Update: 344 of your fellow adventurers are now enrolled in Stature, our new character sculpting deep dive. How would you like to grow your character for 2020 and beyond? Join us for this epic journey!
It’s easy to get caught up in the pattern of thinking too much about what you don’t want. This includes noticing what you already have in your life but don’t like. If you think often about what you don’t want, it’s a safe bet you’ll make a mess of your life.
Thinking about what you don’t want is a trap. Such thoughts can keep you stuck for a very long time. You can seriously blow years — even decades — of your life in the following vicious cycle:
- Look around and observe what you’re experiencing.
- Notice that you don’t like certain aspects of your life.
- Feel fear, worry, sadness, disappointment, and/or other negative emotions.
- Think about what it would take to change what you dislike.
- Notice that it will probably take a huge amount of time and effort to change — and with no guarantee of success. Consider that you might even make things worse.
- Feel frustrated, trapped, and/or depressed.
- Do something that makes you feel better. Watch TV. Eat. Drink. Surf the web. Check email. Maybe do all of the above.
- Feel some relief and comfort now that you’ve distracted and/or drugged yourself.
- Allow some time to pass, and eventually repeat from step one.
Do you ever run this pattern or something similar?
There are many variations on the above, but you’ll probably recognize patterns like this running in your life right now.
When do you run this kind of pattern? With your relationships (or lack thereof)? With your job/career? With your finances? With your living situation? With your physical body?
Here’s a specific example of how you might run this pattern on your finances:
- Observe something that triggers negative thoughts about your finances. It could be a bank statement, a bill, a blog post about money, the sorry contents of your wallet, or the prices at the gas station. The stimulus could also be internal, perhaps triggered by a random thought about your money situation.
- Notice that your finances aren’t where you want them to be. You don’t have enough cash, your income is too low, your expenses are too high, or you’re too deep in debt. Maybe it’s all of the above.
- Worry about your financial situation. Be upset that things aren’t working. Worry that your situation may worsen.
- Consider what you’d have to do to earn more money, pay off your debt, and/or reduce your expenses.
- Notice that it will take a lot of hard work and some unpleasant changes to get your finances where you want them to be, and there’s a good chance you’ll fail anyway.
- Feel frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed. Conclude that this is too much to deal with right now.
- Spend a few hours web surfing to comfort yourself. Watch a movie. Eat some food that makes you feel better, even though it may not be the healthiest choice for you.
- Feel some temporary relief from your troubles. Ahhhh…
- Go to bed, wake up the next morning, and run the same script again.
We can summarize the general pattern like this:
Think about what you don’t want -> Feel bad -> Comfort yourself
This pattern is very, very common. It’s also highly addictive. But it’s not very intelligent.
The reason this pattern isn’t intelligent is that it never cures the underlying problem. You only treat the symptoms. You address the negative emotions by comforting yourself for a while, but the problem remains. The negative emotions will surely return to haunt you again and again.
Whenever you notice that you’re comforting yourself as a way of dealing with negative emotions and the problems that gave rise to them, recognize that you’re guaranteeing that your problems will continue to bug you.
Once you get stuck in this pattern for a sufficient length of time, it’s hard to quit. You’ll probably just keep running it over and over, perhaps every day for years to come.
Breaking the pattern
So how can we break this destructive chain?
It’s hard (but not impossible) to catch yourself thinking about what you don’t want and then to consciously shift your thoughts to something more positive. Usually this approach fails though. It’s hard to choose positive thoughts while you’re stuck in the pattern of thinking negative thoughts.
It’s even harder to break out of the pattern when you’re already feeling bad. By that point you’ll feel an overwhelming urge to comfort yourself, and you won’t be motivated to do anything else.
It appears that the easiest place to break the pattern is after you’ve comforted yourself. Now you’re feeling temporarily relieved. You’re more relaxed and not as stressed as you were earlier. You’re a bit more conscious too. You may be a bit tired, but you can muster a small amount of motivation to do something different here.
Is this the time to start making changes? No, not yet. If you try to solve your problems with action at this point, you’ll probably just start the pattern over again. You’ll begin to notice how bad your situation is and how much work it will take to fix it, and then you’ll start feeling bad again. That approach keeps you stuck in the loop. It can work in some cases, but it usually requires a ton of self-discipline, and you’re very likely to fail.
A better approach is to take your feelings of relief and extend them into feeling excited. I’ll explain how to do this.
Think about what you want until you’re genuinely excited
Once you’re feeling relieved and comforted, even if you’ve had to drug yourself with food, wine, and mindless entertainment to reach this point, you’re in a reasonably good place to start thinking about what you want instead of what you don’t want.
Don’t worry about action just yet. That will come later. Just start thinking about what you want. Dwell on it. Obsess over it. Imagine how you want things to be. Imagine everything in your life working out beautifully.
Don’t worry about practicality. Just fantasize. But fantasize in a specific way. Sit on your couch (or a chair or park bench if people came and took your couch away), and imagine that what you want is actually becoming real. Put yourself in the frame of mind that it’s already happening.
A realistic way to do this is to set aside 20 minutes every evening before going to bed just to dream. Do this sitting up so you don’t fall asleep. Close your eyes or stare off into space, and think about what you want to experience in each part of your life. Whatever you think about is fine, as long as it feels good to you.
Imagine your ideal physical body. Think about your ideal relationships. Picture your ideal career. Imagine having your finances just the way you want them. Imagine living where and how you want to live. Be specific, and picture as much detail as you can. Don’t worry about getting the details perfect — just imagine details that seem attractive to you.
Make sure these imaginings are fully associated. This means that you imagine seeing each scene through your own eyes. Generally you should avoid using a third-person perspective, although you can try it if you want to imagine things from a different angle. Usually the first-person perspective will create stronger emotions.
You don’t have to say or affirm anything. But it’s crucial that you feel the feelings. If you feel neutral, you’re not there yet. How would you honestly feel if you were experiencing all of these wonderful things right now? If you’d feel totally neutral to have them right now, it’s safe to say you don’t really want them.
Don’t project your dreams into some distant future. Imagine that whatever you want is happening right now this very moment. Imagine that it’s 100% real.
If it takes you 10 or more minutes just to get a clear picture of some small part of your life getting better, then so be it. Put in the time. Deliberately thinking about what you want is a very important activity. This kind of visualization is an outstanding use of your time.
If you think about what you want, and you imagine it as real, but you get very little emotional surge from it, then drop it for a while, and imagine something else. Go bigger. Go bolder. Go sexier. Involve other people. Involve the whole planet if that’s what it takes to stir your emotions. It’s your imagination. You don’t need anyone’s approval to choose the thoughts that feel good to you.
Don’t spend much time thinking about what makes you feel relieved and comfortable. Think about what excites you. Imagine scenes that make you ooze with passion. If you have a hard time getting excited, then keep imagining different things. There’s no time limit.
When you fantasize about having sex, notice how it affects your body. You should have a similar physiological (downright lusty) response when thinking about what you really, truly desire. If your body doesn’t respond, drop the visualization you’re doing, and think about something else. Explore your imagination to figure out what you really want. You may be surprised.
Again, don’t worry about practicality. It doesn’t matter if you can actually have all the good things you’re visualizing. You can fantasize about having superpowers if you want, as long as you can get yourself to imagine yourself there right now in the present moment, feeling the feelings intensely.
The most important part is to get yourself feeling really, really good, and that’s fairly easy to accomplish if you spend some time thinking deeply about what you truly want and imagining it as real.
Bare minimum, do this exercise for 20 minutes at a time every day for a week. That’s seven days, not just five days. If you skip a day, start over from day one.
When I do this for 20 minutes straight, I find it hard to stop. I usually end up going for about 45 minutes at a time. When I first started doing this, it would take me 10 minutes or longer to find a thought that really excited me. Now I can usually get there within 30 seconds or less.
You might assume that sexual thoughts are a good place to start. I don’t recommend that because sexual thoughts can become too addictive and circular. They can cause you to feel a need to take care of yourself if you get too aroused, but in this case you want to retain the excitement instead of dissipating it. You want to be sure to cover all parts of your life. Search for thoughts that excite your whole being, not just your lower chakras. They may still have a strong sex energy component to them, but there will be other components too, such as a feeling of heart-centeredness and the desire for creative self-expression.
When does action happen?
Within a few days of beginning this daily exercise, you’ll notice a shift in your focus, even while you’re engaged in other activities. You’ll notice that you spend even more time thinking about what you want and less time worrying about what you don’t want.
Distracting and comforting yourself won’t seem as attractive as the excitement you build when thinking about what you want. Activities that used to comfort you will begin to seem dull and boring.
Pretty soon fresh, creative ideas will be popping into your mind. Some of these will be partial solutions to your various problems. Other ideas will lead you down a different path. These ideas will often be more practical and realistic than your grand visualizations. Allow yourself to ponder these ideas, but don’t force yourself to act on them.
Over time your excitement will build. Some of those new ideas will inspire and motivate you to get moving. You’ll find yourself wanting to write some of them down, or perhaps you’ll feel an urge to journal about them further. Maybe you’ll feel like doing a little brainstorming to expand these ideas.
Feel free to do whatever feels good to you, but don’t force action. It will come eventually. As your good feelings and excitement continue to build, you’ll reach the point where you practically have to hold yourself back from taking action. It will feel unnatural and uncomfortable not to act. But until that happens, just continue the pattern of thinking about what you want for at least 20 minutes every day. If it takes a few weeks to get to the point where you’re positively compelled to act, that’s fine. That’s still superior to running the self-destructive loop for several more years.
The positive cycle basically looks like this:
Think about what you want -> Feel excited and motivated -> Take inspired action and get results
Usually when I start thinking about something new that I want (as described above), I feel compelled to act within the first few days. It’s hard to last a week without desperately wanting to dive in and do something about it, assuming I think about it every day.
This kind of action is inspired. Although you may feel a desire to work hard at some point, it won’t feel like hard work. There may be a lot of activity, but it will feel like play.
Imagine going to Disneyland (or your favorite amusement park) for a day. You’ll probably take a lot of action while you’re there. You may walk for miles, stand in lines, go on rides, buy food, etc. Do you consider that hard work? Probably not. When you’re enjoying inspired action, it feels the same as spending a day at Disneyland. You glide from one activity to the next with a feeling of positive anticipation. At the end of the day you may be tired from all the activity, but you wouldn’t consider it a work day. It’s too fun to think of it as work.
This is how I feel when I get inspired by an idea. I may take a lot of action on the implementation side, but it doesn’t feel like work. I’m too excited and motivated to stop and think about the difficulty. I’m just soaking up the positive anticipation of the next step in the process.
For example, Sunday afternoon I did an hour-long meditation. While I was in a fairly deep state, I asked my “spirit guides” for a good topic for my next article. One of them (the one I call my “wisdom guide”) suggested I write something about “blessings” or “feeling blessed.” I sensed that her intent was for me to write about how to shift our thinking towards what we want and away from what we don’t want. It wasn’t a topic I was originally planning to write about this week, but the idea felt good to me.
While I was doing some physical tasks around the house, I thought about the article idea. I imagined how the final result might help people make positive changes and be happier. It felt good to imagine that. I started to get excited about writing on this topic, even though I had no idea how I’d write it or what I would say.
I sat down at my computer and put on some Celtic music. Then I just started writing. No outline. I just started with the first line and kept typing until I got to the end. I didn’t know where it would lead or how it would end. About three hours later I was done. I enjoyed writing this article. It didn’t feel like work at all. It was a smooth and easy flow of ideas.
When you develop the daily habit of kicking back and thinking about what you want, it soon becomes self-perpetuating. Your inspired actions lead to results that make you feel even better. This creates momentum that makes it hard not to think about all the great things that are coming up. For example, when your income keeps going up, it’s hard not to imagine how much more you’ll be earning a year from now. Positive action and positive feelings reinforce each other.
Sure you’ll have some setbacks and failures now and then, but this pattern works much better than the comfort pattern in the long run.
When you’re enjoying this upward spiral, you feel blessed. You feel like the universe is conspiring to make you happier and happier.
It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from. It really doesn’t. Your current reality can be a total wasteland, and you can still take time out of each day to think about what you want.
Many years ago when I was broke and deep in debt, and my monthly expenses were 10x higher than my income (not a good situation), I used to walk to the beach and look out at the ocean. I’d say to myself, “At least this is free!” That was something I did to comfort myself and to let go of some of the stress. But while I was there, I began to imagine how my life might someday be better. No more mountain of debt. No more mailbox stuffed with letters from creditors. No more feeling like I’d screwed up. At the time it seemed like pure fantasy to imagine what I wanted. But at least that kind of fantasizing made me feel good. It was better than comfort and relief. It was more exciting.
Unfortunately, I made a mistake in doing my visualizations back then. I projected all those dreams into the future. I couldn’t imagine them becoming fully real because they were too far beyond my present reality. So I pushed them out into some distant future time. Although it may have seemed sensible, it was still a mistake because it dampened my positive emotions. I couldn’t get as excited about something in the distant future. Taking action remained a daily struggle, and I remained stuck in the trap of comforting myself to handle the stress.
It was only when I stopped pushing those positive thoughts into the future that my financial situation began to change for the better in a big way. I started imagining things getting better right now instead of months or years down the road. That put me into a more motivated frame of mind.
It wasn’t the thought of having more money that excited me. I was more excited by the thought of having the freedom to make a meaningful contribution to the world. I didn’t really care about money at all — I just needed to be in a situation where money wasn’t an obstacle. My best visualizations usually didn’t involve money. I felt more inspired by creating and sharing things than by acquiring stuff.
I still feel this way today. Imagining myself having millions of dollars bores me. I just don’t see the point. My emotions respond, “We don’t care.” But when I think about expressing and sharing ideas with other people, that actually gets me excited. When I think about bringing people together, that excites me too.
Your values may be very different than mine, and that’s fine. The point is that you may need to release some socially conditioned notions to get to the real truth. Don’t fall into the trap of obsessing over what society has taught you that you should want, such as lots of money, a cool car, or a model’s physique. You need to go deeper to figure out what you really want. And then you must accept that you want it, even if you think other people would consider you foolish for wanting it. If you really, truly want it, let that be enough.
Initially I found it very difficult to get myself to imagine having what I wanted in the present moment. My logical mind rejected the notion because it was clear that I wasn’t anywhere close to having what I wanted. But I found a nice little trick that helped a lot. I imagined that I’d shifted to an alternate reality where there was another me who was experiencing exactly what I wanted right now. I just had to tune my thoughts to the right frequency to feel what he was feeling. My logical mind was okay with that; it’s funny that it could accept the idea of alternate dimensions, even though it couldn’t quite accept the idea of having what I wanted right this instant.
The benefits I’ve received from deliberately cultivating the habit of thinking about what I want are downright disgusting. I feel very blessed.
I get very inspired by thoughts of helping people grow. I love encouraging people to live a little more consciously. I like challenging people to consider different perspectives. I know that many people think such pursuits are lame, naive, or pointless. I don’t care. This path inspires me. The more I think about it, the better I feel. It wouldn’t matter if the whole world disagreed with me. I know that I’ve discovered something that means a lot to me. And that’s enough.
It took many years, but I figured out that all I really need to be happy is to maintain the habit of thinking about what I want. I just need to carve a little time out of each day to think about what feels amazingly good to me. The emotional energy this creates is so strong that 20 minutes a day soon overpowers thoughts of stress, frustration, worry, or overwhelm.
Please give this process a try. Do it for at least seven days in a row, 20 minutes minimum each time. After you’ve run your relief/comfort ritual at the end of your day, take 20 more minutes to run this excitement ritual. Allow yourself to feel blessed every single day, even if you have to mentally visit an alternate dimension to get yourself to accept it as real.