The Insidious Television

NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR IT. I know I don't. But watching television is a waste of time if what you want to be is happy. As I've said many places, it is actually worse than a waste of time: It uses up time you could be using to do healthy, enriching, and otherwise satisfying things. But it is easy and unnaturally compelling.

A study that found a large percentage of people watch more television than they want. Strange, isn't it, when the thing is so easy to turn off? In a recent post on the Positive Psychology News Daily called Does TV Make Us Happy?, Rosie Milner wrote:

"On average, Americans spend about five hours per day watching TV, while Europeans are glued to the box for over three and a half hours daily."

That's a lot of time. Especially when it doesn't make you happier or healthier or more successful or even more relaxed! But like Rosie says, television has one thing in its favor: it gives immediate gratification. Beyond that, television producers make it as difficult as possible for you to turn off your TV or even change the channel. They use every trick they can.

And in their efforts to capture and hold your attention, they accidentally change your worldview into a more pessimistic one. One of the methods they use to capture your attention is to horrify or shock you. Your brain hasn't evolved to deal with so much sensationalistic input. Too much of it skews your point of view. This is one of the leading causes of the global pessimism we're trying to crush here on CP.

That's the big view. The more immediate issue is you and your own television.

Nobody is going to save you from your television. It's your life. If you are going to have a great one, you will have to turn that thing off more than you want to.

If you're looking to have a little goofing-off time, here's an idea of what to do besides television: Wasting Time The Old Fashioned Way.

And here's an article with a few good ways to reduce the amount of television you watch: How To Have More Life In Your Time.


Harry Potter and the Power Of Positive Psychology

I JUST READ a good article called Harry Potter and the Power of the Positive by Dave Shearon. He says people often criticize positive psychology (scientific research into the benefits of positive emotion and the costs of negative emotion), but the evidence for its practical value has been accumulating quickly in the last few years.

In the Harry Potter novels, Harry eventually discovers he has something that gives him an edge over the dark lord: Love. As corny as that sounds, researchers from many different fields have found the practical wisdom in that idea, such as the work of Christopher Peterson and John Gottman.

Love is a powerful force for good. It's the best of the positive emotions. And it is not a matter of luck whether you have love in your life. You can take voluntary actions to increase the closeness and affection you feel for others (and they feel for you). Read more about that here: How To Cultivate Closeness.

Positive emotions are positively good for your health and good for your relationships. And negative feelings (and the pessimistic thoughts that cause them) are positively bad for your health. I will leave with a quote from Shearon's article:
Unlike the luck potion in the Harry Potter story, developing a more frequent basis of positive emotions, the capacity to adopt a more positive explanatory style, and other positive traits and approaches does not concentrate “luck” in a few hours. It does, however, seem to have the effect of tipping the odds of good things happening and minimizing the odds of bad things. Even over a fairly short period of time the results can significantly affect outcomes. Over the course of years, or even a lifetime, the consequences in terms of health, well-being, relationships, and achievement can be huge.


A Positive Force For Anti-Pessimism

PESSIMISM CAN WORM its way into our minds in many different ways, but the most powerful force for negativity is television news programs. I saw a great example of it today, and also a great response to it from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian-born American (see photo) who has seen the worst the world has to offer, and yet remains unpessimistic.

Avi Lewis, the Canadian man interviewing her, does his best to put a cynical, pessimistic, defeatist slant on everything he can, but she handles it all with style, grace, clarity of expression, and a glaring lack of pessimism. It is beautiful to watch.

Go to Avi Lewis's site and watch the video.

It is nine minutes long. Almost everything Lewis says is saturated with negativity and cynicism. He exaggerates. He implies we are helpless against powerful evil people who run things. He overgeneralizes. He sees things in black-or-white terms. He makes so many thought-mistakes so quickly it is hard to keep up. In short, he is a perfect example of the media's negative bias. Listen to enough of this kind of "news" and your worldview would be distorted beyond all recognition.

Lewis also seems to be intensely anti-American while Ali is pro-American. Ali speaks openly against Islam (she is the author of the book, Infidel) while Lewis defends Islam. It's quite a conversation.


How To Stay Informed Without Being Upset Unnecessarily

AS YOU KNOW, in order to compete with other stations for your attention, television news must shock and upset people to compel their attention even against their will. Read more about that here. So I suggest you find some other way to stay informed of world events.

Reading news is better than watching it (you have more control over what news you get, and you are not so gripped by visual images). Reading a magazine is better than a newspaper (they have more time to develop stories, they have more distance in time, so tend to avoid covering things that are only temporarily newsworthy, and they tend to be more accurate because they have more time for fact-checking).

The best news magazine I've ever read is called The Week. Check out their web site here. No, they aren't paying me to say this (although I wish they were). It is just a darn good magazine because they cover, as they put it, "all you need to know about everything that matters." That's their byline and they really do a great job living up to it. They describe themselves well:

THE WEEK is a spirited newsweekly that distills the best of news, opinion, and ideas from the U.S. and international media.

Every week, THE WEEK's editors scour hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and Web sites (U.S. and foreign), searching for the most intriguing stories and the most thoughtful commentary—left, right, and everything in between. Covering the entire political waterfront. The best of what they find gets reported—concise, intelligent, crisp.

THE WEEK's format is straightforward yet information-packed. Its focus is broad: U.S. and international news, the best opinion columns from here and abroad, health and science, books, film, the arts, leisure activities. Besides bringing readers up to date on the world scene, THE WEEK reports on what the smartest people are saying about it.

It's a fast read, and that's a good thing. THE WEEK's readers actually read the magazine cover-to-cover each week. It's designed that way.

Common-sense style and no jump edit give THE WEEK its fast-paced flow. Easy-access blurbs and insets accompany the in-depth pieces. Nothing gets more ink than it warrants; no story is too small.

Fifty percent of the edit focuses on reporting on the news-big issues and big opinions. Arts, leisure, and business get the other 50 percent. Things overlap, of course.

If you're looking for a way to stay informed without being upset unnecessarily, I don't think you can do better than The Week. If you think you've found a better source, however, I would love to hear about it.



I've created a new page called Good News. You can check it out here. Because of the news media's negative bias, lots of very good news isn't covered, so I try to compile it on the Good News page. If you come across good news you think ought to be on this page, please let me know. I'd appreciate it.

Reading and sharing good news can help counteract the demoralizing influence of mainstream news sources.


Cancel Cancel

I ONCE TOOK A CLASS called Silva Mind Control. It was kind of like self-hypnosis training and one of the suggestions we said to ourselves many times in the class was the following: Whenever we had a negative thought, we could say "cancel cancel" and it would nullify any influence that negative thought would have.

I don't know if that is true, but my wife and I use the phrase to help create a culture of optimism in our relationship. I might say something pessimistic and she'll say, "cancel cancel" and it will make me aware of what I just said. Or I might realize what I said as it comes out of my mouth, and I'll say "cancel cancel." It's short, quick, and gets right to the point. It's pretty handy.

You can use it in your own mind too, in two different ways. First, if you hear someone say something like, "Well, that's what happens when you get old," and you don't want to be influenced by that but you don't want to say anything out loud, you can simply say it to yourself. "Cancel cancel." Nullify such a pessimistic expression.

Another way you can use it in your own mind is when you say something or think something and you realize it is an overgeneralization, you can say to yourself, "cancel cancel," or even "overgeneralization." It's a way to help you clean up the thought-mistakes you habitually make.

To become less pessimistic, even if you aren't a pessimist, can protect your health and make you more effective in the world, and all you really have to do is catch yourself making thought-mistakes. That's it. Catch yourself doing it, and over time, you'll make those mistakes less often.


Hope Versus Determination

WHEN THINGS ARE GOING BADLY, people will tell you, “don’t lose hope.” But hope is not as valuable as most people think. Determination is a much more helpful feeling. What’s the difference? I’ll show the difference by telling you a true story of a rugby team.

They were taking a flight to a rugby match when the plane crashed in the Andes mountains. The pilots had miscalculated their position. They thought they were on the other side of the highest peaks, but they weren’t. So they started their descent and flew right into the mountain. As they were about to crash, they radioed what they thought was their position, but they were wrong.

As the plane came down, the tail section hit a ridge and tore off. The front end of the plane slid to a stop in the snow. Thirty-two people survived the crash. They were now in warm-weather clothes in very cold weather (the temperature was far below freezing at night). They assumed, of course, that the pilots transmitted their correct location, so they expected to be rescued. They lived on hope.

They had a little transistor radio they listened to all the time, and they heard about the progress of the search for the missing plane. They held onto their hope with understandable desperation.

Then one day, they heard the search had been called off. Many of them were crushed by the news, some weeping in despair. All hope was lost! But one man wasn’t crushed. All along, most of the others were fixated on getting rescued, but Nando was determined to get back to civilization, and didn’t like passively waiting for rescue. When they heard the news on the radio, Nando said, “We’d better go tell the others.”

The person he was talking to said they can’t do that. People will lose hope. Nando replied, “What’s so great about hope?”

To many of the survivors, the idea of saving themselves seemed impossible. They didn’t know where they were, or how far away civilization was, or in what direction civilization lay. They knew Chile was to the west, but the way was blocked by enormous mountains. They were at an elevation that was permanently snowbound and they were ill-clothed for an expedition in these conditions. The air was low in oxygen and it exhausted them to hike.

But Nando and a friend, Canessa, prepared for their hike, and then headed out. The hike over endless mountains in thin air, freezing in inadequate clothing, pushed these young men to their limits. At one point, Canessa said, “I can’t go on.”

Nando replied, “You must go on.”

Seventy days after the plane crashed, Nando and Canessa found civilization. During the ordeal, Nando lost fifty pounds, and he was a slim athlete to begin with.

Later in his life, Nando said, “When I was at the top of an 18,000-foot peak with Roberto Canessa, looking at the vast scenery of snowy peaks surrounding us, we knew we were going to die. There was absolutely no way out. We then decided how we would die: We would walk towards the sun and the west.’

That’s determination. Hope is passive and relies on people and forces outside of yourself. Determination is active and self-propelled. Determination is different from hope. If you have a challenging goal, don’t rely on hope to keep you going. Decide what you are going to do, and keep moving toward your goal no matter what happens.

When you feel disheartened, undemoralize yourself. It will keep your feet on the ground and determination in your heart.

Read the full story of the Andes survivors:
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (Avon Nonfiction)
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home

Or watch the movie:


A Handy Tool For Defeating Pessimism Worldwide

AWHILE BACK, I created the Crush Pessimism Store just for fun and so I could get some T-shirts for myself with the URL printed on them. Then I bought a bumper sticker and some T-shirts from my new store. Yesterday a friend of my wife's was visiting from out of town, and she said, "I like your bumper sticker!" All it says is "" She didn't know that was my blog.

When I wear one of my crushpessimism T-shirts, people treat me differently. The fact that I'm wearing a shirt with that message on it says something about me. People seem to automatically like me when I wear the shirt. They don't know I am the CP blogger, but the message on my shirt says I'm probably a positive person with a good sense of humor.

I thought long and hard to come up with that name. I wanted a URL that was itself a message. And I wanted the message to have a certain amount of lighthearted fun about it and one that wouldn't seem academic. I wanted something that others would not be embarrassed to display. just didn't have the same appeal.

The reason I'm telling you all this is twofold: First, if you would like to do something about the widespread negativity you see in people around you and the media, a simple way of doing it without having to directly argue with negative people is to get a bumper sticker or T-shirt. It puts the message out there, and also directs people to more information on the subject.

Second, I want you to do whatever you can to promote the URL. The URL itself says something that needs to be said, and it turns people onto a resource. People with a commitment to having a good attitude will be attracted to the URL and they'll use it to share with others.

We just need to get the URL seen by as many people as possible. You can add it to your signature in your email messages, for example. You can print it on business cards and when someone seems to need some help undemoralizing themselves, you can simply hand them the card and say, "Check this out. I think you'd like it." You can put a billboard on your lawn with the URL proudly emblazoned on it. Okay, maybe that's too much.
But the culture of pessimism has got to be curbed. Using the Crush Pessimism Store is one way to do it.

Here's another way: How To Advance The Cause

And still another: Turning Others Into Optimists


10 Weaknesses of Human Intelligence

IF YOU SPEAK GEEK, Steve Pavlina has a list of the 10 Weaknesses of Human Intelligence, which are in many ways similar to the thought-mistakes I'm always hammering on. And he is also making the point that those thought mistakes are the side-effect of our great intelligence. For example, our brains are very good at making generalizations. We can see useful patterns with scant clues. It's a great ability and helps make us smart. But overgeneralizations (a common thought-mistake) are one of the side-effects of that great ability.

Steve's list is written almost tongue-in-cheek because although he is pointing out something significant and important, he is expressing it the way a computer-programmer would. For example, number 9 on Steve's list is:

"Legacy code - System instability often results from running outdated limbic legacy code. An impressive display of human intelligence is to queue up your fight-or-flight response when asking someone out on a date. It’s nice to be prepared just in case she tries to eat you after she rejects you. DOS was great while it lasted, but it won’t help us save Antarctica."

In other words, you have a built-in survival reaction that is outmoded for modern life. You can't change it. The way your brain reacts to stressful circumstances (or even stressful thoughts) is sometimes amazingly fast and surprisingly strong. The part of your brain reacting that way is ancient and primitive.

Luckily, the most recent brain development, the one that gives us humans such a big head (literally and metaphorically), is largely for the purpose of intervening in those old brain-reactions, and if you take the time and use your head, you can really calm your reaction to stressful events.

When something is worrying you or you feel upset (in other words, when you have a fight-or-flight reaction to circumstances), take the time to sit down and do the writing exercise I talked about in Argue On Paper. It doesn't take long and it's not difficult to do. But the process allows your higher brain (cerebral cortex) to intervene and calm down your lower brain (reptilian and mammalian brains). It will help you feel better and deal with the situation more sanely.

And as a special added bonus, you will probably have changed a few key beliefs by doing the exercise so situations like that in the future won't be as upsetting to you.

An excellent resource for dealing with stress is at Check it out: Stress And Anxiety.


What Is Pessimism?

PESSIMISM IS A WAY OF THINKING. It is a way of thinking that is unnecessarily self-defeating and counterproductive. And, most importantly, pessimism is an inaccurate way of thinking. If a thought in your head is accurate and not self-defeating or counterproductive, then it is not pessimism, even if it might be considered a "negative thought."

What kinds of inaccuracy am I talking about? Thought-mistakes, technically known as "cognitive distortions" like overgeneralization and black-or-white thinking are inaccuracies. The thoughts and beliefs are objectively untrue.

Pessimism is a way of thinking about an event that mistakenly makes the circumstances out to be more depressing or disheartening than they really are, sapping your motivation and taking away your will to try.

Pessimism is bad for your heart, bad for your immune system, negatively influences your relationships, and impairs your ability to be effective in your work. Oh yeah, and it is
no fun.

But you're not pessimistic, right? Compared to the "average person," you are probably less pessimistic than most. But pessimism is not on or off
it is a graduated scale from extremely pessimistic to extremely optimistic, and all of us are somewhere between those two extremes.

That means that no matter how optimistic you may be, you can improve your thoughts and become less pessimistic, and if you do, you will improve your health, your relationships, and your ability to achieve.


What Do You Really Want That You Gave Up On?

THE METHODS we use to crush the pessimism in our own minds apply to all goals. The techniques can be used when you feel demoralized about anything you really want: A good marriage, a slim body, more money, whatever.

Usually the coaching you come across about increasing your persistence or determination or motivation is applied to
career goals. Go into a bookstore and find a book about motivation, and it is likely the book was written for salespeople or businesspeople and is oriented to financial success. But the techniques would work just as well with the goal of improving your marriage.

In an article called
Finding Love Again With 100 Days of Sex, Nick Hazell writes about a couple who felt their marriage had gone stale and tried to improve things by committing themselves to having sex every day for 100 days in a row. They both felt the experiment was successful. One line in the article struck me: "there is often the defeatist attitude within couples that are aware that their sex life is not what it was, yet simply accept it and just plod along."

People do the same thing with goals of all kinds. It's a
defeatist attitude. It's a feeling that nothing can be done to improve the situation. Or that it would be too difficult. The obstacles would be too hard to overcome, so they give up on the goal. This is pessimism, and the defeated feeling is not caused by the circumstances. It is caused by something inside yourself that you can change.

If those couples with a defeatist attitude looked into their own thoughts, they would find thought-mistakes galore. And in finding the thought-mistakes (using the undemoralizing method) and recognizing them as mistakes, the couple would find their feelings of defeat lifting and a new hope and determination would arise in its place.

A defeatist attitude is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you have decided something can't be changed, you won't try, and if you don't try, nothing will change. If you try to change things anyway
while still believing it won't make any difference, you are merely going through the motions, and your efforts will probably only convince you it is impossible.

To really recover your determination, (rather than trying to fool yourself with positive affirmations you don't believe), you have to go after the mistakes in your thinking and find previously unexamined beliefs you hold in your mind that you realize are mistaken now that you really look at them.

When you recognize one of your pessimistic thoughts is mistake, your discouragement instantly vanishes. Your natural desire to achieve your goal reawakens. Your determination comes alive.

Use this material
anywhere in your life where things are not going the way you want. Use it vigorously anywhere you feel frustrated or defeated. Go here and Undemoralize Yourself today!


A Culture Of Two, A Culture Of Optimism

AN IMPORTANT PART of my mission here at is to crush pessimism in the world at large. That is, to ruin its popularity. To make it less widespread. To put it in disrepute (where it belongs). And that is best done one-on-one between friends. If you're with me on this, then I have a mission for you, starting today: When you hear a friend of yours say something pessimistic (and mean it), don't try to talk her out of that one belief. Try to talk her out of pessimism in general. "Did you know pessimism is bad for your health? And it kills motivation and makes you feel bad unnecessarily?"

If you don't remember the details about the studies in Pessimism Is Bad For Your Immune System or Pessimism Is Bad For Your Heart, tell your friend you were reading about it and want to send her a link.

You could argue about any particular statement all day long, but what is really important is your stance on pessimism itself. It it okay or is it suspect? Is pessimism realistic? Does it help? Or is it self-defeating and counterproductive? You know the answer. Let's make that same understanding more widespread in the world, starting with your friend.

You have opportunities all the time, if you are paying attention. Your friend will reveal her thoughts when she speaks, and if you hear something pessimistic, point it out, let her know she is stronger than she thinks she is, more capable than she's giving herself credit for, and that the past does not dictate the future. Don't let pessimistic utterances go unchallenged.

Between every two friends, there is a miniature culture, and you can alter that culture, not domineeringly or demandingly, but with love and friendliness. You can do it gently, and over a period of time. Create a culture that
is aware of the danger and self-defeating nature of pessimism, a culture committed to optimism, determination, good health, and a better future.


ONE GOOD WAY to crush your own pessimism is to look at the thoughts you have when you feel discouraged and find mistakes in those thoughts. That is, find ways in which your thoughts are mistaken. Maybe you've exaggerated something. Maybe you're thinking about something in black-or-white terms when there are actually many shades of gray you are overlooking. And so on.

I don't usually recommend simply trying to think positive thoughts. The research has shown it isn't as effective at changing your mood as finding mistakes in your discouraging thoughts. But reframing is different. You can read more about reframing in this article from The Happiness Project:
A secret to happiness: re-frame something that’s making you unhappy.

Most of the thought-mistakes you make are factual errors. For example, "Nobody loves me." That's probably a factual error. But what if you think something like, "I'm such a loser." Is that a factual mistake? Maybe you don't really think you can say whether that's true or false. In cases like that, we have another way of judging the thought: Is it useful? And this is where reframing comes in. If you judge a thought as neither true or false, but you know it is definitely counterproductive, you can then look to see if you could look at it some other way.

In other words, let's say you are trying to talk someone into being a distributor for your business, and you flub it badly and the person turns down your offer. You failed. And then you think, "I'm such a loser."

You realize your conclusion is self-defeating. It makes you feel demoralized, which makes you not want to try again with some else and puts you in a grumpy mood anyway which doesn't really help in your persuasion attempts. It's self-defeating, but you can't really discount it as true or false. So you reframe it instead.

"I'm a loser" is one way to frame the situation. But are there other possible ways? You bet there are. For instance, "I am brave for putting myself into such a difficult learning experience." That's a different possible way to look at it. It's a reframe. You're looking at the same circumstances in a different frame.

And look at the consequences of that reframe. Rather than simply feeling like a loser, now you are proud of yourself for doing it and you're looking for what you can learn from what happened. That is a much more productive way of responding to the setback.

The basic technique is to dig up your thought-mistakes and clean them out of your head. But when you come across a demoralizing thought that you can't decide is true or false, try reframing it. You will get back in the game quicker and feeling better.