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The 20-Minute Exercise To Eradicate Negative Thinking

Belief is contagious. It wins supporters. It’s self-fulfilling. Here's how to get there when nagging, negative thoughts are holding you back.

After a flurry of emails in response to my blog post on passion, I reached a disheartening realization: Passion is useless if you don’t already believe.

You see, what we can achieve is limited by what we believe. Henry Ford knew this: "Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right."

So here I was, passionately committed to become the world-class business guru, best-selling author, the speaker who fills stadiums. And yet there was voice telling me, "You can’t do it. Keep trying, trying is fun, but in the end you will fail."

You’ve probably heard that voice as well.

I’m making progress—my book sales are accelerating, my keynote audiences are growing, and I’m sharing the stage with people like Jack Welch and Robin Sharma—but in the back of my mind the voice pulls the reins: "You can’t do it."

Great "outthinkers" seem to overcome this voice. Their belief matches their passion. Napoleon believed he was the greatest general of his time and so he was. Steve Jobs believed his people could achieve the impossible, so they did. Richard Branson believed he could win against British Airways, and so he won, even though every airline that tried over the prior three decades failed.

Belief is contagious. It wins supporters. It’s self-fulfilling. As Harvard professor Rosebeth Moss Kanter shows in her book Confidence, the belief you can win creates momentum which improves your chances of winning.

So what do you do when you don’t believe?

Over the past four weeks, I’ve studied books and articles, interviewed entrepreneurs and experts, then assembled it all for you in a simple framework with which you can systematically attack whatever belief is holding you down. Give me 20 minutes. This works.


1. Beliefs aren’t real. They are mental maps, abstractions of reality, that help us predict a complex world. My son believes good batteries must be cold because I keep ours in the freezer. He believes Santa Claus rides a sleigh.

2. Four anchors form our beliefs (For more, read Why We Believe What We Believe by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman).

  • Evidence: Something happens (e.g., gifts appear one morning and my mom says they are from Santa Claus)
  • Logic: It makes sense, more specifically, it is consistent with our other beliefs (e.g., gifts can’t just appear out of nowhere, my mom and dad were must have been Santa)
  • Emotion: Strong emotional associations (a 3-year-old’s joy at getting a new choo choo) embed beliefs more indelibly
  • Social consensus: We believe more deeply if others believe too (e.g., Maria and Nico and Sofia all say Santa brought them gifts too)

3. We reject what doesn’t fit. Once a belief is formed, we explain away any inconsistent evidence. I saw a documentary in which a young child said to his friends, "Santa came to my house and ate a little bit of a cookie, then he went to Jack’s house and ate a little bit and drank some milk, then to Maria’s and ate some and then...So if he went to ALL of our houses in one night, it must mean—" You are sure he is about to realize Santa can’t be real, but instead he animates excitedly, "Santa must have been really hungry!"

4. Humans need consistency between beliefs, actions, and words. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini calls this "The Rule of Consistency." This is how beliefs hold us down or lift us up. If you believe you can’t, you start acting and speaking like someone who can’t, so you actually can’t. Interestingly, the relationship also works in reverse: Change your action or words and you can change your beliefs.

The Model

Over a 12-hour flight home from Paraguay, I assembled these principles into a model we can use to deconstruct and replace any belief that holds us down. It is simpler than it looks.

Imagine a hot air balloon being held down by four anchors. The balloon represents the belief holding you down and actions and words this belief influences.

The four anchors represent evidence, logic, emotion, and social consensus. To release the balloon you must replace the offending belief. Do this in five steps:

Step 1: Identify the belief.
Find a belief that is holding you down. Tip: Write down beliefs until you find one that hurts. In my case, "You don’t really have what it takes to be world-class author/speaker/thinker."

Step 2: Identify the anchors.

  • What evidence/events anchor the belief? (my books aren’t on the NYT best-seller list)
  • What emotions anchor your belief? (I feel comfort because in not really trying, I know I can’t fail)
  • Who around you reinforces this belief (social consensus)? (well-intentioned people who congratulate me on already having achieved the dream)
  • What logic locks in this belief; what "dependent beliefs" fit? (wanting to fill a stadium is self-centered, thinking I can offer what people don’t already know is conceited)
Step 3: Pick a new belief.
What alternative belief would be consistent with someone who really achieves your dream? (I am destined to be a best-selling business thinker and speaker.)

Step 4: Release the anchors.

  • Evidence: what alternative evidence supports this new belief? (people pay me lots of money to speak, I’m sharing the stage with some of the biggest business gurus)
  • Emotions: what does it feel like to really live this new belief and fulfill your dream? (passion, purpose, having made an impact)
  • Social consensus: who can you surround yourself with to support the new belief? (other business gurus and authors)
  • Beliefs: how can you replace the "dependent beliefs" identified above? (this is not conceited because it’s about serving others; the best business gurus do it to serve others, not for their ego)
Step 5: Set your course.
Write down five specific things you will do (action) and say (words) that force you to live your new belief.

Completing this process took me 20 minutes and has put me fully in the game, committed and knowing I can win. Would that be worth your time?

Click here for a more detailed workbook. I will also invite you to a free webinar outlining this framework and add you to my newsletter. If you don’t find my newsletter valuable you can unsubscribe with one click.

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[Image: Flickr user Karen Blaha]

Add New Comment


  • Denise Corcoran

    Love the topic of beliefs and their impact on our lives/success.  I give the author credit in attempting to come up with a simple process to change one's beliefs, as many other authors and speakers have done.   I certainly have my share of books, CDs, worthshops, etc. as well to learn the "secret."  However, like others, the simplicity also can be the danger.

    Much of my work with leaders in upgrading their mindset, "inner rule book" (aka beliefs), emotional state and more has shown me there are no 3-4 universal steps to create true change.  While one may get simple relief from a process like in the article (which may be what's needed in that moment), true change and transformation (ie., deep generative change) is more involved than that.  Generative change is where the change is permanent and deep and changes one's life.  That requires an outside expert to uncover the internal structures and representations of the inner block and change those structures so the issue no longer exists.

    As the saying goes, the mind that created the problem is not the mind that can solve it.  Our brains are wired for association.  That is how we get our beliefs.  There is a sensory trigger and somewhere in our lives we gave a meaning to that trigger (such as a high pitched tone of voice means "we are bad, unlovable, etc.)  So every time we hear s similar tone of voice from another our belief that we are bad/unlovable gets reinforced and that becomes a vicious cycle.  That reinforcement process literally "hardwires" our brain and nervous system in terms of  a neurological link.  To break the belief on a permanent basis, one must break the neurological link of the trigger with the past meaning and form a new one.  That's what is meant by breaking the structure.

    The above method may provide momentary relief ... enough to create action, it won't be permanent.  As soon as the outside trigger happens, it sets off the old belief.

    Last comment ... also there are deeper levels below beliefs that need to change for a true breakthrough in thinking.  One of those levels is one's sense of identity or how one sees themselves.  eg., believing one can win (which is an outcome belief) is driven by an identity belief "I am a winner."  If one changes only the outcome belief without changing one's sense of identity, the change will be only transitory if any change at all.

    Denise Corcoran
    The Empowered Business

  • Jose Palomino

    One of the most recent comments to this post mentions a couple who "lost everything". In business, especially entrepreneurial business, a "positive attitude" and hopeful expectations are essential to success.  You just won't be able to stick to it long enough if you stop before success or "completion".  What I mean is that sometimes the end of the road is ...well, the end of the road on a particular venture.  The key is that you must, to use a Biblical reference, "count the cost".  That is, know what you're willing to risk and lose BEFORE you engage. Limit your loss to that level. It is a tough discipline, but I hold the following to be true (my belief): you don't have just one good idea!  So... if you take an idea, give it your best shot, invest time and money and sweat and it fails (for any number of reasons), be ready to say "enough", regroup, get a get-well job to recover financially, learn from the experience (literally, write out lessons learned), then, when you're "healed" and re-energized, think up something better and give it another go.  Is success guaranteed?  Of course not.  But not achieving your goals is guaranteed if you don't try.

  • Nadene Canning

    Looks a lot like a "can do" (simplified) version of Chris Argyis Ladder of Influence 

  • Alex Zhang

    Reminds me of Simon Sinek - The Golden Circle Theory, and The Master Key System

  • Kratoklastes

    "Napoleon believed he was the greatest general of his time and so he was."

    Read much history? If you had, you would not say something so ludicrously ignorant.

    Napoleon lost 99.5% of the 'Grand Armée' that he took into Russia - it was such a débacle that it resulted in the first ever infographic ... if my copy doesn't attach, see

    Honestly, we are past the time when the internet refrains from forcefully exposing and humiliating the paucity of historical knowledge of American "thinkers" - and their general lack of intellectual heft, relying as they do on the Méthode Couet (which nowadays is a byword for self-delusion).

  • Nabeel Sowan

    “It’s better to have plans and schemes, than hopes and dreams. Hard work is the key to success!” -Konshens

  • Juliette

    Great article, and as with all advice: keep what rings true to you and leave the rest. 

    Sometimes what we perceive as negative thinking may actually be a gift, a healthy scepticism that challenges the foundations of the goal.

    What I find worthwhile before reframing beliefs, is to do more probing into what you believe the goal would give you. In other words, what needs would be met? This demands a certain self honesty and vulnerability. 

    So if for example the goal is to be a guru, the probing might look like:

    Q. Do I want to be a guru because of a sense of purpose or other needs? 
         (might uncover a need for status, to feel valued and validated)

    Q. What would it mean to me if I did have status in the eyes of others, was valued and validated by them?

    Q. As the external world is a reflection of myself, where aren't I valuing and validating myself? 

    This may sound glib, but it provides an inroad into understanding if the goal is what we actually want and need.  Questioning the goal can lead to deeper healing and better alignment with a fulfilling life.

  • Hardyconsultant

    The title alone is enough to make me have some very negative thoughts. "The 20 minute exercise to eradicate negative thinking" - how naive to people have to be to fall for this stuff?  This is a self-marketing article with nothing profound to say. The bookshelves are bending under the weight similar pseudo psychological "success" material. What makes me so angry? There are many people in the world who have dedicated their lives to understanding both the mental and spiritual nature of human development and to helping others to grow (or in some cases to survive). The best of them have reached profound insights (about belief, emotion intuition, fate and, and, and...) backed up by many, many years of personal experience and searching. Then along comes the business book industry, picks out a couple of meaty sound-bites and markets a "for dummies" version as a deep insight. It's on the same  level as telling someone suffering late stage burn-out to take a holiday and visit the fitness centre more often. Or to visit an anti burn-out webinar. Anyway this is turning into a rant and its time for my anti negativity webinar

  • Dghose

    I liked this article. Its very simple and lucid. easy to understand. Good thought to cultivate. 

  • Marjo

    Agree, because to be positive it gives us energy and encourage us to grow, enjoy and be happy in life.

  • Arupa Tesolin

    I thought this was a really useful article. A mental map is not the terrain. When the map changes, the terrain covered will be different. We have a lot more control over the creative process than we thought and identifying limiting beliefs is just a part of it, but a very important part. It's what's underneath that counts.

  • Hugh Culver

    Here's what is great about this article. First, it is a system. As much as we might all love to be motivated by the sage on the stage, we all suspect it won't last. A system is something we can practice and rely on. Second, it's simple - we can all relate to a child that believes in Santa (don't we all want to believe in Santa?).

    Loved it.

  • Robin

    This is a very helpful post. The one stickler (for me, anyway) is the ego part. I can never fully convince myself that my desire to be a "big, successful, leading XYZ" is not tied to my ego and my adolescent drive to rise above others. If it were simply purpose and a desire to help, let's face it, I could achieve that by volunteering. I don't believe my "big" ambitions are egoless. I don't believe Steve Jobs' or Richard Branson's were egoless. So, when the going gets tough, I have no answer to "Who do you think you are? The world is full of talented people. It doesn't need another big successful leading XYZ." Meanwhile there are so many things the world does need--food, water, peace, civil rights, jobs--that I'm doing zero to help create. How do I justify my big, Western ambitions in light of that? Let's face it, I'm already one of the luckiest people on the planet, and I'm struggling to get luckier and richer. Instead of helping the people who truly need help. This is a big mental sticking point for me.