I felt discouraged, so what did I do? I used the antivirus for the mind: I wrote down my demoralizing thoughts and argued with them on paper. I discovered several mistakes I made in my thinking, and my desire to try again resurfaced. I decided the situation wasn’t hopeless, and I should try a different tack.
I was already exercising regularly, but to lose weight I started exercising more. I thought I could keep ahead of how much I ate. I would stoke my metabolism so high that I lost weight. And it worked for a little while.
But then I injured my knee. What a setback! That was very demoralizing. Can you see why? The best kind of exercise for losing weight is aerobic exercise. How can you get aerobic exercise without using one of your knees?! It’s almost impossible (I didn’t have access to a pool).
This setback took the fight out of me. I gave up on trying to be slim. And I gained weight. I also felt bad. I was depressed. I was surprised at how disheartened I became. I got up to almost 200 pounds. That’s not really obese for a six foot, two inch man, but I wasn’t slim any more, and it looked like it would just continually get worse.
I’d like to say I used the antivirus for the mind, but in this case, I didn’t. My wife, Klassy, did it for me. “I can’t lose weight without aerobic exercise,” I said one day, “and I can’t exercise because of my knee.”
“Maybe there is some way to lose weight you don’t know about,” she said, “My dad used to say it’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know. Maybe there is something you don’t know about food or exercise — maybe something you don’t even suspect you are ignorant about.”
This was a brave thing for her to say, really, because one of my hobbies has been to study about nutrition, and it has been a strong interest of mine since I was fourteen. I pretty much thought I knew everything about nutrition.
I’m not casual about the things I study. When I say I was “interested” in nutrition, I mean I had read maybe eighty books on the subject, had a subscription to several health magazines for years and read them with keen interest, and I read the monthly Consumer Reports on Health newsletter, the Berkeley Health Newsletter, etc. This was a strong and enduring interest of mine and I thought I knew almost everything about it.
But when Klassy said that, I realized I really didn’t know everything, of course, and maybe there was something outside my knowledge — a way to lose weight I didn’t know about.
The idea that I might not know something — just entertaining the possibility — introduced uncertainty, which is a very powerful antivenom. Uncertainty about a demoralizing belief weakens the power of that belief. It instantly makes you less demoralized and more open to solutions.
As it turned out, a short time later Klassy’s cousin sent her a book called Protein Power, and I read it. Nothing in this biochemically sophisticated book contradicted what I knew about nutrition, but the conclusion was totally different than anything I’d ever read before: that modern people eat far too many carbohydrates than our bodies have evolved to deal with, and a simple solution to losing weight is to eat fewer carbs.
Everybody knows about it now, but at the time, I had never read anything about low-carb diets. I had heard of it, but assumed it was a diet scheme guaranteed not to work (because it was impossible to sustain) like something in the category of “the grapefruit diet.”
I immediately started eating fewer carbs and within two months I lost twenty pounds and stayed there. I felt great. And of course, I was no longer demoralized. In fact, I was happy. I wasn’t helpless about my weight after all.
The cause of my happiness can be traced back to the introduction of a little uncertainty — Klassy helped me feel uncertain about my pessimistic conclusion (that losing weight was hopeless for me).
I was, however, still depressed about my knee. It had been years since I went for a good hard run and I had always counted on that to keep me in a good mood.
I pulled out my trusty tool again — the antivirus for the mind — and looked at the knee problem. After arguing with my pessimistic beliefs on paper, I didn’t feel so demoralized. My motivation returned. I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know what. I needed the advice of an expert.
I didn’t want to go to regular doctors because I figured all they could offer was drugs or surgery. So I decided to go to a physical therapist first. I figured if that didn’t work, I could always try something else. But if I got surgery first, I might not be able to try something else.
It was a great decision. The physical therapist told me my main problem was a lack of flexibility. She said when muscles contract again and again without stretching out, over time the muscles get shorter. “When your hamstring gets shorter,” she told me, “it pulls on your knee.” She gave me some flexibility and strength exercises I could do. I did them, and the pain went away! That was almost ten years ago and I haven’t had any knee problems since then. Every once in awhile, I will start to feel some pain in my knee, but I just do some stretching and within days it is gone.
When life presents you with a setback and you feel demoralized by it, the first and most important thing to do is undemoralize yourself. The fastest and surest way is to question your demoralizing, negative thoughts. Inspect them for mistakes.
And as you find mistakes in your negative assumptions, your feelings of discouragement will start to lift. Your mind will open and new ideas and information will be allowed in. You will start doing things to solve the problem (now that you no longer feel defeated by it) and your chances of overcoming the obstacles will increase tremendously.
Mistake-free explanations of setbacks make you highly resistant to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, discouragement, demoralization, and depression. The habit of explaining setbacks without making those mistakes gives you the ability to bounce back, to try again, and to refuse to give up when things don’t go your way.
Feeling not-at-all defeated by setbacks does more than prevent you from giving up. It makes you more successful at accomplishing your goals. It makes your tasks easier and more fun. Giving up on a goal feels bad. Trying to "push on" when you feel demoralized is not only difficult, it's no fun.
If you can try again after setbacks, your life will be one of growth and accomplishment. If, on the other hand, even half the time, you give up after a setback, your life will be full of unfulfilled dreams and wasted potential and outright failure.
Every time you try to make your marriage better and your spouse seems reluctant to communicate, every time you try to do a good job at work and run into a problem, every time you decide to get in shape and pull a muscle, your explanatory style — your usual way of explaining setbacks to yourself — will make the difference between trying again or giving up.
And the way to ensure you’ll try again is to write down your negative thoughts and then argue with them. Use the antivirus for your mind.
So now you know. Nature has divulged her secret. You have a powerful weapon against feeling demoralized, disheartened, or depressed.
Practice several times a week, arguing with your own negative thoughts. Sit down and do it for a half-hour at a time. Or simply do it every time you feel even slightly demoralized. You hit small setbacks every day. Use those to train your mind. Write your explanations and criticize them every day.
Habitual mistake-free explanations make you healthier, happier, and more successful. The habit will move you toward accomplishment, success, courage, determination, persistence; toward wins and health and satisfaction.
Here is a summary of how it works:
1. The mind automatically and unconsciously explains setbacks.
2. The explanations sound plausible but don’t necessarily have anything to do with what really caused the setback.
3. Those explanations have an enormous impact on what you’re capable of and what you decide to do. They influence your attitude, your mood, your relationships, your ability, your creativity, and your health. What you think matters.
4. To uncover your explanation (to find out what it is) ask, “What do I think caused the setback?”
5. The most effective way to improve your explanations is to simply try to correct mistakes.
6. It works best to write out your explanations and arguments.
7. You can feel better quickly by arguing with your negative thoughts.
The skill to improve is to make your explanations contain fewer mistakes. The skill that will benefit your health, the skill that will bring you more success, the skill that will give you more positive emotions and fewer negative feelings is making your explanations contain fewer mistakes.
Form this habit: Whenever you feel negative emotions, discover what you are thinking and see if anything is wrong with it. Whenever you feel down:
Search for mistakes in your
Here are the thought-mistakes for easy reference: 22 Virus Definitions
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct 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.