But why does it “seem natural?” A person from a different culture might interpret the same event very differently. And not because they are ignorant and you are all-knowing. Someone who knows far more than you may indeed interpret the event very differently than you do.
Okay, okay. You get it. You may be surprised to find some very good news embedded in this fact, however, because it means if you practice thinking a different way, that new way of thinking could become natural.
For example, when I first started giving public speeches to promote my book, people weren’t listening the way I wanted them to listen. They were listening casually, as if they were watching something interesting on television. But it was an important subject that could have an enormous impact on the rest of their lives.
My natural way of thinking about their lack of seriousness about the topic was demoralizing: "People don't care, I'll never be a good speaker, etc."
But I came up with a new way of thinking about it. I said to myself, “I’m going to make them get how important this is!”
I tried many different statements, but that one made me the feel most motivated.
Once I came up with this new statement, did I think it automatically from then on? No. Not a chance. If I hadn’t made a deliberate effort to say that statement to myself whenever I thought about speaking, it would have faded away, and my insight would have vanished into a vague memory. It wouldn’t have changed a thing.
So I said the statement to myself many times. I wrote it down and carried the piece of paper around with me to remind me to practice, and I got in the habit of saying it to myself whenever I thought about an upcoming speech (and as the speech got closer, that was several times a day). I would imagine being in front of the audience and I would say to myself with feeling, “I will make them get how important this is!” I imagined the phrase coming into my mind during my speech.
After awhile, it became natural to think that way.
So that’s the tool we're going to explore: To practice thinking something until it becomes natural.
This is probably the most basic mental tool in existence. When you want to change the way you see things, when you want to change the way you feel about something, when you want to treat people differently or persist more on your goals or eat less at the dinner table, this mental tool is the most basic and the most practical.
It’s like a knife. A knife is a very simple tool. It is about as basic as tools get. The design hasn’t changed much in thousands of years, and yet with all our technology and scientific advancement, today in the 21st century when you want to slice a tomato, you probably use a simple knife.
But as ancient and basic as this mental tool is, I don’t really have a good name for it. It’s not exactly a slogan or a motto or a mantra or a saying or a proverb or an affirmation, but it’s kind of like all of those. So I’m going to coin a word just so we have something to call it. Sorry about doing this, but it has to be done.
I’m going to call it a “slotra.” Think of it as a cross between a slogan, which is a phrase used in advertising or politics, and a mantra, which is a word or sound repeated over and over in meditation. But a slotra is neither of those.
A slotra is a phrase or statement you say to yourself many times so the phrase or statement becomes comfortable and familiar and you get good at thinking it. You repeat it often enough or long enough that eventually the statement comes into your mind on its own and when it’s appropriate.
A slotra is a thought you are learning to think. You repeat it the same way and for the same reason you repeat foreign language phrases when you’re trying to learn a different language.
When you want to travel to Germany, certain phrases will be handy, so you learn them. And you don’t just say a phrase once and then expect your brain to remember it when you need it. You say it again and again until it becomes comfortable and familiar. You practice saying it so it will come to mind easily when you need it.
That's exactly what you're doing with slotras.
Each word of a new language feels clumsy to say at first, and you find it hard to pronounce and hard to remember. But the more you say it, the more you repeat it, the more natural it feels.
That’s the purpose of "slotralogy" — to make helpful thoughts come to mind when you need them. The new thoughts may feel clumsy and awkward to think at first. But you keep practicing, and after awhile they feel more natural.
Many different kinds of thoughts can be slotras. For example, you can take a reframe and turn it into a slotra. You can take an insight you’ve had, encapsulate the insight into a short statement, and then say that statement to yourself several times a day for a month. The insight will become familiar and come to mind easily. You’ve turned your insight into a slotra.
You can make a goal or purpose into a slotra. That’s a good one. It keeps your mind focused. That's what I did with my slotra, "I will make them get how important this is." It's a purpose. That thought, going through my mind, focused my attention on a purpose — a purpose that helped me communicate with more vigor and intensity.
Another good form of slotra is a rule. We'll get into this later.
The most useful slotras make you feel a certain emotion, like confidence or motivation or determination. The best slotras I have made were created by starting with the emotion I wanted. First I thought about what I wanted to feel in a certain situation.
For example, right after I published my first book, I went around visiting bookstores and asking them to carry my book. I felt nervous and a little awkward when I was introducing myself to the manager, and I didn’t like feeling that way, so I thought about what I would like to feel in that situation. I wanted to enjoy it and have fun with it. I wanted to feel relaxed and at ease.
So first decide what you want to feel. The next step is to create a statement that helps you feel that way, that directs your attention in a way that results in the feeling you want. I came up with this one: I’m going to have fun with this. Whenever I thought about going into bookstores, I said that phrase and imagined having fun. And as I walked into a bookstore, I made sure that’s what going through my mind. And it worked. I did have fun.
You can consider that a two-step formula for creating a slotra:
1. Decide what emotion you want to feel in a particular situation
2. Come up with a phrase or statement that makes you feel that way in that situation
A slotra is a kind of on-the-run motivator. It’s a focuser. A confidence-builder. An anti-negativity shield. It’s a mental tool. It gets your mind to work for you instead of against you.
When I first started promoting my book to bookstores, I would call up a store to get their fax number, the name of the buyer, etc. Most of the time people on the phone were very cooperative and helpful and friendly. But once in awhile, someone would be suspicious and uncooperative. I became downhearted after these calls and didn’t want to do any more.
The negative calls really stuck out in my mind, of course, because of the brain’s negative bias. The thoughts going through my head were something like this: “What am I doing this for? I’ll never make it. With people like that out there, nobody is going to want my book. They think I’m a pushy salesman. They aren’t going to want to listen to me...”
This stream of automatic thoughts made me feel bad. But I talked some sense into myself. “The next time I have a negative person on the line,” I told myself, “I’ll turn them around. I’ll make them like me. They won’t be able to resist my charm...”
That last line really struck me as funny, and made me feel strong. It put me in a good mood, so I used it as a slotra. “They won’t be able to resist my charm.” I said it many times for practice, and when I got on the phone, I deliberately said it to myself, and it worked great. It put me in just the right mood.
I also used “I’ll turn it around” quite a bit too. When I felt worried that the next person I called was going to be negative, I kept saying to myself, “It doesn’t matter. I’ll just turn it around!” The slotra changed my focus from a fear things would go wrong to what I could do about it if it did. The slotra gave me confidence and helped me relax and I actually was able to turn it around when I talked to a negative person — because I was in the right mood.
I practiced the phrases many times, and when the right circumstances came up, those phrases naturally came to mind. They became the content of my mind. They became a natural part of my stream of consciousness. And they helped me get the job done a lot better than the overly negative and emotional thought-stream I originally had.
For the next few articles, we're going to explore slotralogy: What it is, what it isn't, and how you can use it to help you increase your persistence, strengthen your determination, and restore your lost motivation.
Read next: Slotralogy 201
This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.