How to Change the Way You Think (and Why)

Portrait of a young pensive businesswoman in officeThe 4th of 4 steps.

By Bill Reeb

The realization that all we have to do to be different is to allow ourselves to think differently is very powerful. The great news is … it’s often not that hard, and sometimes it is downright easy, once you focus your attention on the right places.

MORE: Letting Go Is Not Giving Up | How Are You Programming Your Mind? | Have Your Beliefs Stopped Serving You? | How to Stay in the Present | Stop Ignoring Opportunities Right in Front of You | Work ‘Better,’ Not ‘Harder’ | What a Pro Knows | Don’t Let Opportunities Become Detours | What Are You Giving Priority? | Don’t Let Others Block Your Path
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Before I went through the cathartic steps of working with my mentor John to come up with this process and refining my thoughts on this topic, I would occasionally go through some multiday bouts with gloom. I don’t want to say that I would get depressed because that would be too harsh of a descriptor.

Something would happen, such as I would find out that a potential client did not select our firm for an engagement, or a conflict within my extended family would take center stage, a health issue would arise, or some other negative encounter would come to my attention. If I was already in a highly stressed state, when this news would hit, my outlook could instantly shift from positive to a state of melancholy. I would start to worry about what might be next. None of the actual occurrences would be significant enough to alter my life, but that did not stop me from summoning up a great deal of anxiety or a sense of possible loss.

For the longest time, when these kinds of sensations came over me, I just assumed it was an emotional state I had to experience and suffer through until it was over, like a cold.

I never realized I could stop those negative emotions in their tracks.

I was voluntarily holding onto those thoughts and trying to beat them back. My process allows me to more quickly recognize what is happening and often let go of those thoughts with the same ease that I became aware of them.

When this doesn’t work and my mind keeps churning or worrying about the data I just received, I then suggest – to myself – a different way to think. I consider the various outcomes and their likely probabilities. I accept the fact that, although unlikely, the worst-case scenario might occur, with the commitment to myself that I am ready to face it with martial intent. Here I am letting go by considering the probabilities and accepting the idea that I will take action if and when this negative situation starts to unfold.

Between these two approaches, I can liberate myself 70 percent to 80 percent of the time from letting those negative thoughts fester into a mental burden. For the remaining 20 percent to 30 percent of the negative thoughts that still linger after these two approaches fail, I interface directly with the “Let It Go” concept. I immediately ask myself, “What am I holding on to that is magnifying this issue or escalating my emotions?”

In a benign situation a couple of years ago, after weeks of deadlines and pressure, I experienced an insignificant event (a client decided to cancel a large project that was about to begin) that created an overwhelming negative feeling. Surprised by the intensity of my reaction, I focused on what I needed to let go of. I quickly realized after I asked this question that I was about ready to make a significant investment in equipment for our video studio that would allow us to offer some exciting new products. I knew that this financial setback would derail that project, which I was more enthusiastic about than I realized. After I recognized what I was subconsciously holding onto, it was easy for me to stop locking into my plan, put off that investment and wait until our reserve cash flow returned. Within a short period of time, new opportunities replaced the disappearing one and the project was put back on the schedule.

It usually is not hard to find out what you need to let go of as soon as you realize that letting go is what you are searching for.

This reminds me of a heart-warming story in a wonderful book about the resilience and redemption of the human spirit. It is a story about Louis Zamperini and his extraordinary life in the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. Here was a man who had survived numerous devastating experiences, including being lost at sea and suffering lengthy torture at a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Here was a man who after the Second World War lived a life full of anger and rage because of the horrors he had experienced.

One night, he very reluctantly agreed to go with his wife to hear the evangelist Billy Graham preach. There was one condition that he demanded of his wife: When it came time for them to bow their heads in prayer, he wanted no part of this and they agreed they would both immediately leave. Sitting through the sermon, at various times, Louis felt “indignant rage” surging through him because of the messages he was hearing, and then it came time to pray. Louis grabbed his wife and sprinted for the exit, and in that moment he remembered a promise he made in a prayer to God on a raft in the ocean at a point when he thought he was about to die. Louis whispered, “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” At that single instant in time, he realized that he had survived everything and that he was not the “worthless, broken, forsaken man” he had come to believe he was.

The author stated, “In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation, and helplessness, had all fallen away.” From this point forward, Louis’s nightmares stopped and he found peace. When he thought about his past from that moment on, rather than lamenting about his suffering, he felt only the love that saved him.

For many reading this, your interpretation of this story will simply be that Louis was touched by the hand of God and born again at that moment. While I am not challenging that answer, I am going to recast  the events as the author described them. Louis, who felt God had forsaken him, did not want to go hear Billy Graham. Cynthia, his wife, cajoled him into going. Louis, commonly full of rage and anger, was holding on to the experiences of his past, which kept him from moving forward. He was literally running out of the tent as the rain hitting his face reminded him of the commitment he made to God the day the rain saved his life after he drifted for weeks in a raft on the Pacific Ocean.

In that instant, he realized that while he suffered terribly, he did survive. He let go of the anger and rage about the horrors of his past as he rethought his life. As of that instant, he became a different man, a happier more contented man – a man at peace with himself. I am not suggesting that God did or did not intervene here, I am simply pointing out a wonderful story about someone who experienced a life-changing thought and lived an entirely new life from that moment forward.

When you change the way you think, you change forever! I wanted to share this story because I thought it was such a great example, in an excellent book, about a real person, to make the point that the acceptance of an idea in your head is all it takes for you to evolve, progress, be happier or be different.

“Let it go,” “become the lead programmer,” “the actions that letting go unveils to help you get unstuck” and “changing the way you think” are foundational concepts that integrate with every aspect of the process.

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