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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.

Fundamentals

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 asleep...it 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]

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