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Positive Thinking is like Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat

June 9, 2011

Think positively! You’ve heard that a thousand times, and like me maybe you’ve wondered how they do it – those people who go around bursting with vitality, living everyone’s dream, seemingly bullet-proof to failure. Like the rabbit from a hat, positive thinking must come from somewhere, but where? It turns out that it’s a lot easier to figure out how the clown tricked you with the rabbit than to know where positive thinking comes from. But, it’s an important story, because for middle age men how we think can make the difference between life and death.

Talk about diet and exercise, learning about Lady Gaga’s abs routine, seeing a picture of a pile of raw vegetables can push one to make choices. You can choose this, and be healthy, or you can choose that and die young from a heart attack. We know that. It’s a no-brainer. So how can we “think positively” and make better choices?

From piles of data and mountains of research, come two sources of information that can jump-start your brain into positivity.

By the way, if you want to know where positive thoughts come from, they come from the same place as negative thoughts. The Unconscious. Wait, that gets us into years of Jungian analysis and tear-jerking psychotherapy. Not anymore – welcome to cognitive behavioral therapy.

You can understand cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in one paragraph, from a medical doctor who’s not a psychotherapist, because you don’t need to be a shrink to understand and apply CBT. You can do it yourself! Here it is:

  • Behind every feeling is a thought. You can’t control the feeling. We are animals, with a primitive part of the brain that senses fear, desire, and all the rest. Anger comes from fear. Love comes from desire. We know what feels good and bad. However, when it feels bad, you can learn to be consciously aware of the thought that caused that bad feeling. When you practice this, you become an expert on your own mind, and you can begin to pull rabbits out of the hat – you can choose to reframe your thought. That’s it! That’s cognitive behavioral therapy! Why spend $6,000 on anger management or self-empowerment sessions when you can read the first 30 pages of a book and do it yourself?

Okay, an example can help. Here’s one from my individual experience: a son-of-a-bitch cut me off in traffic. HOONNKK HOONNK! I’m hitting my horn and raising the middle finger to him. I catch myself. I think about this book I’m reading about CBT. I find the thought that made me angry. He thinks he’s better than me. I’ll show him. Then, I dig for a different thought – he’s freaking out because he’s late to work, or he just had a fight with his girlfriend. My anger dissolves, I make a silent apology, and I feel better. From then on, I’m able to let people cut me off without ruining my morning. This is a simple example, but it doesn’t matter. You can succeed in rooting out your worst thoughts and exchange them for better ones, making you feel better, almost all of the time. You can pull the rabbit out of the hat. You can become a positive thinker, and that will allow you to choose the vegetables over the cheesecake, the gym over a TV and pizza, or a visit to a doctor over daily bottles of wine to deal with a bad mood.

The book is “Thoughts & Feelings,” a classic do-it-yourself guide to cognitive behavior. Open this link and click on preview, and you’ll get enough of the book to change your thought patterns without having to buy it.

I promised a second source of information to catalyze your brain to think positively:

The Political Mind (2008)

This will help you create a new “cultural narrative,”otherwise known as your “mindset” or “point of view.” That’s a good thing because it turns out we aren’t even consciously aware of how we see ourselves in the world around us. He shows us how to become conscious, and that gives us the power to choose. George is a professor at UC Berkeley, and a cognitive scientist. I emailed him a request that he guest author this blog, but he’s too busy writing more books. Well he’s not going to get rich soon – You can get this one at for $5! Here’s what the publisher had to say:

In his new book, Lakoff spells out what cognitive science has discovered about reason, and reveals that human reason is far more interesting than we thought it was. Reason is physical, mostly unconscious, metaphorical, emotion-laden, and tied to empathy-and there are biological explanations behind our moral and political thought processes. His call for a New Enlightenment is a bold and striking challenge to the cherished beliefs not only of philosophers, but of pundits, pollsters, and political leaders. The Political Mind is a passionate, erudite, and groundbreaking book that will appeal to anyone interested in how the mind works and how we function socially and politically.

All the best to the empowerment of your mind.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2011 8:37 am

    Thanks for your comment Regina, it seems like it should be simple but everyone might agree that we are actually quite complicated! In George Lakoff’s “The Political Mind” he describes how these patterns of thought and feeling are actually occurring along brain neurons that form physical connections. The result is that we get stuck in certain points of view. We aren’t even aware that we’re stuck. It’s quite interesting, and I guess we have to forgive each other if sometimes it’s hard for us to “change our mind.”

  2. June 9, 2011 9:57 pm

    I like what you wrote in the paragraph Behind every feeling is a thought. I believe that. I also believe that behind every thought is a feeling. For these two reasons it is so important to re-frame our point of view. One can start getting into a habit of re-framing moment to moment until after awhile one finds that they have actually trained or disciplined their mind. What a great point to bring forward.

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