Can doing the hokey-pokey help you lose weight?

container of bird seed

Do you still clean your plate because there are starving children somewhere in the world?

Since moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I’ve had to find a new source of food for Peek and Twinkie, the budgies.

Maybe you don’t know that birds are picky eaters. Sort of like toddlers. In fact, parrot-type birds have the intelligence of a three- or four-year-old human.

You might have more experience with toddlers than with birds. If so, you know what it can be like to get them to eat something.

The subconscious or nonconscious mind is kind of like a toddler. It likes things simple, uncomplicated, and routine. That’s why many people have trouble changing habits, because they approach them the way an adult would–not the way a toddler would.

I was talking to a woman who had been to a hypnotist before, and although it worked, and she lost weight and changed her eating habits, she was somewhat mystified by the process.

“He told stories and talked in a funny voice,” she said.

There are many versions of the “hypnotic voice.” It can be monotone, singsong, excited, or soothing. It can use rhyme and rhythm like poetry. It can also sound like normal speech. It sometimes sounds like the kind of thing you’d say to a toddler.

The subconscious mind speaks a different language

Certain vocal qualities and speech patterns more easily bypass the conscious mind–which is the whole purpose of hypnosis. When we bypass the conscious mind, we can communicate directly with the subconscious or nonconscious mind, which is where habits reside.

This toddler approach can get greater leverage with your nonconscious or subconscious mind, because you’re communicating in its native language.

One of my successful weight-loss clients created a suggestion that she was, “Healthy, happy, active, and attractive.” Can you hear the rhythm and rhyme in this short phrase? This suggestion worked well for her because it was from her heart, and the rhythm, rhyme, and simplicity perfectly meshed with the toddler approach.

Going back to my first question–Do you still clean your plate because children somewhere are starving?” Your conscious, rational, logical mind knows that you will never put food in someone else’s mouth by cleaning your plate, but you do it anyway because of a message you received from an adult when you were a child. These childhood messages stay with us long after they have outlived their usefulness! How do we erase these messages? By creating new messages using the same toddler language.

You can test this out for yourself by creating a short, fun, rhythmic, or rhyming message. If that sounds like a lot of work, schedule a strategy call. I have listened to clients come in with these childhood messages for more than 15,000 hours. You aren’t alone, and what worked for them could work for you. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

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Once I had a fear of spiders

spider sitting on green leaf
spider sitting on a leaf
Photo from Pexels, uncredited

A friend of mine once said that spiders are unnerving because they have too many legs and too many eyes.

I remembered this the other day as I’m driving home and happen to notice a spider on my windshield. Cute little guy about the size of a nickel—not tarantula-sized, but not tiny. Lots of legs. Lots of eyes.

I roll up my window so it doesn’t blow off the windshield and into the car.

I’ve had bees blow into the car, and while spiders don’t pose the same threat, I’d still rather have him outside than inside.

Then I notice that he’s not outside.

And now he’s not cute, and he’s definitely the size of a tarantula.

Fear creates strong memories

My emotions aren’t going to make him crawl faster or slower. They aren’t going to transport him out of the car.

There was a time when I would have actually screamed and either wrecked the car or pulled over to the side of the road and stood there sobbing. I had a traumatic experience with a spider in grade school; for decades afterward, I had a fear of spiders and couldn’t be in the same room with one.

On this particular day, as soon as I feel the panic, I remember that he’s probably been sitting there for quite awhile before I even noticed him, he hasn’t attacked me, and he seems pretty securely attached to where he’s sitting.

That’s when he starts to crawl up the windshield.

Panic doesn’t strike, but I’m definitely getting nervous.

I evaluate my choices:

I can let my imagination run wild, visualize how he’ll drop onto me, I’ll scream and wreck the car, he’ll bite me and I’ll die;

I can pull over and try to get him out of the car; or 

I can just keep doing what I’m doing: Driving home.

Worry is a poor use of imagination.

I keep doing what I’m doing, he eventually reaches the top of the windshield and disappears somewhere above the visor, and I reach home safely with my yoga mat and groceries.

Have you been struggling with a fear of some kind? Let’s set up a free strategy call and talk about what life would be like without it.

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How hypnosis is like setting up a tent

Tent lit from within among pines at night
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Every spring, my dad volunteered to chaperone my high school’s Math/Science Club and drove roughly 180 miles north to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (alma mater of “Weird Al” Yankovic) for the college’s Math Bowl competition.

Sitting in an auditorium listening to math problems read aloud and solved for several hours, may not sound like fun.

What was fun was camping at Morro Bay State Campground. There were campfires, canoeing, great food, walking on the beach, snipe hunting at night on the golf course, playing hearts, telling stories, and sometimes music.

If we left Los Angeles on time, if we hadn’t dawdled at lunch, if we hadn’t pulled over for too many bathroom breaks, if we hadn’t taken a wrong turn, we arrived at the campground with plenty of daylight to sweep the ground before setting up camp.

Why was that was important?

Know why you want the change

Eucalyptus–those tall, fragrant trees with long, tapering leaves–shed a seed pod that could be a camper’s nightmare. Literally.

Some of the seed pods were as big as walnuts, and if your sleeping bag happened to be positioned over one, you’d spend the next three nights in your eight-person tent trying to curl your body up to avoid that rock-hard knot.

Decide on your first goal

The first thing we did when we arrived at camp was decide where the tents would go. Flat, level ground was best, not too close to trees.

Next, we’d sweep the ground, clearing away stones, eucalyptus pods, and other lumpy debris, and picking half-buried pods and stones out of the ground.

If we arrived at the campground late, the job was that much harder. God forbid we have to do it at dusk; or worse, in full dark, by Coleman lantern and flashlight. The low light made it harder to see stones and pods, and we were most likely tired, which meant we either fought fatigue and cleared the ground well, or we did a rush job, cut corners, and slept on knots for three nights.

Eliminate the most obvious obstacles

I sometimes think of hypnosis like that: sweeping away the lumpy, bumpy stuff that has fallen to the forest floor of our minds. Just like those rough in spots on the ground, worries and habits can make us lose sleep or twist ourselves up in ways we don’t like. 

Some clients have gotten the impression from movies and TV that hypnosis is magic. They don’t realize there are a few steps of preparation, and they want to rush through them. I help them slow down, because they get better results when they don’t cut corners, but instead feel plenty of motivation toward set clear goals and have high motivation.

If you don’t want to think through these steps on your own but want more time, energy, and success, let’s set up a free strategy call.

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Do you hate change?

woman covering her eyes
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

I hear it all the time. “Change is hard.”

I have to disagree.

Personally, I think that if we look for examples of change being hard and difficult, we’ll find them. Negative experiences tend to stand out in our memories because our brains are hardwired to protect us. Our brains are designed to help us avoid danger and pain.

Although this mechanism protects us, it can work against us, too. For example, have you ever dismissed a compliment that someone gave you, but worried for days over one negative remark? Or maybe you have taken a test and spent more time upset with yourself over the one or two answers you got wrong than feeling pleased with the many answers you got right.

Bad times stand out. So do excellent ones, but we don’t usually think of them as changes.

Change gets a bad rap

When things change, we often get new problems to solve. But not always.

The truth is, change can be easy and magical.

Take a moment right now to remember a time when you had an “Aha!” moment… or a moment of bliss or awe… a time when you laughed… a time when you accomplished something you were proud of…

Those were moments of change.

An ocean is nothing but change, and people flock to the beach to walk along that ceaselessly changing seashore. Vacations exist solely for people to make a change: wake up in a different bed, eat different food, listen to different music. People decide to try new restaurants for a change. They decide to get a new shirt or shoes or lipstick for a change.

I’m not here to tell you that things shouldn’t bother you or that you should be happy all the time. If you’re going through a rough time and feel trapped–and want to change that–there are some techniques that can help.

What does “Change is hard” really mean?

I think people say, “Change is hard” as a shortcut for a variety of possible messages they want to express: empathy, reassurance, encouragement, etc.. It might translate as

  • Trust yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. Anyone going through what you are would be having a hard time. What you’re feeling is normal.
  • You’re not alone. I hear that you’re struggling, and I want to be there for you.
  • This is temporary. It will get better. You will get better. Remember that the payoff will be worth it.
  • Stop complaining; I’ve got problems of my own. (Hey, I know it’s not fun, but sometimes people simply don’t have the bandwidth to listen.)

There is research that shows when we name our feelings, we can lower their intensity. When we get more clear about what we really mean, we open up new possibilities.

How to avoid the pitfalls

The problem with saying, “Change is hard,” is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we say it enough, we can develop a knee-jerk reaction to change: avoid it! When we avoid change, we limit our ability to deal with it and making it harder to bounce back.

Here are some of the phrases I use to replace, “Change is hard.”

  • I didn’t realize that I was going to have to do so much right now.
  • I don’t feel prepared for this.
  • I underestimated the time and resources I was going to need to cope.
  • I don’t know what I should do next. Or even right now!
  • I’m exhausted. I wish I could just walk away and make it stop.

Who’s in control?

Notice the “I” language. If I own it, I can fix it. If the problem is out there somewhere, I have no control. Also, notice how there are seeds of solutions inside the new statements. This automatically helps with stress management.

Digging out the power statements hiding inside the the problems is similar to the exercise of making a list of complaints (what you don’t want) and then looking for the opposite of the complaint to narrow down what you do want.

So what are some of the possible power statements hiding inside frustration?

  • I didn’t realize how much I was going to have to learn or do right now.
    Power statement: I’m going to focus on one small step at a time.
  • I don’t feel prepared for this problem.
    Power statement: I’m going to learn what I need to know.
  • I underestimated the time and resources was going to need for this.
    Power statement: I’m going to make adjustments so my expectations are more realistic and manageable.
  • I don’t know what I should do next. Or even right now!
    Power statement: I’m going to ask for help from someone who knows more about this kind of thing.
  • I’m exhausted. I wish I could just walk away and make it stop.
    Power statement: I’m going to take the break I need to come back refreshed and strong. Or I’m going to push through for the next little while and see if I get a second wind.

Why it matters

Does this mean that life is all puppies and kittens? No! Of course not.

Does this mean some stuff is not really, really, really bad? Again, no.

Life moves. With movement comes divorce, death, remodeling, cancer, job loss, moving, bullies, auto wrecks, earthquakes, floods, landslides, wildfires, ice storms, dementia… you name it.

When we refer to “change” by naming the specific problem we’re battling at the moment, we make it a little easier to deal with and a little less painful. We put our attention on what we are in control of and can change. We are also training the brain to be more open to the possibility of good changes.

After all, a solution is also a change.

If you’re tired of trying to get everything figured out in the midst of chaos, schedule a free strategy call, and let’s talk about how hypnosis can help lower your stress.

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Stress management: Controlling internal voices

Hawk flying against blue sky
Photo by Nigam Machchhar from Pexels

A hawk flew over the apartment complex last week, and everything went silent. Not a peep from trees that moments before had been alive with the sounds of birds. Usually, birds are swooping back and forth across the parking lot, picking up bugs and seeds to take to their nests, singing and scolding each other, defining their territory, or hopping around in the sun.

Nothing moved.

After awhile, the hawk moved away, and the chirping and chattering started up again.

Birds don’t only talk to each other or respond to danger; they talk to themselves. When my budgies are falling asleep, they make quiet, soothing noises to themselves. (It sounds like someone letting the air out of a balloon.)

What do you say when you talk to yourself? Not out loud, but silently. What tone does your internal voice take on? 

Awareness is the first step

Many people aren’t aware that they’re “saying” anything to themselves. Others say that if they talked to others the way they talk to themselves, nobody would want to be around them!

Stress management depends on the thoughts running through your mind, whether you’re aware of them or not. We might not be aware of them because they’re hardwired from repetition and move too fast for us to notice.

Try this experiment: Remember a time when you were worried about something. Maybe you were nervous about showing up at a party where you didn’t know anyone. Maybe you were waiting for one of your teenagers to come home after curfew. Maybe you were preparing an important presentation for the first time.

What was going through your mind?

Where did you feel it in your body?

Wouldn’t it be nice if that worried or critical inner voice could be quieted, like those twittering birds in the presence of a hawk?

Appropriate tension can keep us sharp, but studies show that too much stress can affect our muscles, heart health, breathing, posture, sleep, hormones, memory, defense against illness, digestion, appetite, and many other areas. Stress management can improve our energy, health, mood, and resilience.

Neurons in our brain love to save energy, so worry can become automated; kind of like putting a phone number on speed-dial. Neuroplasticity–the ability of the brain to change–means we can program new thought pathways for new responses.

Change it up to eliminate worry

Next time you find yourself worrying, try this: Notice the messages that are looping through your mind (“What if I’m late?” “What if they laugh?” “What if I can’t/ don’t ______?”) and the internal tone of “voice.” Next, re-run those exact ame worry words in a different voice–one that makes you laugh. Mickey Mouse, for example, or Kermit the Frog. Maybe Betty White or Melissa McCarthy. Maybe the voice of a politician that you can’t stand, the kind that makes you hit the OFF button on your TV as soon as you hear it.

Personally, when I replay that nagging voice telling me, “You’re never going to figure out how to get across town without GPS!” using the voice of Winnie the Pooh or Marvin the Martian, it’s a lot harder to take that thought seriously.

There are thousands of stress management techniques. This one aims to quiet or silence those ANTS (Automatic Negative ThoughtS). Make it a game to switch up the voices you use so you can laugh or ignore them!

If you have questions about this technique, feel free to schedule a free strategy session, and I’ll be happy to help you.

Weight loss misdirection and marketing

Milk Duds box advertises 30% less fat
Is 30% less fat in candy good news for weight loss?

I get really irritated by those sneaky, lying weight-loss liars.

I was at a church function recently where the icebreaker included naming your favorite movie (on this particular day mine was Groundhog Day) and reaching into a little tub full of movie candy and pulling out a box for your prize.

I pulled out this box of Milk Duds.

I didn’t look at it very closely until a few days later, and I noticed this surprising marketing angle: “30% less fat!”

Which begs the question, “30% less fat than what, exactly?”

 (This is a good question to ask any time “more” or “less” opinions come into play: Compared to what? For example, “You should be more successful.” Compared to what? “You shouldn’t talk so much.” Compared to what?)

When you look closer, it says it’s 30% less fat than other candy bars.

On our weight loss journeys, many of us have been taught to watch out for fat, because fat contains more calories than carbs or protein. Maybe Milk Duds have less fat than a Hershey bar–because chocolate has more fat than caramel, or taffy, or whatever the heck is inside a Milk Dud. That doesn’t mean they have fewer calories than a chocolate bar, less sugar than a chocolate bar, or are healthier than a chocolate bar.

That’s the first level of misdirection, but there’s more

Fat still doesn’t have anything to do with the sneaky, lying weight-loss liars. No, that would have to do with servings.

One serving of Milk Duds is 10 pieces, or 130 calories. Now, who counts out ten pieces and stops there? There are 4.5 servings in the box. That means this box of Milk Duds has 585 calories–more than a Big Mac!

Now, if I’m going to eat something, I want it to be something that makes me feel satisfied when I’m done. A Big Mac has a much better chance of making me feel satisfied than does a box of Milk Duds. And I don’t like Big Macs, so no thank you.

I’m not a dietician or nutritionist–I’m a hypnotist, which means I pay attention to language and suggestion, and “30% less fat” makes Milk Duds sound like a healthy option. What it actually means, though, is “Look over here at the amount of fat! Don’t flip the box over and look at the back, because then you would learn that just one box a week would make you 8 pounds heavier over the course of a year.”

I have friends who are marketers, and they have products to sell. There is nothing deceptive about saying, “130 calories per serving.” But we live in a busy world, and while we may have the habit of asking, “How many calories?” once we have that answer, a lot of us stop reading. “Oh, 130 calories? That’s not much.”

Focus on what benefits you

It’s just as easy to build a habit of taking one more step and getting one more piece of information (“How many servings per box?”) that could help us make a new decision. 

Little things can make a big difference. If you’d like to jump on a free strategy call together, we can brainstorm ideas about how to set up the mental automation to make healthy habits simple.

Mother’s Day: Changing painful to peaceful

Smiling toddler hugging a woman
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Every Mother’s Day, I marvel at the social-media photos of happy mothers and daughters. All those smiling faces. I wonder at the wistful memories from daughters who loved their moms, who miss their moms, whose moms were their friends.

I am not that daughter, and she was not that mom.

This post is for all those other adult children, who, like me, have never sent an unconflicted Mother’s Day card, or have dreaded the annual phone call to a woman who perfected criticism, ridicule, and shame. I’m writing this in the hope that it gives you one less day of grief.

This is for all those adult children who need to hear this: You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

If someone enjoys tearing you down in order to feel good themselves, it has everything to do with them. It has nothing to do with you.

If someone did not have the skill or desire to become a better person, that does not have to be your burden. Let it be theirs.

You have so much to offer! If someone isn’t interested in knowing or appreciating you, you can find peace in the space between you.

They are not your tribe. Go find your tribe. Spend time with them. Learn from them. Give to them. Love them. 

You do not need to have a good mom to have a good life.

For those adult children who find this day troubling, here’s how I started to celebrate Mother’s Day, instead of wasting energy on could-have-beens. I started doing this privately years ago, but now I feel comfortable sharing.

A reason to celebrate Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the people who made my childhood amazing. My elementary school principal. The teachers (I remember their names) who taught me, corrected me, and encouraged me to strive for the highest standards possible while reminding me that failure isn’t final; it’s a part of growth. It’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of, because if you hide it, you can’t fix it.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my high-school friends’ mothers (I remember their names), who treated me with respect–sometimes amused, sometimes serious–like a young and inexperienced person who was simply in training to be a good adult person.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my female friends who have great relationships with their adult children (I remember their names); whose adult kids love them, look forward to seeing them, plan vacations together, and call them because they care about their lives. They were able to be the mom their kids needed.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the woman who gave birth to me. I do not know her name, but I’m grateful to her for bringing me into this beautiful world and for giving me this precious life (which has not always felt so beautiful or precious… it’s a process). I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and mentors and random miracles. I’ve had a life of adventure and fascination. I’ve loved and learned and discovered and created. I’ve been sad and afraid, fallen and failed, but I’ve also been grateful and happy and successful. She started my life, and none of it would have been possible without her.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate the women who are being great moms now to young children, especially (I remember their names), as well as those great moms whose names I will never know. My friend John Hertz says, “It’s better to promote the good than rail against the ill.” We create the world we want by studying what works and making more of that visible and possible. I’m grateful for those who are doing that work now.

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate those who display the qualities we honor in mothers, whatever their role, age, or gender (I remember their names). The friends, aunts and uncles, managers, CEOs, cashiers, customer service reps, health-care workers, car sales reps, computer techs, writers, architects, that guy in the back of the elevator… Sometimes, we just need a mom, just for a moment, and if you step up to the plate, you rock. I celebrate the opportunities I’ve been given to extend that “mom moment” to someone who needed it.

Decide to make today the best it can be

To those who don’t enjoy Mother’s Day as much as the smiling, happy people on social media seem to, I invite you to reclaim your joy today, in your own way, for your own best possible life. You are worth it. 

This is my way. Maybe it will work for you.

You don’t need to have a good mom to have a good life.

Separate from those who diminish you.

Find your tribe.

Celebrate.

If you want more techniques for releasing unproductive patterns in relationships, schedule a free strategy session.

Book Review: Positively Unstoppable

Positively Unstoppable book by Diamond Dallas Page

Almost everyone I know has seen the inspiring weight-loss and fitness transformation of Arthur Boorman, a paratrooper with a broken back who was told his case was hopeless. If you haven’t seen the video, go watch it now. I love Boorman’s story. It’s the very definition of “positively unstoppable.” The process he used was DDPY, or DDP Yoga, designed by pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.

I’d never heard of Diamond Dallas Page. My only exposure to pro wrestling came from Andy Kaufman’s weird encounters with Jerry Lawler back in the ‘80s. But when I learned that Page developed his recovery program to save his own career—a career he began at age 35—I was captivated.

Few people embrace the opportunity to change any kind of career at age 35. An athletic career? Get real. When Page ruptured two disks in his back, multiple specialists told him he was finished as a wrestler. Instead, he developed his own physical rehabilitation program and resumed competing in less than three months.

I love a comeback.

I couldn't resist

When I saw his book, Positively Unstoppable: The Art of Owning It, on the “New Books” shelf at the library, I grabbed it.

Are you already familiar with his career? If not, check out this book. He describes having the kind of childhood that sends many people down a path of addiction and poverty. He entered adulthood unable to read beyond a third-grade level, due to undiagnosed ADD and dyslexia. He always had athletic leanings, but accidents and illnesses repeatedly demanded that he reinvent himself.

He talks about the importance of being clear about what you want and focusing on action. I appreciated his ongoing refrain that people will want to hold you back, but they can only affect you as much as you allow them to. I was surprised by how much adversity he encountered, both impersonal (like the car accident as a teen) and personal (from other people in various industries). Page talks about how to get your attitude right and how to put “failure” in perspective, so that setbacks don’t permanently derail you.

There are fun mnemonics in here, like SMACKDOWN (specific, measurable, achievable, compatible, keep it going, do it, own it, write it down, now), and there’s lots of profanity. If that kind of thing offends you, this may not be the book for you.

Have I been wrong about hypnosis?

I appreciated that Page didn’t minimize the challenges he faced. He describes the excruciating pain, shame, and confusion he often felt when tackling a new challenge. He admits making mistakes and misapprehensions. He also makes it clear that failure is part of living. We’re never done, and we never get to a point where we won’t struggle and fail. A lot of writers move quickly past the tough stuff, gloss over it, or give the impression that a sunny attitude is all you need. Page doesn’t. I really appreciated his stories of positively unstoppable perseverance.

If you’ve ever heard me speak, you may have heard me say that one reason I love hypnosis is because it makes things easy. Have I changed my mind? Am I now saying, “No pain, no gain”?

I don’t think it’s either/or. I definitely think my own assumptions can make things harder than they need to be. Still, life consists of peaks and valleys, and although I get stronger when I’m on a climb, it also demands more skill than the flatlands. Doing something new means I’m going to stumble, fall, and make mistakes. I might feel frustrated, discouraged, and stupid. I can stay in those feelings and decide that’s the “truth,” or I can respond, “So what? It might be hard now, but I’m doing what’s necessary; I’ll get past this. The payoff is worth it.”

Getting to that point can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, or longer. It depends a lot on the tools we use, the people around us, and our assumptions. Page talks about this in the chapter about owning your environment. He actually uses something I’d call hypnosis with his massage therapist, Terri, to help her move past negative assumptions about her 50th birthday. That’s one of the things I really love about this book: Page is incredibly creative. He’s one of those guys who says, “Yes! I’ll try that!” a lot.

The first eight chapters of the book are biographical. Page writes about his childhood, his marriages, his careers, his successes, his setbacks, and his systems. His conversational writing style is both tough and tender, which I find an inspiring combination. The final three chapters of the book describe his DDP Yoga program (exercises and nutrition) and provide some worksheets for formulating and tracking goals.

There is plenty here for anyone who wants to dig in and create something new in their life, especially if it’s a positively unstoppable attitude and work ethic. Page’s book is both practical and philosophical, and he makes it clear that it’s never too soon or too late to “own it.”

Organizing our spaces: strategies and mindset

Jenni Holman of Leora Life Organization and Redesign and I just wrapped up the fourth and final episode in our short Facebook series about organizing.

Whether you are organizing an office, a room, your entire business, or your whole house, there are ways to make the process less challenging and more satisfying. Jenni and I team up and share from our different professions.

Here are the episodes, in reverse order:

Part 4:  Communication and supporting change
Part 3: How environment influences behavior
Part 2: Habits and how to form and break them
Part 1: How to identify an organization problem

We had technical glitches throughout, but we made it through!

Follow Jenni on Instagram at jenni.leora.life, where she shares terrific ideas for making your spaces beautiful and functional and dumping old strategies that work against you.

If you have questions you’d like us to address in the future, drop a note in the Comments below.

Book Review: One Simple Idea

Mitch Horowitz begins his history of the positive-thinking movement with memoir, sharing a humble account of how he became interested in the topic. He ends his book with a challenge to others to test the principles. Between those brackets, he sets out a feast for those of us who have been starved for substance when it comes to the idea that “thoughts are causative.”

I became interested in hypnosis when I was very young — a sophomore or junior in high school — and I’ve always been a science-loving nerd. Most popular books on how ideation affects reality do not speak to me. They seem superficial, sloppy, hyperbolic, poorly edited, or all of the above.

Enter One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. It makes me want to weep with gratitude.

I’ve never considered positive thinking as a theology or philosophy. I’ve always thought of it as a function of neuroscience and physics. Horowitz introduced me to a lineage of positive thinkers for whom positive thinking (or New Thought) was an aspect of spirituality. Their names were new to me, and Horowitz paints each one as a full-blooded, vibrant human being, with dreams, families, careers, obstacles, and victories (not always in that order).

Horowitz unfolds a fascinating history, describing vigorous personal correspondences, bitter feuds, secretive scandals, astonishing creativity, unrepentant plagiarism, and not so much an evolution of ideas as a dialog across time and geography.

Many of the people who populate these stories could easily support whole books of their own (and I hope they do). Helen Wilmans, for example, who said she wanted to start her own newspaper and was laughed at… before becoming a phenomenally successful writer, speaker, and publisher. I wish I could have met her. 

One Simple Idea isn’t just a series of biographical vignettes. Horowitz simultaneously traces how the actions of these individuals and their followers imprinted upon American culture to affect business, politics, and religion, in addition to personal conduct. As such, it confronts “the positive-thinking movement’s most serious and lingering dilemma: What are the ethics and moral credibility of a movement that considers the outer world nothing more than a reflection of an individual’s private outlook?”

Although one final chapter tackles these questions in depth, Horowitz taps this note throughout the book. This is one reason I’m loving so hard on One Simple Idea. There are no easy answers. Horowitz works hard to reach them. In doing so, he snatches the topic back from the hands of feel-good psychobabblers who bang out a version of philosophical Chopsticks in a concert hall begging for Mozart. Not to say Horowitz is Mozart, but he knows the difference between simple and easy. One Simple Idea is rigorous in questioning and reporting, and it cites its sources like a serious work of nonfiction, which I love so much that I want to kiss the damn thing, but that would leave lipstick on its pages.

The final reason this book makes me want to weep with gratitude is its language. It is rich, clear, scholarly, and nuanced. Horowitz has a deep respect and affection for his subject matter, and even as he writes with authority, there is an underlying humility and vulnerability. He does not pander or condescend. He challenges rather than criticizes, without being snarky or shaming.

And he appears to be incredibly prolific, so I look forward to reading many more of his books.