Escalate the slotra when you say it, each repetition more emphatic than the last, louder than the last, more emotional than the last.
You can see a good demonstration of this in the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Picture the scene: The two men were out in the Alaskan wilderness. Their plane had crashed and they were trying to get back to civilization. But a huge bear was stalking them. It had already brutally killed and eaten one of their friends. Now it was after them. Their state of mind was fear.
They made a circle of fire and it was keeping the bear at bay for the moment, but they had no food or water, and they were running out of wood, so they couldn’t stay where they were. The bear was faster than they were so they couldn’t outrun it.
In this scene, Bob (Baldwin) has a look of hopeless despair on his face. Charles (Hopkins) is sharpening a long pole, saying he’s going to kill the bear. We, the audience, realize this is really the only way out of their predicament. They have to kill it or it will kill them. They can't run. They can't hide. They can't live if they only play defense. They're going to have to go on the offensive.
But Bob is in anguish. He doesn’t think it’s possible. It is an enormous bear. He says, “We can’t kill the bear, Charles. He’s ahead of us all the time. It’s like he’s reading our minds — he’s stalking us for God’s sake!” He drops his head. His face has a look of intense anguish. He looks like he’s on the verge of crying. You can tell what he’s picturing in his mind: The horror of being eaten alive and the despair of realizing there’s no way he can avoid this unthinkable nightmare.
Charles says, “You want to die out here, huh? Well, then die. I’ll tell you what: I’m not going to die. No sir. I’m not going to die. I’m going to kill the bear.”
Charles looks at Bob. They're in this together. And their lives are at stake.
“Say it,” Charles demands. “Say I’m going to kill the bear. Say it!” Charles asks him again. Bob remains silent. Charles yells at him, “Say it! Say I’m going to kill the bear!”
Bob, not looking at all convinced, says quietly and without any conviction whatsoever, “I’m going to kill the bear.”
“Say it again,” says Charles.
Bob says it a little louder, “I’m going to kill the bear.”
This time Bob yells out with a good deal more conviction: “I’M GOING TO KILL THE BEAR!”
“Good! What one man can do, another can do.” Charles is yelling at Bob now, like a coach on the sidelines.
Bob repeats, “What one man can do, another can do.”
Charles makes him repeat this statement a few more times, with increasing feeling, and you see the hopeless despair on Bob’s face slowly transform into grim determination.
This is a very useful and powerful transition to make in a circumstance like that. It is just a movie but the actors are demonstrating something quite real.
The thoughts you think in a crisis can save your life or bury you. No kidding. Read the stories of people who have survived seemingly hopeless situations — Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, the true story of a Rugby team that crashed in the Andes mountains; Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, the true story of a sailor who drifted alone on his life raft after his boat sunk; Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, the true story of a team of Antarctic explorers led by Earnest Shackleton — they all survived because at least one person was able to say to himself with firm determination, “We’re going to make it. We will survive.” At least one person did not succumb to the despair that naturally occurs to everyone.
Thousands of people have perished in similar circumstances — people who threw up their hands in hopelessness and declared, “We’re dead!” — people who wrung their hands and repeated to themselves how hopeless and horrible it was. Those people didn’t take the steps that might have saved them. Remember this in case you are ever in a seriously dangerous predicament.
But you don’t have to be in really bad straits to use this. This is a tool. A mental tool. It’s simple and it’s good for a great many applications.
No matter how high-tech we get, some tools will never change and will always be useful. People have used axes to chop wood for thousands of years, and in all that time, the basic design hasn’t changed. It’s basic. It is simple. And it does the job.
You can use this mental tool — making a statement to yourself with feeling, and building up the emotional expression of it — whenever you want to change your state of mind. You can use it whenever the state of mind you have fallen into is counterproductive.
My wife and I got into an argument one night as she was getting ready for bed. I went into the other room so she could sleep. But I knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, and I was feeling too angry and self-righteous to try to help her feel better.
My state of mind wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So I changed it. And I had an effective tool that could do the job. First I said to myself, “I can get out of this self-righteous state.” I said it quietly at first. Then I said it with a little more feeling. Then I said it with even more feeling.
That’s always a good way to approach it. Sometimes at first you can’t really work up any feeling for it. But if you just say it, even in a monotone, the next time you say it, you can say it with a little more feeling.
I was doing this in my head, by the way. You can say things to yourself with feeling. The voice in your head has a tone of voice and a volume.
Then I said to myself (with no conviction at all), “I’m going to go in there and make her feel good.” I wanted her to be able to go to sleep.
I said it again and again, with more feeling every time. And...it changed my state. I was angry to start with. After spending only about six or seven minutes using this mental tool, I changed my state from anger to a firm determination to make her feel good. I went into the bedroom, hugged her gently, and told her I loved her. She hugged me back and thanked me.
You are not a victim to your own feelings. You can control how you feel if you have the right tool. It’s like chopping down a tree — if you have the right tool (an ax, for example) you can do it. If you don’t have the right tool, it is nearly impossible.
Can you change your emotional state when you want? Yes, you can, if you have the right tool. If you don’t, it is nearly impossible.
Read the next chapter: How to Change Your State of Mind
This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.