IT'S RELATIVELY EASY TO FIND good ideas
to change your life. It's not too difficult to gain insights
about what you need to do. Where it starts to get hard is translating
those ideas and insights into actual changes in your life. You
want those ideas and insights to make a real difference to you.
Good ideas aren't enough. Insights alone don't cut it. You want
I'm right there with you.
This web site contains simple and practical
methods for making real changes in your life. So let's look at
how real changes can be made.
Changes start with thoughts. Not that thoughts
can do much by themselves, but no changes can be made without
them. When you think differently, you behave differently and
feel differently, and when you behave and feel differently, you
get different results in your life.
I know it's possible to behave differently
in order to change the way you feel and think, but to behave
differently, you first have to think it's a good idea
to do so. No matter how you look at it, to change the results
you get in your life, you must first change the way you think.
Fair enough, you say, but how?
Let's ask the experts. Who are the real
experts in changing the way people think? Who pays the most to
change people's thinking? Where is the biggest payoff for changing
people's thought-habits? Who pays psychologists to find out exactly
what needs to be done to change thoughts?
Advertisers and politicians, of course.
These are people with a huge stake in being able to effectively
alter people's thought patterns. In advertising and politics,
it is survival-of-the-fittest: Those who are most effective at
changing people's thinking habits are the only ones who can compete
successfully and stay in business. The question is, how do they
Since early in this century, observers
have pointed out that political propaganda campaigns tend to
use short, easy-to-remember phrases that encapsulate their message.
These brief phrases are then repeated over and over again until
their meaning becomes part of the thinking-habits of the population.
Even some presidential campaigns earlier
in this century are still memorable: "I like Ike" was
Dwight D. Eisenhower's slogan. Woodrow Wilson used the slogan,
"He kept us out of the war" to get reelected in 1916.
Then after the strain of World War I, Warren G. Harding's slogan,
"Back to normalcy," won him the presidency. A campaign
slogan from as far back as 1840 is familiar: "Tippecanoe
and Tyler too," a campaign for William Henry Harrison and
World War II can be seen, at least from
one limited perspective, as a battle of political slogans. Hitler
used several. They were repeated in his speeches and painted
on walls and posters and huge signs. "One Reich, one Folk,
one Leader!" Short, pithy, easy to remember, and in this
case, it has a certain primal rhythm. Here's another he used:
"Today we own Germany, tomorrow the entire world!"
These slogans were repeated vehemently for years and had a dramatic
effect on the minds of Germans.
Mussolini used radio to a great effect.
"Believe, obey, fight!" was one of the most repeated
slogans. Another was: "Italy must have its great place in
the world." These slogans were repeated in messages broadcast
all over Italy.
There were many different repeated ideas
that played an important role in World War II. From before they
could talk, Japanese children were told again and again that
the Japanese people were direct descendants of Heaven and it
was their destiny to rule the world.
Of course, Americans had their own slogans,
chief among them, in case you weren't alive at the time, was
"Win the war unconditionally." Once America was provoked
into the war, there was a national campaign to promote participation
and cooperation in the war effort certain resources needed
to be conserved, like gas and steel and rubber, and money needed
to be raised to fund the war. People were told that Japan and
Germany had to be defeated unconditionally. They had to
be not just defeated, but defeated soundly, completely
unconditionally. That was a key slogan. It focused attention.
It was short, easy to remember, and packed an emotional punch
besides. It was very motivating.
Advertisers use exactly the same tool.
It's the real thing. Just do it. When you care enough to send
the very best. Tastes great, less filling. The breakfast of champions.
Don't leave home without it. You've come a long way baby. You
deserve a break today. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Fly the friendly skies. Everything you always wanted in a beer
and less. Sometimes you feel like a nut. It's everywhere
you want to be. And so on short, easy to remember slogans
repeated over and over and over again. Sometimes the same slogan
is used for decades.
For a very long time, politicians and advertisers
have been refining and improving their methods. Any method that
didn't succeed disappeared from the scene: The campaigner didn't
get elected, the product wasn't purchased. And after all this
trial and error, both politicians and advertisers have come to
rely on the same simple method. Why?
Because short, pithy phrases, repeated
over and over, take advantage of the way the human brain works
naturally. They focus the mind, simplify the issue, and stimulate
Our minds don't handle complicated formulas
or doctrines very well unless we concentrate our attention. It's
not that we're stupid we're the most successful species
on this planet but that's just one of the brain's limitations.
Complicated ideas require our full attention.
That's fine when we're reading in a quiet room or listening to
a lecture. But when it comes down to our daily experience
when we're late for work, the kids are crying and urgent tasks
are taking our attention we find it distinctly difficult
to concentrate our minds on any concept that is even slightly
complex. So even if only two days ago the book we were reading
really made sense, today in the midst of the hustle and bustle,
the ideas seem distant and ineffective. We can read the most
beautiful philosophy, we can answer all the Big Questions of
Life during the evening, and the very next day be right back
in the soup.
Again, not because there's something wrong
with us, but simply because most of the time, we need to focus
on what's happening. We don't have much extra attention to devote
to philosophizing about it. That's true for everyone: Rich or
poor, genius or average, in free countries and in nondemocratic
countries. That's just how the human brain works.
It was even true for Benjamin Franklin.
In his autobiography, he wrote about his frustration at changing
himself. "While my Attention was taken up in guarding against
one Fault," he wrote, "I was often surpris'd by another.
Habit took the Advantage of Inattention."
When an advertising company repeats the
same jingle in every ad they've ever created, and shows the same
ad 15 times a night, it may be blatantly manipulative, not to
mention annoying, but it works, and it works better than anything
When a ruthless dictator uses short phrases
to focus ideas and make them easier to act on, it may be catastrophic
for an entire generation of people, but the way someone uses
a tool doesn't make the tool bad. A hammer can kill a puppy,
but it can also be used to build a house. It's just a tool.
The repetition of a slogan is also a tool
a very powerful and effective tool. And it's a tool you
can use to produce a lot of good for yourself. You can take advantage
of the way your mind works. You can make your own propaganda
campaign in your head; you can alter your thoughts and change
your actions for the better.
THE REASON IT'S SO DIFFICULT to change something in your life
is that to change the way you feel or behave, you first have
to change the way you think, and your thinking is ingrained
and habitual. You think the way you think because those ways
of thinking were repeated in some form or another, either by
yourself or others, enough times that the thought-pattern became
It wasn't only your parents and teachers
who repeated the ideas that created your thought-patterns; you
did it too. There are some thoughts you have thought many times
in your life, and that repetition has created solid mental habits.
When I was in first grade, I had just moved
in the middle of the school year, and my first day at class,
we had "show and tell." I was fairly upset by the move,
and didn't have anything to show, and I felt embarrassed at being
the new kid, so I said, "I don't have anything to talk about."
And every week after that, I "forgot" to bring something
to show. Every week that went by would have been more attention-getting
if I had gotten up to speak, because everyone began to expect
me to have nothing to say. Whenever I thought of getting up in
front of the class, my thought was, "I can't do it."
I repeated that thought to myself many times that year.
In fourth grade, my English teacher wanted
us to memorize and recite a poem every week. Whenever I thought
about it, (and that was often) I thought, "I can't do it."
This short phrase went through my head again and again throughout
my life until about fifteen years ago, when I finally realized
what had happened.
I took the Dale Carnegie course in public
speaking, and the course was designed to get you up in front
of a group gradually. The beauty of that, is it invoked
that thought, "I can do it."
The first assignment was to sit on the
edge of a long table with four other people and answer the instructor's
questions about our names, where we lived, and what we did for
a living. Of course, I could do that. Each speaking assignment
gradually moved toward standing up there by myself, but it was
so gradual, the whole way along I kept thinking, "I can
One fine day I was up there speaking and
having a great time. I had formed a new thought-habit. "I
can do it" replaced "I can't do it."
As a child, whenever you first think a
thought, it sets a precedent. You've created the beginning of
a pattern. As time goes on, you experience similar circumstances,
and the thought tends to repeat itself. Each time it does, the
thought becomes more and more likely the next time, until you
are an adult with a bunch of thought-habits, and some don't work
because they were invented by a little kid who didn't know much
about the world.
Now you're an adult. And sometimes you
get an insight about how you can change for the better. But it's
harder than you expected, isn't it? Why? Because your insight
is just one little thought against the accumulated force of your
already existing habit patterns. Repetition cuts a groove like
a trough in the dirt. Thoughts flow down that groove much easier
than they do in other directions, just like water flows down
a trough much better than on flat ground.
It physically works very much like that.
Researchers like William Calvin, PhD, find that when a new stimulus
is introduced into the brain, it forms a pattern of connections
between certain brain cells. And once a pattern has been made,
it becomes a little easier for the same pattern to fire again.
The more often the pattern gets fired, the easier it is to set
off the pattern again. The connections get stronger and stronger
the more they are stimulated that way.
Patterns that have been repeated many times
become dominant and out-compete with other (less-repeated) thoughts.
So you've got some dominant patterns already
formed. Okay. And a lot of them produce effects you don't like.
A lot of them you didn't choose, or you chose when you were too
young to make a good choice. Okay. That's where you are right
now. You can't do anything about the past, but you can take over
the process at this point. You can start creating your own patterns.
You can start making thought habits you want informed
and mature habits.
You can do it with repetition. You
can do it by taking your insights and encapsulating them into
short, easy-to-remember phrases and then repeating those phrases
again and again until the new thought becomes a part of your
As you read this web site, some principles
will stand out as important to you, as a principle that you would
benefit from applying. Not all of them will stand out that way.
Some you already habitually apply, some you're not ready for
yet (or many not want). Pick one principle that really stands
out for you and write the principle on a card. Carry that card
with you to remind you to focus on that principle, repeating
it to yourself, and applying it at every good opportunity, for
a week a month, or until you're satisfied with your progress
on it for now.
Repeat the idea to yourself. Literally
practice thinking that thought. Repeat it to yourself
often. Try to say it to yourself several times every day. Give
advice to your children with it, saying that principle. Share
it with friends of yours. Let it come out in conversations. Eventually
that thought will become "just the way you think" and
at that point, you have accomplished a real change. You have
translated a good idea into real change in your life.
Repeat good ideas.