1: “This is Impossible,” we think.

We can feel the frustration building inside us. “The hard work. The long hours. The voice in our heads telling us to quit,” writes Steven Kotler in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

If we want to be at our best, we must pay attention to our inner monologue.

“At the elite level,” notes high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais, “talent and ability are mostly equal. The difference is in the head. High performance is 90 percent mental. And most of that mental edge comes from being able to control our thoughts.”

Author David Foster Wallace once observed that boredom, routine, and petty frustration are the hallmarks of adult life.

Doubt and disappointment are real.

Even when we have “passion and purpose perfectly aligned and completely love what we do, what we do is often reduced to a daily checklist,” Steven observes. “Excellence requires repetition.”

2: Which is why our ability to control our thoughts matters. A lot.

“Without the grit to control our thoughts, the boredom and frustration that come with every routine will quickly spiral downward,” Steven observes.

Many top performers eventually realize: “They’re doing exactly what they love, yet completely hating their life,” Steven notes. “This is a whole new level of difficult. If passion and purpose become a prison, petty frustration morphs into blind rage.”

The good news? “Science has begun paying attention to this problem,” Steven writes. “Over the past few decades, mental hygiene has become a hot topic. Progress has been swift.”

So where do we start if we want to control our thoughts? With positive self-talk.

“There are only two kinds of thoughts,” psychologist Michael Gervais explains, “those that constrict us or those that expand us. Negative thoughts constrict, positive thoughts expand.”

What do negative thoughts sound like?

“This sucks. I can’t handle this. Why is my life so unfair?” Negative thinking “shrinks our options and abilities,” Steven writes.

To keep us safe and alive, our brains “are strongly biased toward negative information. We’re always hunting danger,” Steven notes. “Yet negative thinking leads to heightened stress. This crushes optimism and squelches creativity. When tuned toward the negative, we miss the novel. Novelty is the foundation for pattern recognition and, by extension, the basis of creativity.

“No creativity, no innovation; no innovation, no impossible.”

Positive thoughts feel entirely different. They lift us up: “I choose to be here. I’ve got this. I can definitely rise to this occasion.”

3: But one positive thought does not cancel out one negative thought. And doubling down won’t work, either.

Research conducted by University of North Carolina professor Barbara Fredrickson shows that it takes three positive thoughts to counter a single negative thought: “Three-to-one,” Barbara writes, “is the ratio we’ve found to be the tipping point beyond which the full impact of positive emotions becomes unleashed.”

Positive self-talk results in positive emotions. Positive emotions expand our perspective, “giving us the ability to create action plans beyond our normal routines,” Steven writes. “These new action plans alleviate the boredom and frustration that come with the checklist.”

Not only that. Positive emotions also lead to the “bounce back effect,” also known as resilience.

The best type of self-talk is based in reality. Times when we’ve faced similar obstacles and prevailed.

More tomorrow!


Action: Pay attention to my self-talk today.

Reflection: What is my ratio of positive to negative thoughts?

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