the Korean War, the Chinese government systematically tried to brainwash the U.S. POWs. Their methods included deprivation and torture, and the captives suffered tremendously. At one point, in one of the prison camps, three-fourths of the POWs had died. Things were incredibly bleak for the rest of them, and they were all feeling desperate and hopeless.

Then one man said to the others, "We've got to stay alive, we've got to let others know about the horrors of Communism. We've got to live to bring back the armies and fight these evil people. Communism must not win!"

This was a turning point for every man there because their meaningless struggle was transformed into a mission. Simply staying alive against the odds was their goal. Their despair was turned into resolve. Their hopelessness was turned into determination. And their death rate went way down.

Speaking again of his experience in a concentration camp, Frankl wrote, "As we said before, any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal...Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost."

Sometimes it takes a scientific study to prove the obvious. At least you find out that what you think is self-evident is actually true. Researchers at New York State Psychiatric Institute asked an unusual question of suicidal people. Rather than asking what makes them want to die, the researchers asked what makes them want to live?

They studied eighty-four people suffering major depression trying to determine why thirty-nine of them had never attempted to kill themselves. The study revealed that age, sex, religious persuasion or education level did not predict who would attempt suicide. But not having a reason to live did predict it rather well. The depressed patients who perceived life as more worth living were less likely to attempt to kill themselves.

So now we know: Goals are very important. It's not just a nice thing. It's vital. Get yourself a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Look for something that fires you up, that you think is needed, that you feel is important, and that you can do something about.

If someone has no purpose at all, a small goal is a big improvement. But as the level of mental health increases, there comes a time when a full-on mission is called for as a context for your life.

You can still watch movies. You can still spend time conversing with your spouse. Walk in the woods. Go on vacation. But like a mantra you constantly return to, your definite purpose, your concrete assignment, is always there to give you a sense of purpose and meaning to your existence.


Even if you have a large, overarching purpose, you can only take action in this very moment. It is an excellent practice to try to keep in mind one clear purpose for what you're doing now. And the question, "What is my purpose here?" can really straighten up and clarify your mind and your actions.

For example, if you are criticizing someone, ask yourself, "What am I after?" You may find what you're really after is to make the other person feel bad or punish them for something they did. That is an automatic, genetically-driven (and usually counterproductive) purpose. In other words, you didn't really consciously choose to pursue that goal. It happened without you. But now that you've asked the question, "What is my purpose here?" you can choose. You can think about what you really want in this situation. You may decide what you really want is that the person doesn't do it again. Then you'd have a clear purpose and a clear path for action — without games, without negative feelings. All you'd have is a simple request: "Please don't do that again."

Make it a regular practice to ask yourself what you want right now. What is your goal here in this situation? What are you after? What are you aiming for? Be clear always and consciously what your purpose is in this very moment. It is effective. It is therapeutic. It is healthy. And it will make you more productive.

One key to a strong sense of purpose is the practice of focusing only on what you want. When your mind wanders to other things, bring your focus back. Again and again. Your mind is very easily taken off track, so you have to keep noticing your attention has wandered and keep bringing your focus back to your purpose. When your mind starts worrying about problems that might happen, bring your mind back to your concrete assignment. When your attention becomes fixed on what you don't want, turn your attention to what you do want.

Keep your attention on the goal, and your sense of purpose will grow strong.

There isn't one "right" purpose which you must find and follow. Delete that kind of magical thinking from your thoughts forever! Any (constructive) purpose is better than no purpose and some are better than others. Some are good for now, but no good if pursued too long. The important thing is that you like the purpose and have a good level of accomplishment along that line.


If you don't already have a strong purpose, how do you go about developing one? A high-quality purpose is more than something you feel you should do. That isn't good enough. A good purpose is something you feel a strong desire to do, even feel compelled to do, and something you feel is important — something you think needs to be done and ought to be done because it is right and good. Or something you feel strongly interested in, something that fascinates you and fills you with interest and curiosity.

If nothing comes to mind right now, that's not the end of the conversation. There is no such legitimate answer as, "I don't have one of those." Yes, you do. You may have forgotten it. You may never have dug deeply enough to find it in the first place. But you've got at least one. And all you need is one.

Most likely there was a time when you knew what your purpose was, at least in a general sense, but for one reason or another you discarded it; someone convinced you it was impossible or stupid, or you convinced yourself. It's now as if you've turned your back on it and are looking around saying, "I don't see any purpose I really want." No, of course not. It is behind you, so to speak. You've already picked it up, had it in your hand and then tossed it behind you where you are no longer looking.

Start right now with the assumption that there is a purpose which strongly compels you or strongly interests you, and commit yourself to finding it. If you don't already have a purpose, now you have one: Finding it. What interests you? What do you like to talk about? What do you daydream about? What do you think needs to be done? What do you think "they" ought to do? What do you "wish you could do" but know you can't?

A high quality purpose is concrete, challenging, and that you feel is achievable. That's where flow is. That's where motivation is. That's where confidence is. That's where ability is formed. That's where the fun is.

In a study at the University of Alabama, they found that people who considered their goal difficult but achievable were more motivated — they were more energized and felt their goal was more important than someone who had an easy goal or an impossible goal.

People who thought their goal was easy weren't as motivated. And people who thought their goal was impossible weren't motivated either. Remember, difficult but achievable. Not achievable in some abstract sense, but something you feel you could achieve. And something you feel challenged by.

John French, Jr., director of the project, did a study of 2,010 men in twenty-three different jobs, trying to find out which jobs were the most stressful. What they found was kind of surprising. The most stressful jobs were the most boring and unchallenging. These were the jobs that produced the most physical and emotional illness.

Says French, "One of the key factors in job satisfaction is self-utilization — the opportunity to fully utilize your abilities on the job, to be challenged, to develop yourself. Frustration and anxiety over not being challenged can have physically debilitating effects."

A big, challenging goal, if you feel up to it, will awaken the genius within, bring out your latent talents, give you satisfaction, and make the world a better place. Beethoven's goal was to create music that would transcend fate. Socrates had a goal to make people happy by making them reasonable and just. These are big goals, but they brought out the best in these people and wrote their names in history.


Probably the biggest killer of purpose is all-or-nothing thinking. "I want to sail around the world," says a young man. But he is married and has a new baby. Obviously he can't go sailing around the world. Or can he? If he's thinking in all-or-nothing terms, he will, of course say "No, I can't go sailing around the world unless I want to be a jerk and leave my wife and child." But that's thinking in one extreme or the other, and life very rarely needs to be so black-or-white.

He wakes up one night with a realization. He has been blinding himself with all-or-nothing thinking! He comes up with a plan. He will set aside twenty dollars a week in a Sailing Fund. As he does better at work, he'll increase that amount. But for now, he uses the money for sailing lessons and boating safety classes and books on celestial navigation, always leaving aside a little to accumulate for the purchase of an actual boat. He learns about boat design.

It takes him three years before he learns enough to decide what design of boat he wants to get. It takes him another year to figure out what course he will chart, what places he will visit, etc. As his son gets older, they go sailing together on rented sailboats. His son learns how to sail. The father teaches him how to reef the sails, how to steer, how to navigate by the stars.

By the time the son is fourteen, the family decides to go for it. They sell their house, buy a sailboat, fill it with supplies, and what do you know? His purpose wasn't silly or impossible after all. It may be, in fact, the highlight of his life.

Another thing that kills dreams or prevents the development of a strong sense of purpose is that interest dies. But here you have to be careful. Did your interest die because you actually lost interest now that you know more about it, or did your interest die because of the way you're explaining setbacks to yourself?

There are certain ways to explain setbacks in your life that will kill your enthusiasm, destroy your interest, and prevent the development of a sense of purpose. If your interest has been killed by a feeling of defeat, you can revive that dormant interest and fill your life with purpose and meaning.

It's important that the goals you seek give you a sense of meaning — that they aren't only about material gain. It's true that any goal is better than no goal, but it's also true that if you have a choice, you ought to choose high-quality goals, goals that will give you a great deal of satisfaction and even meaning.

Susan Krause Whitbourne did a long-term research project, starting in 1966. She saw a particular psychological measurement steadily decline over the years. It's called "ego integrity," which is a composite characteristic having to do with honesty, a sense of connection with others, a sense of wholeness, and a feeling that life has meaning.

Between 1977 and 1988, ego integrity took a universal dive. The life-satisfaction scores were as low as they could go on her measurements. "People got caught up in chasing the materialistic dream," says Whitbourne, "They got recognition for their achievements, yet don't feel that what they are doing matters in the larger scheme of things."


John is a waiter, and he discovered a fundamental principle of life. When he only has one table, he 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 really paying attention, because it's like juggling — the more balls you have in the air, the easier it is to drop one. When John gets up to seven or eight tables, it becomes 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, John wanted his guests to be happy. That was one of his purposes. He also wanted to get along well with his fellow waiters. And he wanted to please the cooks so their interactions 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 the really 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.

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.

"The need for meaning in life goes far beyond the mechanical techniques of selecting a goal to be achieved by positive thinking. If a person selects a goal just to satisfy the demands of others he will quickly revert back to self-defeating trap circuits. He will rapidly lose ambition, and though he may try to appear as if he is succeeding in what he is doing, he will feel miserable because he is not really committed to this objective. All the success seminars in the world will not make a potential Mozart or Monet content to be president of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Positive therapy strives to help people acquire a deeply positive orientation to living by enabling them to recover a long-buried dream or to implant firmly the roots of a new one. This need for deep personal meaning has been succinctly expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche: 'He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.' The phenomenon was directly observed by Viktor Frankl in Nazi concentration camps. Those prisoners who had a deeply rooted reason to survive — a meaningful project, a loving family — best withstood that prolonged torture without reverting to counterhuman patterns of behavior." 
 - Allen Wiesen, psychologist 

"Morita therapists emphasize that it is important to find suitable constructive purposes and hold to them, thus guiding behavior in a positive direction. The other side of that coin is that all behavior, positive or negative, is purposeful. Whatever you do there is an aim to it, a goal toward which the behavior is directed. The goal may be destructive or constructive or mixed. For example, the shy person may avoid social gatherings in order to prevent the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that he feels in such situations. In a sense Morita guidance asks the client to select constructive purposes and positive ways of achieving them instead of the already purposeful, but destructive behavior. Finding the purpose behind destructive behavior can be a useful undertaking because sometimes the original purpose can also be fulfilled in a positive way." 
- David Reynolds
founder of Constructive Living
leading Western authority on Morita and
Naikan therapies, the two most popular
forms of therapy in Japan 

"Frequently, success is what people settle for when they can't think of something noble enough to be worth failing at." 
- Laurence Shames 

"Man is by nature a productive organism. When he ceases his productivity — whether he is producing a pail or a poem, an industry or an ideology — his life begins to lose its meaning. Though he may be finally buried twenty years after his death, the person who has no raison d'ĂȘtre is not really alive. He is merely the ghost of who he once was or might have become." 
- Allen Wiesen, psychologist

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, 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.