Direct Your Mind: Could I Just Do Part Of It For Now?

THE TIME-management expert, Alan Lakein, calls this the "Swiss Cheese" method. You poke a hole in your project. After you poke enough holes in a project, there isn't much left. A large project becomes easier and easier to tackle the more holes you poke in it. Also, when you don’t have the time or motivation to tackle your project, you can do some small thing that moves it forward, even a little, and that will do two things: It will improve your mood, and it will make the project a little less intimidating.

This question keeps you moving. It keeps you making progress.

One of Lakein's techniques is to set a timer for five minutes, and work on your project until the time is up. Because it is so brief, you are not at all intimidated. Five minutes. You can stand just about anything for five measly minutes.

Often you'll find that once your five minutes are up, you don't really want to stop. But by giving yourself such a small goal to begin with, you are able to get something done. Without that technique, you would have gotten nothing done on that project.

And working on your project for even five minutes gets you thinking about it, which is usually a good thing.

We tend to think about projects as a whole. This question gets us thinking about doing smaller parts of the whole. Do you have a large project you've been putting off because it is such a large project and you don't want to get started? Ponder this question. Can you do something on it for five minutes? Can you do a small part of it for now?


Direct Your Mind: How Can I Look At This As a Good Thing?

ON AN old radio show, back in the days before television, The Amos and Andy Show was extremely popular. It was a comedy show, but sometimes they said something profound. In one show, Amos asked the Kingfish why he had such good judgment. The Kingfish replied, “Well, good judgment comes from experience.”

“Then,” asked Amos, “where does experience come from?”

“From bad judgment,” answered the Kingfish.

There’s always something to learn from misfortune. And that’s what this article is about: Dealing with adversity and setbacks. Dealing with events you didn’t want to happen.

The Kingfish pointed out one way you can always look at a setback as a good thing: You can learn something from it. At the very least, you can learn how to avoid having the same setback twice. But if you use your imagination, you can do better than that. Before you even see how something turns out, you can find ways of looking at an event that would make you feel good about it, even when it is obviously bad.

I’ll give you some examples in a minute, but I want you to see that if a “bad” thing has already happened, there’s no point in thinking of it as bad. Thinking it’s bad doesn’t help you to correct the problem, if it can be corrected. And if it can’t be corrected, it still doesn’t help you to think of it as a bad thing. People can learn and remember just fine when they feel good. You don’t have to feel bad to learn from your mistakes. In fact, people tend to learn better in a positive frame of mind than a negative one.

So there is no good reason to ever hold onto the judgment of a situation or event in your life as bad, awful, terrible, tragic, unfortunate, or lousy. It doesn’t do you any good to consider an event that has already happened to be bad.

You can find a way to look at anything that happens to you as good, and people who are habitually successful and happy do exactly that. You notice I said “anything that happens to you.” If someone you loves dies, do not try to see it as good. You probably wouldn’t anyway, but this is a disclaimer to let you know I’m not a nut case. When something terrible happens to someone you care about, this question is probably not appropriate. The question is for events that happen to you personally.

Sometimes you'll hear someone say, “I’m glad that terrible accident happened to me; it made me aware that my priorities were wrong.” And people who find meaning and value in even “bad” things in their lives are happier and more successful than those who just think it was a terrible misfortune.

And it’s not a matter of chance which way they look at it. It’s up to each person how they will look at their circumstances. We have the choice, and we will live with the feelings that spring out of the choices we make.

If we take the easy way and choose to look at a “bad” thing as bad, we will get the results of the easy way: Bad feelings. But if we use our heads with a little more vigor, if we make the effort to actively look for what’s good about it, if we choose to find a way to look at it as a positive thing, we will get the results of that choice too: It will be easier to wake up in the morning, we will be nicer to the people we love, we will take advantage of what we do have in our lives, and we will feel better in general.

You can ask yourself, How can I look at this as a good thing? Or you can simply assert to yourself, This is good! and then ask yourself why it’s good. Declare it’s good, and then allow your mind to find how you’re right. Either way works well.

Try it right now. Think of something in your life that you consider “bad.” It could be a condition you’ve lived with for some time, or something that happened recently you don’t like and wished hadn’t happened.

I’ll go along with you. I was a little curt with my sister-in-law, and now she’s not talking to me. Obviously that’s bad. Any idiot can see it’s bad. Only a starry-eyed goober would say that’s good. But I’m going to try to see what’s good about it. And come along with me, bringing the thing you think is bad with you. How can you look at it as a good thing?

How can I see it as good that I have this situation with my sister-in-law? Well, I can see right off the bat, I get to use it as an example in this article. Not only that, but it may be an opportunity to apply some of the other principles in my toolbox and might give me some good examples for those also.

How else? Hmm. Well, I really haven’t gotten to know my sister-in-law very well as of yet, mainly because we live in different cities. And I know that sometimes in working out a conflict, people get to know each other a lot better, and there’s no reason to think this won’t happen with us. I can see it as good because it is an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and at a deeper, less superficial level.

How else can I look at it as a good thing?

What about you? Have you found ways to look at yours is a good thing? Be creative. Look at it from outside your own perspective. If a professor of psychology knew about your situation, assume she could see it as good. How would she explain her position to you?

If everything is easy, I have no opportunity to apply what I’ve learned. In applying what I’ve learned, I learn it better. In handling a difficult situation, I can take knowledge and turn it into skill. From this perspective, anything difficult is good. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me strong.” Although that statement isn’t strictly true, the attitude is a good perspective to adopt when difficulties come your way.

I tell you truthfully, if you make these principles a part of your thinking, you’ll be unsuppressible, unstoppable, and you will feel pretty good almost all the time. No kidding. The way you think makes a difference. And each principle is like another plug in the bottom of your bucket. Less and less of your happiness leaks out as more and more of these principles become a part of your thinking.

I know that some of them were a part of your thinking before you found, although you probably don’t have them worded exactly this way. I haven’t put in principles like "I can change my own life for the better" because you already think that way or you wouldn’t be reading this article. You already think in a healthier way than many people who wouldn’t bother looking at this site because they think "I’m just the way I am and I can never change."

You also already know that even if you are doing better than most, you can always get better. And each new principle, repeated many times, is a solid step in that direction. This one (How can I look at this as a good thing?) is extremely useful.

This is a principle of thought. And thinking is most creative when it is a dialog — specifically, asking and answering questions. That’s how to do your most productive creative thinking: Ask yourself a question and then try to answer it.

For example, Sylvia has just been fired. She is on her way home from her ex-job. But she asks herself, almost with bitter sarcasm at first, “How can I look at this as a good thing?”

Sometimes when your body is filled with a negative emotion, a question like this won’t have a good effect right away. Don’t give up. Ask it again. And again.

“This isn’t a good thing,” thinks Sylvia, “not a good thing at all. ‘But how can I look at this as a good thing?’” She just needs to keep asking. She needs to awaken the part of her brain that answers questions.

And it is awake! “Maybe I’ll get a better job,” she says to herself without much conviction.

Ask it again! Keep asking the question. Sylvia does, and her mind turns more and more to the question, and it stops mulling her misfortune and stops moaning about how wronged she has been, and turns slowly toward the question. Then her mind kicks in and starts bringing up answers, slowly at first, and then faster and faster.

“There were a lot of things I didn’t like about that job. Now I have an opportunity to start over. It’s a good thing I got fired. I should have moved on from there long ago, but I guess I was just being lazy. This could be the best thing that could have happened to me. Maybe I should sit down and carefully decide what kind of job I want to get, and what kind of company I'd like to work for..."

And so on. Once the mind gets going, it can really come up with some good stuff.

Ask yourself: How can I look at this as a good thing? And keep asking.


Direct Your Mind: What Good Have I Been Ignoring?

WE ARE nearing the end of my list of recommended questions to ask. Remember, the principle is to direct your mind by using a good question. Read more about the principle here. This question is one of my favorites. What good have I been ignoring? The answers go on and on, improving my mood the whole time. I keep thinking of more and more good things I've been ignoring. The question almost demands it.

The emotional fallout from this question is abundant good feelings of happiness, gratitude, and pleasant surprise. When you ask a question like this, you’ll find answers everywhere. The question makes you look. You’ll realize someone has done something nice for you and you hadn’t really noticed. You’ll remember a great time you had a couple weeks ago and realize you hadn’t thought of it since then.

The question sets your mind to be on the lookout for good you’ve overlooked. You’ll notice good news items you might not normally notice, like how this lake got cleaned up or that disease now has a cure. The question helps overcome a natural tendency of the mind to get used to good things and only notice bad things. Read more about the mind's negative bias here.

What has been improving? What’s been getting better?

Ask this question, think of some answers, and ask it again.

This is especially a good question to ask if you’ve had your attention on what has been getting worse, or if you've had a feeling things are going badly, or you’re worried they will go badly.

This question won’t solve all your problems, of course, but it can reduce the amount of distress you’re feeling by widening the tunnel vision stress causes. You’re not trying to fool yourself or pretend everything is rosy. You’re looking to acknowledge the reality of what has been getting better.

When those are acknowledged, you are less distressed and more able to make things even better. And it is good for your mood. A good mood is healthy and productive. What good have you been ignoring?