I enjoyed it tremendously. But after it was over I thought, "Here are the top motivational speakers in the world — corporations pay them thousands of dollars to talk to the company's top executives because what these guys teach is so valuable — and the principles they talk about are the same ones Napoleon Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich seventy years ago!" The way to change your state of mind hasn't changed a bit.
At first I was disappointed. I thought they should have come up with something new. But then I realized the same few principles that worked on human minds seventy years ago still work on human minds today. Human beings haven't changed. We're still human. What will change your state of mind is the same thing that could change your grandfather's state of mind.
One of the principles Tony talked about was what he called "incantations." That means changing your state of mind by saying positive things to yourself with feeling. Napoleon Hill called it "autosuggestion." This is one of the most basic principles for taking advantage of the awesome power of your mind and fulfilling your potential. There ain't much to it, and it's easy to explain.
I saw the principle illustrated in the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. The two men in the movie are 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, but they had no food or water, 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. Kill or be killed. But Bob is in anguish. He doesn't think it's possible. 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 despair of realizing there's no way he can avoid this unthinkable nightmare. It's a thought too overwhelming to grasp.
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. "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, "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: "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.
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 spent 76 days 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.
CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE
You can use this mental tool — making positive statements to yourself with feeling — 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. I knew she wouldn't be able to sleep, but I was feeling too angry and self-righteous to try to make her feel better.
My state of mind wasn't what I wanted it to be. So I changed it. 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 with no hard feelings between us.
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, gave her a big hug 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 use the right tool.
USE YOUR FACE
The researcher Patricia Ruselli did an experiment that went like this: The subject was brought in and told to watch a slide presentation designed to produce sadness. Half the subjects were told to frown while they watched it. The other half were told not to frown.
For several hours afterwards, the people who frowned felt more depressed than the people who didn't frown.
Fritz Strack, a psychologist at Mannheim University in Germany, conducted an unusual experiment. He took a group of volunteers and told them he was going to test their physical skills. He showed them a series of cartoons and told them to rate the cartoons' funniness. But they had to hold a pen in their mouths while they did it. Half of them were told to hold it between their lips; the other half, between their teeth.
The ones with the pen between their teeth rated the cartoons as funnier.
Apparently, when they held the pen between their lips, they couldn't smile, but when it was between their teeth, the pen forced their faces into a smile, or at least closer to a smile than a pen between their lips, and that physical change in their facial expressions changed how funny something was. Interesting.
Another bit of evidence comes from a pilot study that found when people were injected with Botox to get rid of furrowed brows, it improved their mood, showing in particular, decreases in symptoms of depression. Even when your facial expression is changed with a paralyzing toxin, it can alter your emotional state.
The point of all this is for you to realize that when you change your facial expression, you change your feelings. So use this. Say your statements with feeling — feeling in your voice and feeling on your face.
In Henry V, Shakespeare shows his understanding (as usual) of human nature. During a break between skirmishes while they are attacking a city, King Henry addresses his troops. He gives his men detailed instructions on what to do with their facial expression and their breathing. In Act III, Scene I, King Henry says,
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide;
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit
To its full height!
Basically, King Henry is telling his soldiers exactly how to get their body and face in a good fighting mode. He tells them to make themselves tense and hardened, to put a look of rage on their faces, to make their eyebrows low with their eyes glaring intensely, to clamp the teeth, flare their nostrils, to blow out forcefully when they breathe out. If you do this, even while sitting here reading, you'll notice it makes you feel more aggressive, more warlike, more ready for battle.
Say your statements with feeling, and use your face, your body's posture, and your breathing to help you enhance those feelings.
There are two ways you can use this tool. One is to change your state in preparation for a task you are about to do, as illustrated above.
The other way is training. Repeat things to yourself that you would like to be in the habit of thinking. Say them aloud in your car. Your car is a good place to practice because you can say it out loud with as much feeling as you want without scaring other people. Repeat phrases to yourself. Repeat things you would like to get in the habit of thinking. Over time, those phrases feel more natural to you and come to mind when you need them.
It's like learning a new foreign language. Each word of the new language feels clumsy to say and you find it hard to pronounce. But the more you say it, the more you repeat it, the more natural it feels.
The thoughts you naturally think only seem natural because you're used to thinking them. Use this technique and you can become accustomed to thinking new thoughts.
And once again, even this idea isn't new. Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone suggested in their book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude that you use what they called "self-starters." These are statements you say to yourself over and over rapidly. For example, "Do it now! Do it now! Do it now!" They suggest you take a statement like that and say it to yourself fifty times in a row every morning. And what happens? That thought comes into your mind when you need it. You have practiced thinking it. It has become comfortable and familiar and comes into your mind easily.
Whether you use this tool for a task you're about to do, or to train your mind to think differently in the future, the tool is easy to use and works beautifully. As Napoleon Hill wrote:
"Follow the instructions, no matter how abstract or impractical they may, at first, appear to be. The time will soon come, if you do as you have been instructed, in spirit as well as in act, when a whole new universe of power will unfold to you."
You can change your state. You can turn despair into determination, wishy-washiness into resolve, anxiety into courage, anger into compassion. This is not one of many basic tools. This is one of very few basic tools, and this is one you will find extremely useful.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.