Motivate Yourself Without Stress

You and I constantly compare what we have to a benchmark and when the comparison is good, we feel good. When it's bad, we feel bad. The benchmark I'm referring to could be a something you want to happen or something you think should happen or some state of existence that used to exist, or some ideal that you have been convinced is right.

You compare yourself, your life, your job, your productivity, your marriage, etc., against your benchmarks without trying. It happens automatically and usually somewhat below your conscious awareness. Most of our thinking is done without our awareness or with only a vague awareness. It's not that you are unable to become aware of what you're thinking, but only that you don't usually pay attention to it or direct it consciously.

So you look, for example, at how far along you are in life compared to how far along you should be according to your goals, ideals or standards. If you are about where you should be or a little ahead, you feel good about your life, you feel satisfied. If you are behind, you feel unsatisfied. If your present income and job status is behind your benchmark, for example, you feel bad.

If you think you can do something about it to bring your situation up to the benchmark, you will feel motivated. If you feel the benchmark state is hopelessly out of reach, you will feel depressed.

Let me put this another way. If you are unsatisfied, it will be either depressing or motivating. It'll be motivating if your situation and your benchmark don't match and you think you can do something to make them match. It will be depressing if they don't match and you think you can't make them match.

If it is motivating, but feels unpleasant (if you feel anxiety or anger, for example), see if you can change the way you think about it to keep it motivating but pleasant.

For example, a man looks at his wife and she looks unhappy. He doesn't like that. He's comparing what actually exists to what "ought" to exist, and they don't match. If he thinks he can't do anything about it, he will feel depressed. But let's say he thinks he can do something about it. He thinks he can change his behavior so she becomes happy, but he feels angry because he thinks this situation shouldn't exist. He wants to change it and change it NOW, dammit! What's mainly making him angry is the way he's thinking about it. It is motivating, but unpleasantly so. Anger is unpleasant.

So he needs to change the way he thinks about it so he can still be motivated, but pleasantly so. He needs to coach himself into thinking differently, just as he would coach a child who felt angry at some situation. "Now look here," he says to himself, "I think it shouldn't exist, but it does. My arbitrary standards about what should exist don't matter. The universe is not here to satisfy my demands. The situation does exist. And I don't have to do anything about it. I want to. I want my wife to be happy. And I can take steps toward that. I probably can't make it perfect, but I can make it better."

Can you see how this kind of thinking is motivating but pleasantly so? Learn to keep your motivation, but make it with positive emotions rather than negative emotions. It will feel better, be better for your health, and work better.

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Just Keep Planting

Paul Rokich is my hero. When Paul was a boy growing up in Utah, he happened to live near an old copper smelter, and the sulfur dioxide that poured out of the refinery had made a desolate wasteland out of what used to be a beautiful forest.

When a young visitor one day looked at this wasteland and saw that there was nothing living there — no animals, no trees, no grass, no bushes, no birds...nothing but fourteen thousand acres of black and barren land that even smelled bad — well, this kid looked at the land and said, “This place is crummy.” Paul knocked him down. He felt insulted. But he looked around him and something happened inside him. He made a decision: Paul Rokich vowed that some day he would bring back the life to this land.

Many years later Paul was in the area, and he went to the smelter office. He asked if they had any plans to bring the trees back. The answer was “No.” He asked if they would let him try to bring the trees back. Again, the answer was “No.” They didn’t want him on their land. He realized he needed to be more knowledgeable before anyone would listen to him, so he went to college to study botany.

At the college he met a professor who was an expert in Utah’s ecology. Unfortunately, this expert told Paul that the wasteland he wanted to bring back was beyond hope. He was told that his goal was foolish because even if he planted trees, and even if they grew, the wind would only blow the seeds forty feet per year, and that’s all you’d get because there weren’t any birds or squirrels to spread the seeds, and the seeds from those trees would need another thirty years before they started producing seeds of their own. Therefore, it would take approximately twenty thousand years to revegetate that six-square-mile piece of earth. His teachers told him it would be a waste of his life to try to do it. It just couldn’t be done.

So he tried to go on with his life. He got a job operating heavy equipment, got married, and had some kids. But his dream would not die. He kept studying up on the subject, and he kept thinking about it. And then one night he got up and took some action. He did what he could with what he had. This was an important turning point. As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is common to overlook what is near by keeping the eye fixed on something remote. In the same manner, present opportunities are neglected and attainable good is slighted by minds busied in extensive ranges.” Paul stopped busying his mind in extensive ranges and looked at what opportunities for attainable good were right in front of him. Under the cover of darkness, he sneaked out into the wasteland with a backpack full of seedlings and started planting. For seven hours he planted seedlings. He did it again a week later.

And every week, he made his secret journey into the wasteland and planted trees and shrubs and grass. But most of it died.

For fifteen years he did this. When a whole valley of his fir seedlings burned to the ground because of a careless sheep-herder, Paul broke down and wept. Then he got up and kept planting.

Freezing winds and blistering heat, landslides and floods and fires destroyed his work time and time again. But he kept planting. One night he found a highway crew had come and taken tons of dirt for a road grade, and all the plants he had painstakingly planted in that area were gone. But he just kept planting.

Week after week, year after year he kept at it, against the opinion of the authorities, against the trespassing laws, against the devastation of road crews, against the wind and rain and heat...even against plain common sense. He just kept planting.

Slowly, very slowly, things began to take root. Then gophers appeared. Then rabbits. Then porcupines.

The old copper smelter eventually gave him permission, and later, as times were changing and there was political pressure to clean up the environment, the company actually hired Paul to do what he was already doing, and they provided him with machinery and crews to work with. Progress accelerated. Now the place is fourteen thousand acres of trees and grass and bushes, rich with elk and eagles, and Paul Rokich has received almost every environmental award Utah has.

He says, “I thought that if I got this started, when I was dead and gone people would come and see it. I never thought I’d live to see it myself!”

It took him until his hair turned white, but he managed to keep that impossible vow he made to himself as a child.

What was it you wanted to do that you thought was impossible? Paul’s story sure gives a perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The way you get something accomplished in this world is to just keep planting. Just keep working. Just keep plugging away at it one day at a time for a long time, no matter who criticizes you, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many times you fall. Get back up again. And just keep planting.

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.

Quotes on Purposefulness

"Special strength comes from enduring unchangeable circumstances while holding to one's purposes."

- David K. Reynolds

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."

- Marshall Foch

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary projects, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind trancends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a great new and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be."

- Patanjali

"If you seek what is honorable, what is good, what is the truth of your life, all the other things you could not imagine come as a matter of course."

- Oprah Winfrey

"Perhaps all human progress stems from the tension between two basic drives: to have what everyone else has and to have what no one has."

- Judith Stone

"At some level, we too, have to make an ultimate sacrifice to our callings. We need to devote everything, our whole selves. A part-time effort, a sorta-kinda commitment, an untested promise, won't suffice. You must know that you mean business, that you're going to jump into it up to your eye sockets and not turn back at the last minute."

- Gregg Levoy

"If I could put my mind to it, I could do anything. I just don't feel like putting my mind to something. So there."

- Ellen Degeneres

"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

- Ayn Rand

Catching Pessimism From Others

One of the most important sources of pessimism in anyone's life is negative people. You may tell someone your goal, and either by their face or tone of voice or what they say, you're left with the feeling that your dreams are pipe dreams and you're never going to make it. Or they just put you in a bad mood because they talk about negative things (or talk about positive things from a pessimistic or cynical viewpoint).

All people who bring you down are not created equal. They can be distinguished by their intentions.

One kind of person who brings you down, and probably the kind you've run into most, only brings you down because they themselves are down (because their thoughts are habitually pessimistic). They don't really intend to bring you down. It brings you down to be around them only because emotions are contagious. The first thing to try with these people is to convince them to give up their pessimistic ways. Learn the material in Undemoralize Yourself very well, and then teach it to them. If they don't want to hear it, the next best thing you can do is talk to them very little, and when you do, be vague. Read more about that here.

Another kind of person who brings you down is an emotional manipulator. They try to control you by changing your emotions in whatever way will help them accomplish their purposes. If it helps them to make you happy, they'll make you happy. If it helps them to make you feel guilty, they'll do that. Here's a good article on that. The best thing you can do with these people is learn to recognize it, and avoid them completely (or if you can't avoid them, talk to them very little and be vague).

Another person who might bring you down is someone who is jealous of your success or talent and doesn't want you to succeed. As soon as you recognize this one, their negativity won't take the wind out of your sails anymore. Somehow the negative feeling is balanced out because jealousy is a kind of compliment. And you will sometimes feel compassion for them.

And another kind of person, luckily a very small percentage of people, are sociopaths. Only about one to four percent of the population are sociopaths (meaning they don't have normal feelings of empathy for others). The only way to win with them is to get them out of your life completely, even if they are family members. Read more about sociopaths here.

In the quest to rid yourself of unnecessary negative emotions, in your ongoing quest to feel lots of healthy, positive emotions, this is an important topic. People who bring you down are the most significant source of negative feelings and pessimistic beliefs you have. You might have more input from media sources, but personal relationships have more influence.

You may not have someone in your life right now who brings you down. I hope you don't. But if you do, take it seriously. Try to figure out what their intentions are, and decide how to deal with them. Do not let them continue to bring you down. Their influence can make you more pessimistic over time.

So take care of it and then concentrate your time and attention on the relationships that bring you up.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

How to Help Someone Become More Optimistic

Because of the natural structure of your brain (and other factors), pessimism has a tendency to worm its way into your mind. Preventing that from happening, or getting rid of it once it has established itself in your mind is not that difficult if you know how and if you are sufficiently motivated.

Being pessimistic may be natural in many ways, but once someone has recognized pessimism and wants to get rid of it, pessimism can be cured. But if you have the goal of curing someone else's pessimism, how should you go about it? Should you tell someone they are pessimistic? Probably not. Most people would get defensive, of course.

Should you point out the thought-mistakes they make when they say something pessimistic? No. About any specific pessimistic statement, you could probably argue all day and never really get anywhere if the person isn't already committed to curing her own pessimism.

The best approach is to aim at the motivation. Deal with the how-to once she's motivated. Rather than argue with a particular pessimistic statement, convince her that optimism in general is superior to pessimism in general. Optimism is better in several ways:

1. It makes you more effective and successful

2. It makes you more persistent

3. You're more motivated to pursue goals and learn

4. Optimism prevents heart disease

5. It prevents cancer

6. It strengthens your bones

7. Optimism makes your intestines function better

8. It's good for your relationships

9. It makes you happier

One of the easiest, most practical and concrete approaches to converting someone to at least try to be more optimistic is to mention the consequences of pessimism on health. Remember that. Talk about the consequences on health. Nobody wants to get a disease.

Optimism isn't just nice. It doesn't just make you feel better. It has a real, measurable, and significant influence on your health and on your ability to succeed in the world.

Pessimism is unhealthy, unproductive, unnecessary, and undesirable. Bringing up these facts can open the conversation and begin the process of conversion to optimism better than any other approach.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

The Secret of Jimmy Yen

A jury of distinguished scholars and scientists, including Albert Einstein and Orville Wright thought enough of Jimmy Yen to vote him one of the top ten Modern Revolutionaries of the Twentieth Century. Yet all he did was teach Chinese peasants to read.

What made that so amazing was that for four thousand years reading and writing in China was only done by the Scholars. "Everybody" knew, including the peasants themselves, that peasants were incapable of learning.

That thoroughly ingrained cultural belief was Jimmy Yen's first "impossible" barrier. The second barrier was the Chinese language itself, consisting of 40,000 characters, each character signifying a different word! The third barrier was the lack of technology and good roads. How could Jimmy Yen reach the 350 million peasants in China?

Impossible odds, an impossibly huge goal-and yet he had almost attained it when he was forced (by Communism) to leave his country.

Did he give up? No. He learned from defeat and expanded his goal: Teach the rest of the Third World to read. Practical reading programs, like the ones he invented in China, started pumping out literate people like a gushing oil well in the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Columbia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ghana, India — people became literate. For the first time in their entire genetic history, they had access to the accumulated knowledge of the human race.

For those of us who take literacy for granted, I'd like you to consider for a moment how narrow your world would be if you'd never learned how to read and there was no access to radios or TVs.

180,000 Chinese peasants were hired by the Allied Forces in WW1 as laborers in the war effort. Most of them had no idea-not a clue-where England, Germany or France was, they didn't know what they were being hired to do, and didn't even know what a war was!

Jimmy Yen was a savior to them.

What was the secret of Jimmy Yen's success? He found a real need, and found in himself a strong desire to answer that need. And he took some action: He tried to do something about it even though it seemed impossible. He worked long hours. And he started with what he had in front of him and gradually took on more and more, a little upon a little.

The English author Thomas Carlyle said, "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." And that's what Jimmy Yen did. He started out teaching a few peasants to read, with no desks, no pens, no money, no overhead projectors. He started from where he found himself and did what was clearly at hand.

And that's all you need to do. Start now. Start here. And do what lies clearly at hand.

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Turn Hopelessness Into Realistic Optimism

When the Titanic sank, people scrambled aboard lifeboats and were set adrift in the middle of nowhere in pitch darkness. Only three hours after the liner disappeared from the surface of the water, the first relief ships arrived. But by that time some people in the lifeboats had already scared themselves to death, or had gone mad.

Ninety percent of the survivors of any shipwreck die within three days. But to die of hunger or thirst, it takes much longer than that. It is despair that kills those people. "Helpless in the night," wrote Dr. Alain Bombard, French survival researcher and author of The Voyage of the Heretique, "chilled by sea and wind, terrified by the solitude, by the noise and by the silence, it takes less than three days for him to surrender his life."

When people are in what looks like a hopeless situation and they give up hope, it not only causes a breakdown of the body, but they stop doing the things that could keep them alive.

And this doesn't only apply to life-or-death situations. We all tend to give up hope about some things — our dreams, some special goal we have, something we really want, and we stop doing the things that could make them happen.

The loss of hope is a poisonous potion. Optimism is the antidote. Here are three steps to greater optimism:

1. Be negative about the negative. Question those negative thoughts you automatically think when disaster strikes. Argue against the pessimistic conclusions you've jumped to. This must come first. When you feel negative, the next two steps are very difficult. Being negative about the negative brings you up enough to go further.

2. Appreciate what's good about your situation. There's always something good. Think about how much worse the situation could be and be glad it isn't that bad.

3. Create a future. Make realistic plans for the future and actively work toward those goals. This creates life-giving, strength-building, sanity-bestowing hope.

Your mind has no direction of its own. Without your active participation, it will be blown hither and thither by the winds of circumstance and the tides of emotions. But it is possible to grab the tiller and steer. To get to the sunny shore from the ocean of life, wrote James Allen, "Keep your hand firmly on the helm of thought."

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Find Your Goal

One of our readers wrote in from Germany and said he has a strong desire to do more with his life but can't seem to determine what he wants to do. Klassy Evans wrote back to him as follows:

When we are young, there are things we want to do, but often we are told we can't or it isn't appropriate or you're too young or too old or not smart enough or don't have enough money or something. I suggest to you that you may not feel a burning desire for anything because what you really want to do is no longer on your list of possibilities. I suggest to you that it's possible you might have turned away from the one thing you would most enjoy doing. I know at least that I did.

I'd like to share a little process that literally changed my life. It helped me see what I really wanted to do with my life. It might help you. It's simple. It'll only take a little time over the next couple of weeks.

Here's what you do: Get a little notebook, small enough to keep with you at all times. Now, during the day, try to remember times you were happy. When you think of a time — even if it was very long ago — write down where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.

If anything happens to you during the next couple of weeks that makes you happy and brightens your spirit, write that down the same way. Just those three things: where are you? who are you with? what are you doing?

At the end of a couple of weeks, go over your notes and see what common thread runs through those moments. Then, find people you trust and without telling them what you saw, ask them what they see common to all those times.

I did that process many years ago and realized I'd always wanted to be a teacher, but I'd been told many times that "those that can, DO, and those that can't, teach; and those that can't teach, teach teachers!" But the truth is, I loved to teach and over the years I've become, what I jokingly call, a "freelance teacher." I give talks on things I think will help others. I love doing this. It's makes me feel like I'm doing what I was born to do.

Collecting that little list of things that made me happy got me to see that I'd turned my back on something I really wanted to do.

Maybe the little happiness notebook will be your compass to your purpose in life. I hope so.

And one last tip: You can also discover your interests indirectly by monitoring your level of effort. As interest increases, the effort required to do the task decreases. Given a high enough interest, it can be hard to stop doing it. Like reading a great book. But try to read what you are not interested in and the effort to get through the material inches upward as your interest in the subject declines. So, sometimes when you can't figure out what your interests are, look to the level of effort you're using to do the task at hand.

I just want you to know that you can find your purpose and desire in life. You can. Even turning ever so slightly in the general direction of your purpose will increase your strength. It brings out our best to be going after something important. The more important the task, the more strength we have to do it. We are all capable of more than we imagine. The challenge will bring out your best.

I wish you well, Klassy Evans


The man from Germany wrote back, very happy, and thanked Klassy. To which she replied:

You are welcome! Adam and I actually taught a course for awhile that was called, "the Happiness Course" and helped people find what they loved to do because doing what we love to do brings out our best.

One couple comes to mind and I thought I'd just give you a little bit of their story. We did that process with the notebook to collect times they were happy. The man realized that though he would not be able to quit the job he had and do what he loved because he needed the money and security of his job, he DID manage to go back into radio and found a small town station that had a Sunday morning spot open. So he went back on the air for his two hour show each Sunday morning. Now, you might think that only doing what you love for two hours a week wouldn't do much, but it made a big difference in his life. All week he had something to think about and look forward to. I tell you this, because sometimes you can only add a little bit of what you love, but even a little bit will make your life happier. In his case, much happier. He had his little radio show and he had the money and security of his "regular" job. Sometimes it doesn't really take that much to make us happy.

And his wife found out that the only times she was really happy was when she was having lunches with her lady-friends and talking about stuff. Well, you might say, what are you going to do with that? She decided to start a little women's group that would meet once a week, which she did. Then she started to charge a little fee for coming. Then she realized she really and truly did love talking with women and helping to support them and she went back to school and became a counselor and now has her own practice. It took a few years, but we grow older anyway whether we're going to school or not.

By the way, you're only 36. That's a great age to be. You have enough experience to guide you and enough years left to make a change.

Happiness is not a slight thing! Happiness literally makes us healthier. When we're happy we have more access to our intelligence and we make better decisions and our character is stronger. Plus, all those around you — your wife, your family and your friends — will all benefit from your happiness because you will be a better person in their life.

Hesiod said: If you should put even a little upon a little and do this often, soon you would have a lot.

Little changes now can totally change the years ahead.

Bye for now, Klassy

Klassy Evans is the co-author with Adam Khan of Fill Your Tank With Freedom, What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It, and How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).