By perseverance the snail reached the ark.


Take It Easy, but Take It

Going "cold turkey" on negative thoughts may be too much for some people. The nature of their thinking may be so negative that trying to stop all at once would leave them nothing to think about.

In such cases, replacing negative thoughts with a positive focus can be done more gradually, in two phases--first, taking the new steps and, second, maintaining the progress of the previously taken steps.

The following is not a definitive plan--it's more of a sample outline. You can modify the ideas here to suit your personal recovery program.

  1. Start by simply noticing when you are thinking negatively. You don't have to do anything about it; just observe when it's going on. Rather than saying, "I'm justifiably upset over what's happening," say, "I'm really reacting negatively to this." Begin to notice that it's not what's happening but how you're reacting that's causing the problem.

  2. Pause before thinking negatively. When you notice yourself starting to get agitated, tell yourself, "I'm going to wait two minutes before getting upset." Think about something else--something uplifting--for two minutes, then get flustered. Gradually work up to three minutes, then four, then five. Even if you start by putting just a few seconds between your automatic reaction and your postponed reaction, you are starting to take conscious control over the response. (It helps to have a prepared list of uplifting thoughts to focus on. Keep your "book of good things" close at hand.)

    Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little.

    46-120 A.D.

  3. Declare "negative-free zones" throughout the day. Plan two-minute segments throughout the day in which you entertain not a single negative thought. For these moments, focus so intently on the positive that negative thoughts have no place to exist. Increase the duration and frequency of these positive periods.

  4. Pick minor areas you won't think negatively about anymore. Choose certain categories of thought you simply refuse to think negatively about. Start with areas that are not of critical importance to you. If you only occasionally get upset about, say, television commercials, tell yourself, "No matter how dumb, stupid, boring, condescending, or misleading I find a television commercial, I will not get upset about it." Gradually expand your list until it includes all nonessential areas of your life. Make lists. If you find yourself thinking negatively about an area on your list, stop.

  5. Increase the duration of "negative-free zones." Add a minute each day to your positive periods so that, eventually, you only have to think negatively a few times per day.

  6. Save negative thoughts for certain times in the day. Set aside, say, four periods of fifteen minutes each in which you will think only negatively. Postpone all negative thinking until one of these times. Make a list of what you have to think negatively about so you won't forget. Do not add to the agenda items from areas you decided not to think negatively about anymore. Those are off limits, even during "the negative hour." If you don't get to everything on your list within one period, table it until your next meeting. Allow yourself one "emergency session" per day.

    I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.


  7. Add more central areas of your life to the "verboten" list. Decide you'll do no more negative thinking about, say, an important relationship; then extend the ban to all relationships. Gradually fold in business, money, health, death. Focus only on the positive aspects of these areas.

Plan so that everything winds up on the "think only positive" list at the same time as the scheduled "negative hours" are reduced to zero.

Congratulations. You are now free of the addiction of negative thinking.

Will you still have negative thoughts? Sure. But, as time goes on, you'll catch yourself sooner and the periods of negative thinking will be shorter. Also, positive focusing will lessen the intensity of the negative periods. A situation that would have had you fuming for days now has you percolating for only an hour. Something that would have had you terrified for several hours now has you worried for only a few minutes.

"I'm going to focus more and more on the positive aspects of life," is a life-long adventure.

Positive attitudes-- optimism, high self-esteem, an outgoing nature, joyousness, and the ability to cope with stress-- may be the most important bases for continued good health.


Keep Track of Negative Thoughts

If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.


If there's an area of negative thinking causing you trouble, keep track of it. Every time you have a negative thought in that area, make a tick mark on an index card reserved especially for that purpose.

At the end of the day you'll have a good idea how many times you thought negatively about that area. The number may surprise you. Sometimes seeing in black and white how much time we're wasting and harm we're doing to ourselves makes us realize enough is enough.

You can continue to keep a card a day on that area of thinking. It will chart your progress. You can look back over a month of cards and see how you're doing. It's a good feedback system. If the tick marks are increasing or staying about the same, maybe you need to do more to eliminate the negative thoughts. If the tick marks are decreasing (as they probably will be--simple awareness can be curative), congratulations are in order.

You can keep multiple cards if you like--one for each troublesome area of negative thinking.

Watching the number of tick marks decrease is a wonderful reminder that not only can you do it, but you've already done it. If you can do it in one area, you can do it in any area.

The Power of Partnership

One's friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human.


Let's face it--taking dominion over our thought process (the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master) is not only challenging but, well, unusual.

If a friend asks, "What new?" and you answer, "Oh, I'm breaking my addiction to negative thinking so I can be more healthy, wealthy, and happy," you may be met by a blank stare and a "Huh?" (On the other hand, your friend may say, "It's about time!")

When starting something that's both challenging and unusual, it helps to have support. We've already discussed how helpful a good therapist can be. Later we'll be taking a closer look at the value of groups.

Now I'd like to explore the power of partnerships. Find one or two or three people you can form a close alliance with, people who are moving in the direction of a more positive focus.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.


Speak with these people at regular, agreed-upon intervals--daily, if possible. It's sometimes best if at least one partner is not part of your regular circle of family and friends. That way you can be totally candid without fear of anything being repeated, however unintentionally, and offending mutual acquaintances.

Don't gather too many positive-focusing partners--you're going for depth of relationship, not quantity. It is good, however, to have two or three just in case one decides to "drop out." (The road to positivity is strewn with the abandoned vehicles of the faint-hearted.)

What do you talk about in your daily or thrice-weekly discussions? Why, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, of course. "I'm so proud about . . . " "I really blew it when . . . " "I can't find a way out of this . . . " "I found it helpful to . . . "

Chatter, laughter, swapping war stories, sharing secrets, giving and receiving support--all done in an atmosphere of nonjudgment, unconditional caring, and the knowledge that "we may not have come here on the same ship, but we're all in the same boat."

Two important points:

One, talk to each of your partners at least three times a week. This gives a sense of continuity, of flow. You can discuss the details of life that are often forgotten in less-frequent talks.

Two, keep your agreements with each other. If you say, "Tuesday at four," mean it. Keep it. Honoring your commitment creates a foundation of trust on which the partnership can build.

Burn 'Em

Necessary, forever necessary, to burn out false shames and smelt the heaviest ore of the body into purity.


If one area of thought seems to be troubling you more than others, here's a good technique for lessening the power the thoughts have over you.

Get a clean sheet of paper and write down everything terrible about the situation. No one else will read it, not even you, so be as candid as you can. Don't worry about grammar or spelling or penmanship.

Include all the loaded words you can find. Get really negative. Add invectives, insults, profanity, abuses, railings, billingsgates, contumelies, obloquies, revilements, scurrilities, vituperations, curses, oaths, epithets, blasphemies, expletives, and swearwords. (Aren't thesauruses wonderful?) Get it all out of you and onto the paper.

Then burn it.

Don't reread it. Don't make a copy for your files (no matter how eloquently you expressed your wrath). Just burn it.

Burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!".


I hope I don't have to drag out Smokey the Bear or Sparkey the Fire Dog to tell you how to do this safely. Over the toilet bowl is a good place. You might want to hold the paper with a pair of tongs from the kitchen. ("Tina! Bring me my tongs!") After the ashes drop in the toilet, you have the extra satisfaction of flushing it.

If burning is not possible, tearing the paper into little pieces works just as well. If you can't write, dictate into a tape recorder whatever's bothering you and destroy or erase the tape.

This process does two things--it gets the negative thoughts outside of and away from you. Then it destroys them.

The fountain of content must spring up in the mind; and he who has so little knowledge of human nature as to see his happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he proposes to remove.


A variation on this is to get a package of cigarette papers. Each time a negative thought appears from your "trouble area," write it on the cigarette paper and burn it over a large ash tray. It's a good idea to use tweezers or tongs to hold the paper--cigarette paper burns quickly, and you've already been burned enough by your negative thoughts.

To save matches, have a candle burning. Let the flame represent the light of who you are, eliminating the darkness of your addiction.

Activities That Contribute to Negative Thinking

I'm glad I don't have to explain to a man from Mars why each day I set fire to dozens of little pieces of paper, and then put them in my mouth.


Anything you abuse or overindulge in contributes to your negative thinking. Overindulgence reaffirms unworthiness. It is a physical affirmation: "I'm not worthy to control my life."

I don't have to tell you what those activities are for you. You know. They're the ones about which you've said, "I know this is a bad habit, but . . . " and "I wish I didn't do this, but . . . " and "I know this isn't good for me, but . . . ."

It's time to get off your buts.

I'll list some of the popular abuses. Yours may or may not be among them, but you'll get the idea. The idea? Stop it. Knock it off. It may be killing you. That's the negative way of putting it.

The positive way? You have authority and dominion over your life. You have the power, the right and, yes, the obligation to do only those things you know to be uplifting and life-enhancing. You are stronger than anything that gets in the way of your achieving this goal.

Smoking. Every smoker knows the multiple health dangers associated with smoking. To continue smoking, then, is an ongoing affirmation of illness. Every time smokers light up, the message they're giving themselves is, "I'm not worthy of health. I'm not able to control my hands, much less myself." By the very action of lighting up, smokers admit tobacco is a more powerful influence on their lives than they themselves are. This admission may do more harm than the physiological effects of the smoke. Stopping smoking is easy. You simply never put a lit cigarette in your mouth ever again. Period. It's getting to that point that's difficult.

Tell him to live by yes and no-- yes to everything good, no to everything bad.

William James

Drug and alcohol abuse. If you automatically turn to drugs and/or alcohol in times of trouble, or if you find using them negatively affects your work, your relationships, or your general well-being, you're abusing them. The physiological effects of drug and alcohol abuse make it difficult for the abuser to hold positive thoughts. The residual toxicity of the chemicals in the body makes toxic thinking easy. This is why drug and alcohol dependence often needs dramatic, outside support--joining Alcoholics Anonymous or checking into a treatment hospital such as the Betty Ford Clinic. The cure, however, is easier than solving the primary problem--to admit that there's a problem in the first place.

Hanging out with negative people. Negative thinking is one of the most contagious diseases around. As George Herbert pointed out in 1651, "He that lies with the dogs, riseth with fleas." If youspend time with negative people, sooner or later you'll be thinking negative thoughts. To support their own weaknesses, people often gravitate toward similar people. "But everyone I know ____________." You can fill in the blank with the addictive behavior of your choice. "We can't all be wrong!" Every lemming thinks that about all the other lemmings as they head for the cliff. As you change your thinking, you may have to change some of your "friends." I put friends in quotes because the severe way some negative people criticize the positive movement of those around them I would hardly call friendly. And, by "changing friends" I mean finding new ones, not changing the thinking of the ones you have. If they want to change their thinking, they will. Give them a copy of this book. If they're ready, they'll act on it. If they're not, they probably won't even read it. So let it go. Changing your own thinking is a full-time occupation.

Compulsive sex. Some people seek sexual highs the same way drug and alcohol abusers seek chemical highs. Just because sex is "natural" (non-chemical) doesn't mean it can't be abused. It can. What you do sexually is not the issue. Why you do it is. Is it an expression of love for another, or is it a way of avoiding some inner feeling--loneliness, for example? Compulsive sex, like any lust, carries the message: "I'm not enough as I am. I need something or someone out there to make me happy. Without that, I'm worthless."

A great many people have asked how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated.


Workaholism. Is your work an expression of who you are, or is it the only place in your life you feel "in control"? People who work too much often do so from a desperate need to prove they are worthy. "I've done all this--see? I am worthy." The problem is, no accomplishment is ever good enough for these people. As one goal is about to be reached, a new, more difficult goal replaces it. The real problem, however, is that they never believe they are worthwhile just as they are. Worthiness is; it doesn't have to be earned or proven. If your work is your play and also your personal expression of life, then spending long hours at it is fine. So many people, however, hide from themselves in work that the term workaholic isnow part of the language.

Complacency. Chronic inaction in areas you know need attention can be an addiction. Some people become habitually lethargic. Not taking an action becomes an automatic response. This stems from the belief, "I can't do it." Not doing anything "proves" the belief to be true, thereby strengthening the response that's there's no reason to respond. The habit of complacency is solved through action--physically moving and doing something. If the habit is strong, it may feel at first as though you're moving through Jell-O--every motion in every direction seems to have something pulling against it. That's the habit. You're stronger than it is. Keep moving. Set yourself a reasonable task and complete it. Then another. Then another. Show yourself you can do it, because you can.


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Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.

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