Change How You Think (As Opposed to WHAT You Think)

You can make your life more difficult and unpleasant, OR you can make your life easier and more enjoyable — by not just changing WHAT you're thinking, but by changing HOW you're thinking it.

For example, when you talk to yourself, you can change WHAT you say to yourself. We all know that. And it's helpful. But you can also change HOW you talk to yourself. You can keep your thoughts exactly what they already are, but change the tone of the voice, or the volume. You could try to discover from where the voice is coming, and change that. Some people feel their voice comes from behind their head, or inside their head. You could imagine the voice coming from your thumb, for example, and see if that changes how that affects you.

This is changing HOW you think something. In this case, you're changing it auditorily. You can also change something visually. Often, our thoughts have a visual component.

Let's say you're worried about an upcoming interview. You’re looking for a new job. You imagine yourself blowing the interview, or worry that they’ll say they’re not interested in you. You could try to imagine something different. That’s changing WHAT you’re thinking. And that’s good. That’s a good idea. But what about changing HOW you’re thinking it? For example, if you imagine being in the interview and being nervous, imagine the same scene, but alter it. Add a soundtrack. Make it brighter or dimmer. Imagine the person interviewing you is only one foot tall with a really squeaky voice. Imagine your best friend is sitting next to you at the interview. The possibilities are endless. Some of these won’t make any difference in how you feel, but some will, so you can do more of THAT. And just the fact that you’re no longer a victim to your own thoughts makes a difference, even if the changes themselves didn’t change anything.

When my son was way too young to be watching such things, he was at a friend's house and watched a movie called A Nightmare on Elm Street. Afterward, he had nightmares about Freddy Krueger, a serial killer "who uses a gloved hand with razors to kill his victims in their dreams, causing their deaths in the real world as well," according to Wikipedia. I've never seen the movie, but I've seen pictures of Freddy Krueger, and he's a freaky looking dude. The perfect thing to give a young boy nightmares.

So we talked to him about the guy's freaky face. We said, "Imagine he has big donkey ears. Imagine them putting all the makeup on his face to make him look like that." We had him play with the images in his head. To shrink them down. To make them move away from him, etc. And his nightmares stopped.

I tried this once to see if I could be unbothered by criticism. And it worked. I imagined seeing the criticism from another point of view in the room. As if I was looking down on the scene from a security camera. I imagined being in an impenetrable fort, safe and sound, while watching the security camera. I imagined growing huge ram horns on my head really quickly, as soon as I started hearing a criticism. All of these things helped me feel safe and secure while listening to criticism.

There are so many ways to use this principle. One of the things you can do with visual images is look at the same scene from a different point of view than your own. I don't mean metaphorically, but literally. It's called dissociation. To get the difference, imagine that you are eating an ice cream cone. You're holding it in your hand in front of you. You bring it up to your mouth and lick it.

Now imagine you are standing next to yourself looking at yourself eating an ice cream cone. This is being dissociated. You're not looking out from your own eyes; you're seeing yourself from the outside. This is usually a powerful change in visual imagery. It changes your emotional reaction. While you're seeing out your own eyes, the emotions are stronger. Looking at yourself from the outside makes it all feel more distant, and so the emotions are not as intense. This is one of many things you can change in a visual image.

Click here for a list of things you can try changing in visual imagery. And click here for a list of things to change auditorily (having to do with sound). This idea of changing how you're thinking rather than what you're thinking comes from NLP, which is a kind of system of psychology. A really good book on the subject is, Using Your Brain — For a Change, by Richard Bandler (one of the co-founders of NLP).

The way to play with this is to just try different things and see what makes a difference. Not everything is important. Some changes make a big difference and some don't make much difference at all. For example, location often makes a big difference, both auditorily and visually. For a visual memory, you might try changing the color, the size, the clarity, and maybe none of that makes you feel any different. But changing where the image is in your mind's eye might dramatically change how it feels to you.

There are so many things to try. You think all the time. You have images in your mind, and you say things to yourself and imagine other people saying things to you. And you hear music in your mind, and other sounds too. All of this happens without any effort on your part, and seemingly out of your control. But at any point, you can do whatever you want with these thoughts (except stop thinking them, which you can read more about here).

I was out on a walk once, feeling kind of discouraged about one of my goals, and I thought it was a good time to experiment. I imagined people singing. I imagined the park I was walking through lined with people I know on either side of the walkway, singing to me. It was an inspiring gospel tune, but I changed the words. They were singing, "Don't give up! You can do it, we know you can!" Within five minutes, I was feeling thoroughly inspired!

If this all seems too elaborate, you've got to keep in mind that you are already visualizing things and talking to yourself. But in a sense it's being done to you. All I'm suggesting here is that you do more of it deliberately, and in a way that would help you, rather than just letting it happen the way it happens whether it helps you or not.

Here's another example: I have woken up from a bad dream before, thought about it for a second, and then went back into the dream to finish it the way I would like. So I find a weapon, or I call on friends of mine to help me. It's my mind, and I can do what I want with it. So I go back in and walk away from the dream victorious.

I once helped a friend get over his fear of talking to attractive women. I had him closed eyes and imagine (whenever he sees a woman he's attracted to) hearing her say to him through mental telepathy, "I want to get to know you." I had him imagine this several times with different images of women. And he said it worked. He is now married.

If you're walking into an interview for a new job, imagine your favorite upbeat song is playing loudly, making you pumped up and feeling good.

Bandler says Stephen King gets motivated to write his bestselling novels by imagining a scary voice coming down a tunnel from far behind him and coming right up to the back of his head and yelling loudly, "Get to work!"

Your brain is coded. Everybody organizes their internal experience in a certain way. Nobody taught us to do this, but we naturally do it so that we know what is the past and what is the future, for example. You code your inner experience so you know what's important and what isn't, what has emotional significance and what doesn't.

Everybody has different ways of organizing their internal experience. For example, how do you know an image in your mind is from the past or from the future? There's some way you code it. Nobody teaches you this, you just figure it out over time, or more like it figures itself out. But you can sometimes discover how someone organizes their mind by the way they speak. For example, if someone says, "I put it behind me" or "I left it all behind," the person probably organizes their images front to back. The future is in front of them, their past is behind them.

You can watch the way people gesture when they say, “I used to do that.” If they gesture to the left, they probably organize time side to side and their past is to their left, their future is to their right. This might all sound like something interesting that doesn't make any difference. But careers have been shattered and married people have divorced because of these things.

For example, a couple I know had been separated for several years and during that time the man had sexual relations with several women. When the couple got back together, the woman could not get those images out of her mind. It tortured her. Every time they began to be intimate, she mentally saw those images and it made her upset and angry.

She wasn't doing this on purpose. She didn't want to imagine these images. Her mind did it on its own.

Most people wouldn’t think to play with their mind or experiment with different ways of visualizing something like this. Most people accept the way their mind naturally does it, even when they feel tortured by it. But there are things she could have done with these unwelcome images. You can think of some right now, I'm sure.

She could have imagined the images on a big glass screen, and then taken a sledgehammer and smashed it. And then see a big sweeper push it into a smelter of molten glass.

She could have altered some of the content of the images. She could have added a goofy soundtrack. She could have imagined the image morphed into something she wants. She could have moved it to a different location in her mind’s eye. She could have changed the image so that it was smaller and changed it to a black and white image. Or changed it to a still picture (rather than a movie). Maybe she could put the image in a box and put in on a big shelf of other boxes in her mind's eye. Every time it came up involuntarily in her mind, she could have done something different with it, or if she found something that seemed satisfying, done that same thing with it every time it came up.

Instead, she couldn't take it any more and she left.

This idea can make a huge difference.

When my mom was dying of cancer, she had terrible nightmares. She had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer, and she was scared. She asked me to help her, and it means a lot to me that I was actually able to help her.

I told her whenever she found herself in a nightmare, to call out my name and I will be there, and I will bring our whole family. I said, "I will be on one side of you, and my brother will be on the other side of you, and we won’t let anything harm you. Your boyfriend will be there, and he’ll have a weapon (he was a skilled soldier). Our cousin will be there (I was naming these people) and he’ll have a weapon too (he was a Marine). Your nephew will be there, and he IS a weapon (he’s a champion martial artist)." She laughed.

I said, “We will all be there, surrounding you, protecting you. You can say to whatever is threatening you, “if you want to get to me, you have to go through my whole family.” This really amused her. I told her this whole thing on two different occasions about one day apart. And after the second time, her nightmares stopped. I don't think I'd ever been so grateful for a book I'd read.

This idea has many meaningful uses. There is no natural limit to how many ways you can use this to help someone else or to help yourself. As simple and effortless as it is, it can make a really big difference. I urge you to use it, and to try to remember it. I'm going to be doing a podcast about this, so you can listen every now and then as a reminder. Follow my podcast here.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

Imagine a Single Celebration That Includes Everybody

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and on that day until the winter solstice, the days get progressively shorter. The winter solstice is the moment when the days begin to get longer again. Just the reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, but the two solstices themselves occur at exactly the same moment for everyone on earth.

The origin of the word "solstice" is the Latin solstitium from "sol" meaning sun and "-stitium" meaning a stoppage. Observing the sun over time, you can see the sun rising further and further to the south until the winter solstice, when it slows and stops and then reverses.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is close to the same time as Christmas, and many of our Christmas traditions originated from the days before Christianity, when the solstice was celebrated. Traditions for celebrating the end of shorter days and the beginning of longer days (winter solstice) have been practiced around the world for many thousands of years.

At Stonehenge on the British Isles, for example, the huge stones are arranged in such a way that they frame the setting sun on the day of winter solstice. The ancient Brits had a tradition of tying apples to the branches of oak trees in the dead of winter to affirm that summer would come again. The Celts put mistletoe on their altars.

The ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice by giving gifts. And they feasted for a week. Servants traded places with their masters — the masters serving their servants during the feast. They also had a tradition during winter solstice of bringing evergreens indoors.

In Scandinavian countries, the sun disappears in the dead of winter. In the far north, it disappears for as long as 35 days. The ancient people of the far north had a tradition of feasting when the dark days were over and the sun once again shone on the horizon. They celebrated with what they called a Yuletide festival. They feasted in a long hall while a Yule log burned in the fireplace. They thought of mistletoe as sacred. Kissing under mistletoe was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were considered to be the food of the gods.

The solstice celebrations were officially replaced with Christian ceremonies during Roman times as a way of overtaking the ancient traditions, even though Jesus probably wasn't born in December. It was a political act. December 25th used to be the solstice with the old calendar. It usually happens on December 21st with the modern calendar.

But the Christian usurping of the celebration was a long time ago. It's water under the bridge and really at this point, who cares? We could start fresh and celebrate the solstice instead of (or in addition to) our other celebrations. We could celebrate the turning of the season. We could celebrate longer and warmer days ahead.

We could keep our celebrations, but change the date, and that way more people could celebrate together. In other words, if you normally drink eggnog and trim a tree and open presents for Christmas, you could do exactly the same things, except do them on the Solstice. Or people with different customs could celebrate their customs and traditions (for Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) on their designated days, but also celebrate the solstice with everyone.

The solstice has nothing to do with religion, race, or nationality. Every one of us relies on the sun for our warmth, our sunlight, and our food. We rely on the sun for life. The time and date of the solstice can be accurately determined and it occurs at the same moment everywhere on earth.

The solstice might some day become an international holiday. This could be the beginning of something wonderful — a point of unification, a place of agreement, a universal tradition.

You can begin this year by celebrating the solstice in even a small way. Take any of the traditions normally associated with the holiday season and do some part of it on the solstice. Give a gift. Eat a feast. Be kinder to your fellow human beings. Invite people of all faiths to your home to celebrate the end of the longest night and the beginning of longer days. The celebration of the solstice in your own home could actually and concretely work for peace on earth and goodwill toward all women and men.

I wish you a Merry Solstice.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated, 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.

Direct Your Mind: How Can I Use This To Accomplish My Goal?

One of the best ways to get your mind to work for you rather than against you is to ask yourself a good question. Read more about this principle here

For example, when I first started speaking in public to promote my book, I got pretty nervous. I had never done much public speaking before. I tried many things to deal with it, but the one that worked the best was using the nervousness to help me accomplish my goal.

Originally, I decided that each adrenaline jolt would be my cue to go over the speech outline in my head. That worked pretty well. I stopped dreading the nervousness and stopped trying to avoid having it. An adrenaline rush became a welcome opportunity to make sure I knew exactly what I was going to say. This directly countered my main fear — that I would lose my train of thought in front of the group.

I got the general principle: To use the feeling of anxiety to remind me of something. I tried out several things. The one that worked best was saying to myself, “I will make them get how important this is.” That’s what I wanted to go through my head as I stood in front of an audience. I practiced that thought over and over whenever I experienced an adrenaline rush.

And while I practiced saying this to myself, I imagined saying it to myself while looking at the audience, so the audience became associated with that thought — the audience itself became a trigger for that statement or thought.

I came up with this after doing a few speeches. I noticed the audience listened with the attitude, “this is interesting.” But I wanted them to sit up and pay attention to what I was saying — as if it could help them or someone they loved, as if it would make a difference, as if it were important! I wanted to have a real impact on them. I wanted their lives to be forever better. I didn’t want them to listen to me as a mere form of entertainment. This was something I really wanted. It was a sincere, heartfelt desire. And that was the key.

So every time I got a jolt, I would say to myself, “I will make them get how important this is!” And thanks to the jolt, I said it with extra intensity.

In other words, I used something that seemingly was against my goal, and I used it in service to my goal.

Whatever happens that seems to directly hinder you goal, try this question on it. Ask how you can use your barrier to help you with your goal.

For example, let’s say a man has a goal to become a manager. He works as a clerk. He works a forty hour week. That’s forty hours of not being able to write resumes, take training, or in any way move forward toward his goal. True or false?

He asks himself this question. He is working as a clerk, and he thinks of that as a barrier. So he asks how he can use working-as-a-clerk to help him accomplish his goal. For several days he asks this question and so far hasn’t come up with any good answers. But then today he realizes that he interacts with his manager occasionally throughout the day.

“Maybe I could see what he’s doing right and what I would do differently if I were manager,” he decides. That’s a good idea. Then he realizes that as a clerk he deals with people all the time. Maybe he could improve his general ability to deal with people and that would help him become a better manager.

And now he’s on a roll. He realizes that he casually talks with people all the time. Maybe he might find out about management opportunities.

Maybe he could talk to his manager about managing, asking him, for example, if he had it to do over again, is there anything he would study before he started managing?

He is limited in what he can do while he is at work because he has to do his clerking job. But he could find leads, come up with ideas, and so on that he could pursue on his off-hours. And when he gets home he could make notes, keeping a notebook on what he saw that worked and didn’t work about what his manager did.

He could make notes of what it is like as an employee to be on the receiving end of the way his manager deals with him, and that could help him in the future when he’s a manager and has a manager’s point of view and starts to forget the employee’s point of view, etc.

The point of this question is to get you thinking. When something seems to be interfering with your goal, ask yourself if you can somehow use it to help your goal. Sometimes you will come up with brilliant ideas.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For 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.

Is the Open Fuel Standard a "Dangerous Scheme?"

Someone sent me an article by Robert Werner that harshly criticizes the Open Fuel Standard Act. Werner said the OFS bill is a "dangerous scheme we can do without." Below are my responses to various statements in the article. You can read his article here.

1. In the title, Werner calls the bill "Open Fuel Standardization Act," which is not its correct name, although he provides a link to the correct bill.

2. Werner writes, "H.R. 1687 would mandate that 50% of all new cars and light duty trucks produced by 2014 be engineered to run on some type of alternative fuel." This is somewhat misleading. In the context of the rest of the article, this seems to imply that the vehicles will not be able to also burn petroleum.

The Open Fuel Standard Act makes it clear that the only type of car no longer allowed to be sold is a car that perpetuates oil's virtual monopoly over transportation fuel. So a normal internal combustion engine vehicle would need to be warranted to burn ethanol and methanol in addition to gasoline.

This is a very simple engineering tweak. In fact, according to Robert Zubrin, our cars are already capable of burning all three fuels very well, except for one thing: The flex fuel software in the cars' onboard computer is missing or has been disabled. That's an easy and inexpensive thing to remedy. Read more about Zubrin's research here.

3. Werner writes, "Step aside, Free Market, Big Government coming through! If only 'We The People' weren’t so obtuse. Unwilling to do the right thing; passing over Chevy Volts in favor of Ford F-Series Pickups and Honda Accords. Shame, shame." Again, this is misleading and inaccurate. Ford pickups and Honda Accords could very easily burn ethanol, methanol and gasoline if they were legally warranted to do so.

After the Open Fuel Standard bill passes, if someone with a Ford F-Series Pickup wanted to burn nothing but gasoline in her truck, she would be able to do so. Gasoline would still be one of the many fuels she could fill up with. But she would have other choices too — choices we don't have now.

The main purpose of the OFS bill is to introduce a free market for America's most important commodity. What we have now is a virtual monopoly. Very few cars are sold that can burn multiple fuels, so very few fuel stations have the motivation to put in competing fuel pumps (and oil companies actively block them). Auto buyers have very little incentive to purchase a flex fuel car since there aren't many fuel pumps available with anything but petroleum. The result: No competition.

The Open Fuel Standard would break through this impasse and open up the fuel market to competition for the first time in a hundred years.

4. Werner writes, "Common sense in Washington dictates that we should burn food in our cars (Ethanol, Biodiesel)." Again this misleading statement ignores the many possible feedstocks ethanol and methanol can be made from, implying that the OFS bill would make everything unavailable except ethanol made from corn. He ignores ethanol made from municipal waste, switchgrass, miscanthus, corn stover, wheat and barley straw, and algae, to name just a few non-food crops ethanol is already being made from. And he ignores methanol, which can also be made from municipal waste, agricultural waste, coal, natural gas, and waste from the paper industry, to name just a few. 

5. Werner writes, "Think you’ll outsmart them by maintaining your current gas guzzling beast? Plan on camping out at the dealership for a chance to buy a rare, new gasoline burning car?" If he means a car that can only burn gasoline, he's probably right. But with the OFS, most cars could burn gasoline like just like they do now, and just as well.

We have about 9 million flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road in America, out of 250 million. According to the National FFV Awareness Campaign, a large percentage of people who already own an FFV don't even know it. They are buying gasoline, completely unaware that they have any choice. The vehicles are just as good at burning gasoline as any gas-only car, and buyers are often not even told that the car they're buying is anything different than what has always been available — a car that can only burn one fuel, a car that maintains oil's virtual monopoly over our nation's transportation fuel, a car that enables OPEC to control our economic destiny.

So once the Open Fuel Standard Act is passed, anyone who wanted to could completely ignore their new choices and stick to old-fashioned gasoline for the rest of their lives. They will have other choices, but they don't ever have to act on them. 

Robert Werner grossly misunderstood the Open Fuel Standard. And he's not alone. In our conversations, all of us need to do a better job of clarifying what this bill is and what it can do for America.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Nitric Oxide: A Unifying Principle of Health (Season 4, Episode 7 of The Adam Bomb Podcast)

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The Magic of Motivation

Houdini loved magic tricks from the time he was a boy, and spent a huge portion of his time learning to amaze people. It was tremendously fun for him. As he started to perform, he didn’t make much money. It’s a difficult business to succeed in. But he eventually did succeed. He had a motivation he could not forget: The vow he made when he was young to his dying father to financially support his mother for the rest of her life.

He worked unbelievably hard to keep that vow. It was a powerful motivation. His mind was on his purpose every minute of the day.

Consider the patience, persistence, and commitment required to learn just one skill: The ability to swallow something only halfway to the stomach and hold it there, and be able to bring it up again to your mouth. A Japanese performer showed Houdini the trick, and it took Houdini hundreds of hours of practice to master it, but it enabled him to do his most famous stunts.

He would “swallow” lock-picking tools, but nobody knew this. He dared the finest jails to search him head to toe and lock him up. When he was all locked up, he brought his tools out and escaped from the jail — sometimes making it to the front gate before the jailers did!

Why did he try so hard and work so diligently? Because he had a good reason.

Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Think about your own why. With a good enough reason, you can easily and even joyously bear with any suffering, hardship, difficulty, or tediousness that your goal requires.

And as you’re thinking, your mind will be electrified with earnest intention and will generate ideas. Eric Hoffer wrote, “We are told that talent creates its own opportunities, but it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.”

But thinking about a purpose is only what to do with your mind when it is idle and when you can’t actually work on your purpose. Or what to do when you feel demoralized by setbacks. Re-ignite your motivation by thinking about the reason you really want to accomplish your goal. Make those motivations into slotras (thoughts you practice thinking), and practice thinking them every day.

And thinking about your goals is not the same as talking about them. I tend to agree with Earl Nightingale, who certainly knew something about accomplishment. He said:

I’ve always felt that glibness is a serious danger to accomplishment. Like a steam valve, if we talk at great length about what we are going to do, we seem to lose just that much steam when it comes to actually doing it.

Make statements about what you will do. This is not only positive, it is future-oriented, so it will bring you up, and it focuses your mind on a definite purposeful action.

Read the next chapter: When You Backslide

This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

Direct Your Mind: What's Good About This? or How Can I MAKE Something Good Out of This?

The compass (and its use in navigation) was developed in the Mediterranean because the sailors there had several disadvantages: very deep water, winds that varied a lot in the winter, and skies that were usually overcast. So you couldn’t reliably navigate by sounding, by the wind, or by the stars. Those were the three ways sailors all over the world used to navigate. In the Indian oceans, the monsoon winds are so regular (they change directions with the seasons) you could easily determine your direction by simply noticing which way the wind was blowing. And they have clear tropical skies so they could usually navigate by the stars.

Northern Europe is on the continental shelves of the Atlantic, so the water is shallow enough that sailors could drop a lead weight attached to a rope to the sea floor to find their depth, and thus could tell where they were by how deep the water was. This was called making a sounding, and it was a very accurate method of locating one’s position in charted waters.

But the sailors of the Mediterranean had to develop some way to navigate without shallow waters, clear skies or predictable winds. And because they had to develop navigation by compass, Spain, which borders both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, was the first to find and colonize the New World.

Without having the know-how to navigate by compass, nobody in their right mind would have sailed across the Atlantic. There would have been no guarantee they’d be able to find their way back. They’d have no familiar landmarks, no soundings would work, wind directions would of course be unknown, and whether or not they’d have clear skies was unknown.

The “disadvantage” of sailing the Mediterranean turned out to be quite an advantage for Spain.

But of course, given the mind’s natural negative bias, I’m sure most people of Spain assumed their sailing conditions were only a disadvantage.

The lesson here is simple: When you think something is a disadvantage, think again. Assume there will be an advantage in it and then find it or make it. This intention is a fundamental key to a good attitude. With it, the inevitable setbacks in life won’t bring you down as much and you will handle problems more effectively.

I know some people would scoff at this idea. It’s too airy-fairy. It might remind them of some annoyingly positive people they know to whom everything is great, but somehow, behind their forced smile, you can see it’s all a facade.

But this idea can be used with depth, rather than as a way to merely show a pleasant face to the world or hide your pain from yourself. It can be done with intelligence and wisdom.

Many people think cynicism and pessimism are good in some ways. But they aren’t good. Negative attitudes are actually dangerous, unhealthy, damaging, and contagious.

In a study at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers interviewed people who had experienced a either a plane crash, a tornado, or a mass shooting. They interviewed the survivors a few weeks after the traumatic event and then again three years later.

In the first interview, some people said something good came out of the event. Some reported they realized life was too short not to pursue their most important goals, or they realized how important their family was to them. Three years later, those were the people who recovered from the trauma most successfully.

In an interview in Psychology Today, Carl Sagan said of his fight with cancer, “This is my third time having to deal with intimations of mortality. And every time it’s a character-building experience. You get a much clearer perspective on what’s important and what isn’t, the preciousness and beauty of life…I would recommend almost dying to everybody. I think it’s a really good experience.”

Think now about something you have that you normally consider a disadvantage...

Are you in debt? Did you have a rough childhood? Were you poor? Didn’t have the advantages wealthier kids had? Do you lack education? Do you have a bad habit? Has something terrible happened to you? Are you frustrated with your career? Not making as much progress as you’d like? Feel stagnant?

Pick one thing in your life you normally think is a bad thing.

Now ask yourself, “What’s good about it?” Or if there is really nothing outright good about it, how could you make something good about it?

If you don’t get a good answer right away, that only means it’s a tough question. And it means when you find a good answer, it will probably make a bigger difference. Try living with the question for several weeks or even months. Ponder it while you drive. Wonder about it while you shower. Ask yourself the question every time you eat breakfast. Live with the question and you will get answers.

And your answers will help you make things turn out better for you. As Klassy often says, “Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.” As I write this, Klassy is at her ill mother’s house, taking care of her, and I only see her on weekends, and not even every weekend. I miss her terribly. Obviously this is a bad thing.

But I’m using this time to work on a book. Instead of moping or simply suffering, I am making the most of it, taking advantage of it. When the ordeal is over, we will have gained a lot from this misfortune. That was my commitment when it started and by thought and action I’m making it come true.

It is not putting your head in the clouds to take advantage of your reality — what you have, where you are, and when you are. It’s an entirely practical way to deal with “disadvantages.”

If you have a tendency to simply feel bad about your disadvantages, even that can become an advantage. Trying to overcome your tendency might teach you something valuable — something you couldn’t have learned without it. And you can teach what you learned to your children, which could make a difference to the whole trajectory of their lives.

Trying to make the best of something that has already happened helps create solutions. It helps make things better. It is even better for your health. It keeps you from feeling as bad when bad stuff happens. It lowers your stress, and less stress is good for you. As Richard H. Hoffmann, MD, said:

The human body is a delicately adjusted mechanism. Whenever its even tenor is startled by some intruding emotion like sudden fright, anger or worry, the sympathetic nervous system flashes an emergency signal and the organs and glands spring into action. The adrenal glands shoot into the blood stream a surcharge of adrenaline which raises the blood sugar above normal needs. The pancreas then secretes insulin to burn the excess fuel. But this bonfire burns not only the excess but the normal supply. The result is a blood sugar shortage and an underfeeding of the vital organs. So the adrenals supply another charge, the pancreas burns the fuel again, and the vicious cycle goes on. This battle of the glands brings on exhaustion.

Frequent negative emotions play havoc on your system. The idea that something good may come from your misfortune allows you to consider that things might not be as bad as they seem at the moment, and in a sense, makes it possible to procrastinate feeling bad. Procrastinate long enough, and you might just skip it altogether. This makes for less stress and better health.

Volunteers at the Common Cold Research Unit in England filled out a questionnaire. The researcher, Sheldon Cohen, discovered that the more positive the volunteers’ attitudes were, the less likely they were to catch a cold. And even when they did catch a cold, the more positive their attitude was, the more mild their symptoms were.


IT WORKS IN BUSINESS TOO

W. Clement Stone became rich selling insurance and then running an insurance company. In one of Stone’s books, he wrote that whenever someone came to him with a problem, he would always say, “That’s good!” This puzzled people sometimes. They might be one of his salespeople talking about a serious problem — a problem that cost Stone’s company a lot of money — and Stone would answer back with enthusiasm: “That’s good!”

Years ago when I first read this, I thought it was over the top. Too much. But I’ve thought a lot about it over the years and I’ve tried it, and I’ve decided that maybe there are some things that sound stupid but are really smart.

When anything happens, usually some aspects of it are an advantage and some aspects are a disadvantage. For example, when you buy a new car, it will probably need less repair work than an older car. That’s one advantage. Maybe it gets better gas mileage. There’s another advantage. But it is more likely to get stolen. That’s a disadvantage. And your insurance payments are higher. You get the idea. The point is, almost any event has both good and bad aspects to it.

When you first hear about a problem, your first reaction is probably to see only the disadvantages. This is a natural reaction. You focus all your attention on the bad aspects of the event. This puts you in a bad mood — a state of mind not only unpleasant as an experience, but also one that makes you less effective at dealing with the problem. If you react like this to unexpected or unfortunate events often or habitually, it will cause extra stress, so it’s bad for your health. The habit would be a good thing to change. I suggest trying Stone’s method. It will take some practice, but it can eventually become a habit.

When a problem lands in your lap, say, “That’s good!” (Note: Don’t necessarily say it out loud. It will make some people mad.) And then immediately start doing two things:

  1. look for the advantages that might be wrapped up in this “problem” (which may be difficult at first), and
  2. look to see how you can turn it to your advantage, and take steps to make it so.

This approach will make you more effective. You can plainly see why. You don’t waste any time bemoaning what already exists, and your thoughts turn immediately to how you can turn it to your advantage. No suffering is endured getting into a worse mood than is absolutely necessary. Your attitude toward the circumstances is open.

Your point of view — whatever it may be — is not something fixed or permanent. It can be changed fairly easily. And when you change the way you think about something, it changes the way you feel about it. And when you change the way you feel about it, your actions change too — in this case, for the better. Try it.

And remember, if you have trouble at first learning to do this, that’s good!


THE ORIGINAL MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION

The people of Japan and Germany were defeated in World War Two. Many of them probably thought this was a bad thing. But aren’t the majority of the people in those countries far better off than they would have been if they had won the war? Wasn’t that really the best thing that could have happened to the majority of the ordinary citizens?

At the time, however, they didn’t know that. And I’m sure many of them were very distressed about this “bad” turn of events.

Haven’t you had a similar experience? Something happened you thought at first was terrible and you got upset about it, but later you were really glad it happened? If you can think of a time when this happened to you, keep that memory in your mind whenever something bad happens.

You don’t know what the future holds. The new “bad” event might be good. I’m not talking about fooling yourself. You’re making an assumption anyway. You really don’t know if this might turn out to your advantage. You might as well assume it will be, and start making it so.

A mistake might not be a mistake. You might think that you should have done this or shouldn’t have done that. But it would be better to ask what advantages your already-done deeds give you and exploit them in the present.

The architect Bonano erected a freestanding bell tower for a cathedral, but he built it on soft subsoil — a bad mistake which made the tower lean over. That mistake created a large tourist industry and put the town on the map. People came from all over the world to see the leaning tower of Pisa. Galileo conducted his famous gravity experiments from that tower because it was leaning.

Of course, an historical example is all fine and well, but what about you? Don’t you have things in your life right now you consider a disadvantage? Aren’t there conditions you “know” are bad? That you wish would go away?

Choose one right now and suspend your negative judgment about it for a moment and ponder this question: Is it possible your disadvantage is an advantage in disguise? Or could you make an advantage out of it?

If you don’t want to ponder this for weeks, you can do a little concentrated pondering. Write this question at the top of a piece of paper, “What is good about this?” And force yourself to come up with 15 answers and write them down.

Then take another piece of paper. At the top write, “How could I turn this into an advantage?” Make yourself come up with 15 more answers.

At the end of this exercise, which will only take you an hour or two, your perspective on the “problem” will be totally altered. The “problem” will have lost most of its power to bring you down. This process can undemoralize you. It can restore lost motivation. It can give you strength and effectiveness and even good feelings.


UNWANTED AND UNLOVED

Irwin Kahn wrote to Dear Abby. When he was ten years old, Irwin’s mother sent him to a children’s home. He was very hurt by this. She kept Irwin’s younger brother and sister, but got rid of him. Ouch! His mom said Irwin was too much of a troublemaker.

He was an emotional mess for a while and developed a severe stuttering problem. But he was assigned a “Big Brother” and the staff of the children’s home were good people, and this combination helped him develop some inner strength and a sense of values.

At age seventeen, he left the home to make his way in the world. “I educated myself,” he said, “overcame my stuttering, became a successful corporate CEO, and now enjoy multimillionaire status. I retired at 52.”

If you think about it, what seemed a terrible disadvantage — being unwanted and unloved — might have been an advantage in disguise. This conclusion seems so much the opposite of what anyone would normally think. But the fact is, he came into the care of people who were devoting their lives to helping others. He came under the influence of a Big Brother who voluntarily and out of genuine kindness spent his time to help a young person. If he hadn’t been rejected by his mother, Irwin would not have met these people or been influenced by them. Instead, he would have been raised by a mother who clearly didn’t care about him.

We’ve got to face the facts: Our natural negative bias makes us automatically reject certain kinds of events, but depending on your attitude, those events could really and truly turn out to contain a hidden advantage which you will only see if you look.

When the energy crisis engulfed the world in the 1970s, Brazil was hurt badly. Oil imports were taking half the available foreign currency, and the country was heavily in debt. But because of the crisis, Brazilians looked elsewhere for fuel. They had to look no further than their own backyard.

One of the things Brazil had was a huge sugar cane crop. So they used it to make alcohol, and started using alcohol as fuel. Today, 90% of cars sold in Brazil run on alcohol, which burns much more cleanly than gas. Almost all the cars sold in Brazil can burn gasoline and ethanol equally well, and most fuel stations sell both. To this day, Brazil is the only country in the world with true fuel competition. It has helped their economy tremendously, especially when oil prices have spiked (something that seriously hurts the rest of the world because there is no widely available alternative fuel that most of the cars can use). Brazil just passed Britain to become the sixth largest economy in the world.

They found advantages in their disadvantage. Because alcohol became their chief fuel, air quality in their cities improved.

The sugar cane is ground to a pulp, and the juice is extracted and fermented. So they had hundreds of thousands of tons of juiceless pulp. They had to pay garbage collectors to take it away.

But you and I have to drill it into our noggins that a disadvantage (like tons of pulp) may be an advantage in disguise if we think that way. Brazilians did. And they found things to do with the pulp. They burn the pulp to generate electricity, relieving the necessity of building new dams on the Amazon river — dams that cause flooding and environmental damage. And burning the pulp adds no permanent carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because the growing plants absorb as much as is released in the burning.

The pulp is also made into a nutritious feed for cattle.

It is an old positive-thinking maxim that “trouble brings the seeds of good fortune.” It may one of those ideas that makes itself true. If you think you can make an advantage out of a disadvantage, you may try, and if you try, you greatly increase the odds of it happening.

But if you close your mind to the situation — if you make up your mind it is just bad — you are less likely to think of a way to turn it to your advantage.

You have something to gain and nothing to lose by taking this idea — that trouble contains the seeds of good fortune — and burning it into your mind. Make it an automatic part of your thinking. Practice asking the question, “What’s good about this?” Make the question come to mind naturally and easily. Have it so ingrained that it is your first thought when trouble comes your way. It will give you power to overcome difficulties and prevent life from sinking you into the quicksand of despair. It will give you a path to better future.

When Henry Ford was running the Ford Motor Company, he had to overcome one problem after another (just like the rest of us). He was exceptionally good at turning problems into opportunities. For example, on their lunch hour some of his employees used the scrap wood left over from making dashboards and burned it as firewood. They cooked their lunches with it.

The problem was all the charcoal left over. It was starting to accumulate. Ford needed to get rid of it. But how?

His first idea was to make his dealers take it. He said for every train carload of his cars they bought, they had to take a carload of charred wood with it. How they disposed of it would be their problem. As you can guess, this didn’t go over very well with the dealers.

Eventually, Ford’s “problem” was solved — in a very profitable way. A friend of Ford’s, Mr. E.G. Kingsford, bought the charcoal and packaged it with a little grill and some lighter fluid and sold it in supermarkets. Kingsford briquettes have been earning a healthy profit ever since.

By thinking about it, a problem became an opportunity in disguise. Ford actually profited from his “problem.”

The actor Edward James Olmos grew up in East L.A. and his parents divorced when he was seven. He lived with ten other people in a three-room house (including the kitchen) with a dirt floor. Growing up this way is obviously a disadvantage, right? Olmos sees it differently, and that’s why he is successful. He said, “Some people say they didn’t have a choice. They’re poor or brown or crippled. They had no parents. Well, you can use any one of those excuses to keep your life from growing. Or you can say, ‘Okay, this is where I am, but I’m not going to let it stop me. Instead, I’m gonna turn it around and make it my strength.’ That’s what I did.”

Sometimes there is a blessing to trouble without any intention to make it that way. You might get in a fender-bender and the cop who shows up asks you out on a date and you end up marrying.

But often, when something bad happens, it’s just bad, or at least it seems that way. There doesn’t seem to be anything redeeming about it. And since we’re usually in a negative state of mind when trouble strikes, we’re in no mood to try to find anything redeeming about it!

Here’s the problem with that: Your mind will tend to see what you expect to see, unless you have strong and clear evidence to the contrary.

If you see the “bad” event as bad, you are not likely to get any clear evidence you’re wrong. It happens sometimes, but not very often. Since there is no obvious reality to confirm or contradict your opinion, your mind is free to see what’s bad about the situation, and equally free to ignore what might be good about it. And that’s exactly what your mind will do if you don’t do anything to stop it.

And by seeing what’s bad, sometimes you can actually make the situation worse. If you think it’s bad and you throw in the towel, you might miss what you could have done to solve the problem, or even turn it to your advantage. And by not doing anything, sometimes the problem can get worse.

This question, “What’s good about this?” makes you open your eyes and see what opportunities you might be able to cultivate. It turns your attention to the future, to doing something about it. It changes your attitude from one of avoidance and rejection to one of acceptance and alertness. It puts you in a better frame of mind for dealing with the “trouble.”

When something “bad” happens, you can accept that it’s bad, or you can try to concentrate on what is good about it, or you can make something good out of it.

Am I beating this to death? Maybe so. But then tomorrow when someone doesn’t call you back or you burn your dinner or you see your child’s report card and it’s bad, how will you react?

If you take this idea and make it an ingrained part of your thinking, you can take many of the circumstances that in the past would have just been unfortunate, and you can change them into something that creates benefits for you and the people around you. And maybe for the world at large. At the very least, it will change your attitude for the better.

There are some things that “everyone knows” are bad: a home burned to the ground, a divorce, a lost job, a sick child, and there are millions of smaller inconveniences that if you asked 100 people, 99 of them would all agree that yes, those are definitely bad and there is nothing good about them. But what everyone agrees about isn’t necessarily true.


DO NOT STOP YOURSELF

You may already know that “assuming the worst” is bad for your life, but maybe you don’t know how to stop yourself from doing it. The negative assumptions come automatically and once you think that way, it’s difficult to make the thoughts go away.

But now you have a way to do it. Don’t try to stop thinking anything. Trying not to think something negative makes you fixate on the negative. There is a better way.

Simply ask yourself the question, “What’s good about this?” Or even, “What might be good about this?” And keep asking it over and over. Not forcing. Not with any frustration. Not trying to stop yourself from thinking anything else. Just calmly repeat that question to yourself. Keep looking at your life through this question. Ponder it.

Keep doing that when troubles big and small come your way and after awhile — a month, a year — you’ll start thinking that way automatically. You will start to trust it. It will become a natural part of your thinking. Trouble will happen and you’ll automatically and naturally start wondering what is good about it or how you can turn it to your advantage.

Can you imagine what that will do to your calm during a crisis? Can you imagine how much better you will be at keeping your wits about you?

Ask the question. All by itself, it can transform the quality of your experience, and through the change in your experience, it will change your attitude, your expressions, your behavior, alter the actions you take, and through those, actually change the world you live in, and it will benefit others. When something “bad” happens, ask the question, “What’s good about this?”

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For 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.

We Can Free Ourselves of the Oil Monopoly

I'm reading the book, Salt: A World History. It's more interesting than you might think. Because the primary method of preserving food for most of human history was using salt, it was the most important commodity on earth. Milk was preserved with it as cheese. Vegetables were preserved by pickling, which required salt. Meat and fish were preserved with salt. It was vitally important and became more so as time went on, right up until the Civil War, when other ways of preserving food became widespread (like canning and eventually refrigeration).

One of the things that surprised me was how many times and places in history someone tried (and sometimes succeeded) gaining a monopoly on salt production or distribution. It was such a vital commodity that tremendous wealth and power could be gained from a monopoly of salt.

As other ways of preserving food became available, salt lost its exalted status. Nobody really cares who (if anyone) controls the salt market.

The new vitally important commodity is transportation fuel. Everybody needs it. And one fuel dominates. Almost all forms of transportation in the world — 95% of the trains, planes, ships, cars, trucks — run on petroleum. Other viable fuels are available, but the vehicles themselves are made to only burn one. It is a virtual monopoly.

On top of that, OPEC formed a cartel to illegally control the price of oil.

When a commodity is important enough, someone will always try to control it, monopolize it or corner the market in one way or another. The English did it with salt, the French did it, different cities did it back to ancient times, China did it, the Mayans did it, the Aztecs did it. Anyone in power wanted to do it or tried to do it. Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt: A World History, wrote:

The earliest evidence that has been found of Mayan salt production is dated at about 1000 B.C., but remains of earlier saltworks have been found in non-Mayan Mexico such as Oaxaca. It may be an exaggeration to claim that the great Mayan civilization rose and fell over salt. However, it rose by controlling salt production and prospered on the ability to trade salt, flourishing in spite of constant warfare over control of salt sources. By the time Europeans arrived, the civilization was in a state of decline, and one of the prime indicators of this was a breakdown in its salt trade.


The same kind of thing can be found throughout history all over the world. It looks like a fact of life: Someone will try to gain and hold a monopoly on any important commodity. And if we (the people using the commodity) don't want to be the victims of a monopoly, it is up to us to stop it. But how?

Kurlansky wrote, "The Aztecs controlled the salt routes by military power and were able to deny their enemies, such as Tlxalacaltecas, access to salt." Before Europeans discovered America, a tribe in central America — the Tlatoque — refused to participate in the Aztecs salt monopoly. They deliberately avoided using salt.

Kurlansky wrote, "The Spanish took power by taking over the saltworks of the indigenous people they conquered. Cortes, who came from southern Spain, not far from both Spanish and Portuguese saltworks, understood the power and politics of salt. He observed with admiration how the Tlatoque had maintained their independence and avoided the oppression of the Aztecs by abstaining from salt."

We may not be able to abstain from oil, but as Korin and Luft argue in their book, Turning Oil Into Salt, we can certainly add enough competition to break the monopoly and strip oil of its strategic status and thus make the OPEC cartel no longer capable of controlling the price of transportation fuel.

We can become free of oil's monopoly by expanding fuel competition until oil is only one of many viable fuels used by combustion engines, just as salt is now only one of many ways to keep food from spoiling. Fuel competition can free us from the monopoly and its economy-smothering, national security-weakening, pocket-emptying effects.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Nitric Oxide: A Unifying Principle of Health

Nitric oxide is a unifying principle behind so many things we know are good for us, like probiotics and exercising and drinking more water and eating vegetables. What these all have in common is: They increase the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

And nitric oxide has a lot of different, significantly positive effects.

We’ve got all these different diets that have been proven to help people live longer and healthier, like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet and vegetarianism. What they have in common is an emphasis on foods that increase the amount of nitric oxide in your blood, in your cells and in your brain.

When the research first started, not many scientists thought nitric oxide was even worth looking at. Only about 40 research papers a year were being published on the subject — most of them coming from a single lab. When that lab’s scientists won the Nobel Prize for its work on nitric oxide, it electrified the scientific community. Five years later, more than 7,500 papers a year were being published about nitric oxide.

The number of things scientists have discovered that improve when you have more nitric oxide in your body is really impressive. People sleep better, they have more energy, they’re in better moods, they have less heart disease, less cancer, and have a better long-term memory. Nitric oxide plays an important role in your immune system — it kills bacteria and viruses and promotes the healing of wounds and injuries. It also helps people lose weight by stimulating the burning of fat. It keeps the veins free of plaque. It can delay or even prevent atherosclerosis. It makes your blood vessels dilate, which lowers your blood pressure. It increases blood flow, increasing endurance and strength.

One of the men who won the Nobel Prize (for discovering the effect nitric oxide has inside the human body) said he believes heart disease can be essentially eliminated by doing things that keep your nitric oxide level high. That’s a big statement from someone with his credentials.

Nitric oxide also functions as a neurotransmitter, helping to process nerve signals as they cross synapses.

The first thing researchers discovered is that nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, which means it relaxes the smooth muscle cells that line arteries, veins and lymphatic channels, allowing blood, nutrients, and oxygen to flow more easily through your body. Nitric oxide also prevents blood clotting, so it reduces the chance of heart attacks and strokes. It can lower your cholesterol level. It also prevents bad cholesterol from oxidizing into even worse artery-clogging forms. It lowers the risk of diabetes.

It also triggers the pituitary gland to release human growth hormone, which stimulates your body to build and repair and heal your muscle, bone and skin.

Nitric oxide is a signaling compound. The body uses it as a communication device. The strange thing is that it's a gas. It is released by your body into your body as a gas. That’s why it was hard to discover — the molecule’s life span is only a second or two.

There are many different pathways for raising the amount of nitric oxide in your body. For example, some foods, like spinach and beets, contain a high amount of nitrite and nitrate, which your body can convert into nitric oxide. Some of that conversion occurs in your mouth by probiotic bacteria in your saliva.

When you drink enough water, it helps the enzymes that convert a particular amino acid (L-Arginine) into nitric oxide do their job more effectively. So by drinking more water, it raises your nitric oxide level.

Some foods (like pumpkin seeds) contain more of that protein, L-Arginine, than others. If you eat more of that protein, you’ll have more of the raw material your body needs to make nitric oxide. Some foods (like watermelon) contain L-citrulline, which helps make the enzyme that your body uses to convert L-Arginine into nitric oxide. Some foods like blueberries and cherries contain anthocyanins, which prevent nitric oxide from being oxidized too quickly, which allows it to have more of a positive effect on your body.

When you exercise moderately, it stimulates your body to produce more nitric oxide. If you exercise too vigorously, it produces too many free radicals, and actually lowers the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

Fasting stimulates your body to produce nitric oxide.

Just about anything known to be good for you probably increases nitric oxide in your body. Turmeric, for example, raises the amount of nitric oxide in your body. Leafy green vegetables contain a high amount of nitrite and nitrate that your body can convert into nitric oxide. Apples contain polyphenols that help your saliva convert those nitrates and nitrites into nitric oxide.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Since there is bacteria in your saliva that convert nitrate and nitrite into nitric oxide, when you use a mouthwash, it lowers the amount of nitric oxide in your body.

Here’s another one: Caffeine increases your blood vessels’ output of nitric oxide.

Are you as intrigued about this as I am? It all sounds good, of course, but is it safe? Can you have too much nitric oxide?

Louis Ignarro, the man I mentioned above, who won the Nobel Prize (along with two of his colleagues), said: "At extraordinarily high concentrations, nitric oxide is toxic. These levels, however, cannot be reached through the body’s internal mechanisms for producing nitric oxide from either food and supplement intake or from exercise. At relatively low levels within the body — the kind that can be attained through foods, supplements, and exercise — nitric oxide can dramatically influence our health in positive ways."

I mentioned that all the diets known to reduce heart disease and cancer have nitric oxide in common, but not all the foods in those diets are high in nitric oxide. So this discovery allows us to be more precise with our diet. There are other factors in food that are good for you, of course, but a big one has been hidden because it’s a gas, and now that we know about it, we can make even better choices.

It’s worth looking into and Ignarro's book — No More Heart Disease — is a good place to start.

Listen to this article as a podcast by clicking here.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For 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.