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Learned Pessimism or Intentional Optimism

By Philip Humbert

I suspect I've written about the importance of taking conscious, intentional, systematic and effective control of our thoughts and moods at least 100 times over the years. Whatever the number, I'm writing about it more frequently in the past couple of years.

The 19th century philosopher and psychologist, William James, wrote that, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind." Hundreds, if not thousands of leaders, teachers, gurus and philosophers have pointed to the same truth.

It runs through Napoleon Hill's famous book, "Think and Grow Rich" from the 1930's. In the 1950's, Earl Nightingale made his famous recording (on old, 78 rpm records!) called, "The Greatest Secret." In 1962, Normal Vincent Peale wrote, "The Power of Positive Thinking." In the 70's and 80's, my mentor, Jim Rohn, and his colleagues and competitors, Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar built entire careers on this same "discovery." A long list of folks have discovered this "secret" goes back to Aristotle and continues to the modern discovery of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

But, and this is important, there are at least two major groups who are getting rich with an alternative point of view. Specifically, I'm thinking of the billions of dollars spent (and made) with "hip-hop" and "rap" music on the one hand, and the modern news media on the other.

One group glorifies a wide variety of dead-end activities, from drug use to brutal misogyny, criminal behavior and narcissism. Some of their lyrics and message are truly awful, evil and destructive. Fortunately, however, I suspect they are not a major source of entertainment for most readers.

I consider the other group to be even more destructive. We are bombarded with 24-hour news and what passes as entertainment. Most American households receive multiple 24-hour cable news channels. We receive news and opinion via Twitter, newsletter, websites and on our phones.

All day long, our minds are flooded with ads to buy gold and silver because our world is about to end. We hear about wars and epidemics, the danger of a thousand daily dangers, bad medicines ("Call now!"), and of course, there's the issue of climate change that will kill us all, if radiation from our cell phones doesn't get us first.

In the midst of this, we try to "climb the ladder" and "get ahead" through hard work, dedication, innovation and personal discipline.

We try to have "hope for the future" while a thousand voices tell us to "be afraid, be very afraid." We try to focus on our values and our priorities, while alarm bells and buzzers scream in our ears and good-looking, authoritative news anchors tell us the sky is falling and we're all about to die.

And yet, in the midst of all this noise, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind." What's a person to do?

I've been a "news junkie" all my life. I started reading the daily paper in grade school (my Dad quizzed us at the dinner table). I take exaggerated pride in knowing about Putin and Ukraine, about the mudslide in Washington, the missing jet in Malaysia and the tragedy at Fort Hood. Some people follow sports; I follow politics and economics. And everyone follows the Kardashians!

Well. Here's a news-flash: Turn it off!

No, I'm not suddenly in favor of ignorance, but I am in favor of controlling the "stuff" that goes into your mind. I believe in the old saying "GIGO"—"Garbage In, Garbage Out."

If we let our thinking be dominated by the latest "breaking news" or "bright, shiny object," we can't help being distracted, confused, anxious or even immobilized. Instead, I suggest reviewing your goals, every day. Read something inspiring or listen to motivational audio programs. Every day. Hang out with positive, creative, loving people. Every day. Consider and re-write your top values and most important priorities—every single day!

We inevitably become, and our lives reflect, what we think about all day long.

A while back, the Apostle Paul put it this way: "Finally... whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Phil. 4:8) Seems like pretty good advice!

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