A TRIM TAB IS A LITTLE RUDDER on the end
of a big rudder. You can move the little rudder (the trim tab)
and it moves the big rudder, which moves the ship. The trim tab
needs only a little energy and it can move the entire ship!
There's a trim tab of your mind, too. In
the larger sense, on the scale of the big rudder in this analogy,
is your attention. You can put your attention on different
things and it will give you a different experience. Having a
nice meal with your family, you can allow yourself to enjoy the
moment, put your attention on the good food and the pleasure
of sharing it with people you love, or you can put your attention
on something bad that happened yesterday or something bad that
might happen tomorrow.
The objective circumstances haven't changed
at all, but you'll have an entirely different experience depending
on where you put your attention. The quality of your life at
any given moment depends on what you have your attention on.
The problem is, you don't have complete
control of your attention, do you? You don't try to worry;
you try not to worry and you still worry. Or get angry.
Or remember depressing events, or whatever. Your mind seems to
have a mind of its own and thinks what it wants to, at least
some of the time. It seems very clear that you don't have control
of your own mind.
But that isn't true. You are potentially
capable of controlling your mind. You can potentially
control your attention. And if you did, you would control the
quality of your life. But just because you are potentially capable
doesn't mean you know how. You are potentially capable of picking
a lock, but that doesn't mean you know how. And in a sense, if
you don't know how, it doesn't really matter if you're potentially
I'm going to tell you how you can control
your attention and thus control the quality of your life. It
is very simple. It's like a magic trick. It seems very mysterious
and amazing until you see how it's done and then it's no big
deal. I'm going to tell you what the trim tab of your life is.
Are you ready?
The way you control your mind, the way
to control your attention and with it the quality of your life
is by asking questions.
Asking questions are the trim tab. With
very little effort, they can move your attention, and where you
put your attention alters the course of your life.
Have you ever tried to "think positive?"
How did you do it? Probably by telling yourself things. You find
yourself worried about something and you tell yourself, "It's
going to turn out okay." Or you're going to go in for an
interview and you try to pump yourself up, "Come on, Adam,
you're going to go in there and do great!" It sometimes
doesn't work very well, does it? Telling yourself things is not
very effective much of the time. It's like trying to turn a ship
by pushing on its side: It takes a lot of effort for a little
result. Sure, it works a little bit. But not very much and it
often feels like you're lying to yourself, which in itself is
an unpleasant experience.
Asking questions is much easier. You don't
have to lie to yourself. You don't have to pump up anything.
You don't have to use force. It is easy and gentle. Your mind,
your thoughts, your attention they all naturally and easily
follow the direction of a question.
I have heard a well-paid speaker say you
can't control your thinking. And he proved it. He said, "If
you think you can control your thinking, then stop thinking.
Right now. Go ahead. Stop thinking. You can't." That's a
pretty good argument if you don't really look at it too deeply.
No, you can't stop thinking. Your mind thinks. That's
what it does. Just like your lungs breathe. That's what they
do. You can't stop breathing either (not for very long anyway),
but that doesn't mean you can't control your breathing.
You can breathe shallow and slow or hyperventilate. It's up to
you. You can control it. But if you don't do anything
about it, your lungs will continue breathing anyway. You might
not like the way your lungs are breathing, and if that's the
case, you can simply take over the controls and start breathing
any way you want. And as soon as you stop paying attention, your
lungs go on "automatic pilot."
The same is true of your thoughts. When
your "automatic pilot" that is, your normal,
habitual pattern of thinking makes you miserable, that
is the time to take over, to sit in the pilot seat and take control.
You steer your mind by asking questions. And soon as you
get your mind going where you want, you can leave it alone and
it will go back on automatic pilot again.
There are a few important points to know
about asking yourself questions because which questions you ask
make a big difference. If you ask yourself things like, "What
should I be afraid of? What might go wrong? Why am I such a loser?
Why is life so miserable?" those questions will direct your
mind all right but in the wrong direction.
The first question to ask is always something
about your purpose. What is your goal here? Let's say you find
yourself feeling down. You realize you are experiencing dysphoria
(negative emotion), and you want to get out of it. Your automatic
pilot is taking you to hell and you don't want to go that way.
The way to get hold of the steering column is by asking a question.
Make your first question about your purpose: "What is my
goal here?" or "What do I want?" This is not to
figure out why you are thinking depressed thoughts. You are asking
yourself what you desire. What do you intend to accomplish right
now? Probably your answer is, "I want to feel better."
Or, "I want to concentrate on my work," or, "I
want my spouse and I to have a good time."
Your next questions should be to bring
about that purpose. And this is not a way to avoid important
issues in your life. If you are depressed because you haven't
done your taxes, you can feel better if you decide when you will
sit down and do them. Write that down if you have to. Then you
can turn your attention to other things.
Let's say you want you and your spouse
to have a good time. Next question is something about that: "What
can I do in that direction?" You have redirected your mind.
You're now thinking along a new line. And it will take you in
a different direction.
In the article, Undemoralize Yourself, the techniques are
effective, and guess what? The techniques are based on asking
particular questions. When you feel dysphoric, what do you do?
First ask yourself, "What am I thinking?"
When you figure that out, then ask yourself,
"Is that necessarily the case? Am I completely sure it's
true? Is there any evidence for it? Is it logical? Am I completely
justified in making that assumption?" And if you can't determine
whether it's true or not, you again ask yourself a question:
"Is it practical to think? Or is it counterproductive?"
The way to take over the direction of your
mind is by asking questions. Your mind is compelled to find answers
to the questions you sincerely ask. So make sure you are asking
good questions. Use your ability to ask questions to direct your
attention in ways that serve your outcome.
When you're trying to go to sleep, for
example, you don't want to have your thoughts on frightening
things: It doesn't serve the outcome you want (to fall asleep).
You want your attention to be on feelings of comfort and relaxation,
so ask questions to direct your attention: "What is the
most comfortable part of my body right now? Can I shift to another
position and become even more relaxed and comfortable? Is there
a tense muscle somewhere in my body? (And when you find it):
How relaxed can I make that muscle? Would I feel better if I
took a deep breath?"
Hey! Wake up! Are you yawning? Did those
questions direct your mind into a sleepy state? But what is your
purpose here? To go to sleep? If so, shut off your computer and
go to bed.
But if you want to be wide awake and learn
something, ask yourself right now, "What can I do to become
more alert?" Ponder the possibilities. Sit up straight?
Change your breathing? Turn the lights on brighter? Sometimes
it even works to simply imagine the lights are brighter.
How about this one: Read a little faster and make the voice in
your head talk faster in a slightly higher pitch with more emphasis
and urgency. Feeling more alert now? Good.
My point is: Direct your attention in a
way that serves your purpose. Ask questions (that's the trim
tab) to direct your attention (that's the rudder) to change the
quality of your life (that's the ship). It starts with a question.
Control your attention
by asking good questions.