I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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This guest post was written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

It was just a short 20 months ago when I discovered a very simple key that allowed me to finally quit smoking and become a runner.

It was such an easy but powerful key that I then used it to eat healthier, double my income, become an early riser, run a marathon, become a vegan, lose weight, reduce my debt, save money, write a novel, complete a triathlon, and start a successful blog.

What was that simple key to success? It was this: flip your thoughts.

Before I learned that, I would always start a goal with a lot of enthusiasm, and then run out of steam and eventually fail. After that initial burst of enthusiasm, the negative thoughts would set in on me: You can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’m too tired. It’s painful. Give in to the easier stuff.

Then I learned to flip my thoughts, and those negative thoughts became positive ones: You can do this. It’s hard, but the reward will be well worth it. You’re tired, but if you do this you can rest afterwards. It’s painful, so let’s take it a little easier, and focus on the benefits. There’s easier things you could be doing, but how will you feel afterwards?

Take any negative thought that hampers your goal, and find a way to flip it into a positive thought. Are you focusing on the difficulties of a goal or task? Focus instead on the benefits. Are you focusing on why you can’t do something? Focus instead on how you can, and why you should.

Actually, there is another key that must come first: you need to become aware of your thoughts. Many times we are thinking negative thoughts, but we don’t realize it. Start any goal by monitoring your thoughts. If you’re going to go running, for example, be aware of the thoughts that tell you to stop, that tell you that it’s too hard. Spend a day or two just being aware of those thoughts — and then try to flip them.

It’s a skill that takes practice, but trust me, if you get good at this skill, it will unlock any goal you set out to achieve. Let’s take a look at how to apply this key to some common goals. Some of these examples might seem corny and overly optimistic, but trust me, positive self-talk really works.

  • Eating healthier. Let’s say you’re trying to eat less fatty foods and trying to eat more fruits and vegetables instead. And you notice a common thought in your head: I really want that fried chicken. I really want that rich dessert. It looks so good and delicious! What do you do? Flip that thought: That fried chicken will clog my arteries and make me fat. So will that dessert. But those cut up fruits and veggies look delicious, and refreshing, and they will help me lose my gut! Think of the negative things about the fatty foods, and the positive things and the benefits of the healthy foods.
  • Exercise. The hardest part is actually getting out and starting the exercise. You might think: I’m too lazy right now. I don’t feel like it. I’d rather check my email. Instead, flip your thoughts: Exercise isn’t hard. Anyways, I don’t need to do too much today. I’m just going to put on my shoes and jog for 5 minutes, and see if I feel like doing more from there. And it will help me lose that gut!
  • Frugality. Monitor your spending urges, which typically come if you’re at a store or a mall or you’re shopping online. Your thoughts might be: I really want that gadget (or pair of shoes or whatever). I gotta have it. Now flip your thoughts: I don’t really need that right now, and it’s going to put me over my budget. Instead, I want to see if I can go a month without spending on anything unnecessary, so I can pay off my debts and be free of that burden!
  • Happiness. Negative thoughts are what get us down and spoil our happiness. There are so many in this area that it’s impossible to name them all, but again, learn to become aware of them … and then flip them. An example: I am such a failure. My life isn’t going anywhere. Flip those thoughts: Actually, I’ve done a lot in my life, and I have a lot to be thankful for (and here you should think of everything you have to be thankful for, including your material comforts, any loved ones, your health, or just life itself). And while I might not be doing as well as I’d like, I am going to take positive action and seek new opportunities. I can make this happen.
  • Career success. Negative thoughts are our main obstacles to success. Just one example: My supervisor hates me. I hate him and I’m not going anywhere in this job. Now try flipping those thoughts: I can impress my supervisor and his supervisors will a couple of stellar projects that will bring major benefits to this company. I’m going to take the initiative to start these projects and perform amazingly. And while I’m doing that, I’m going to look for other opportunities to get jobs that will give me the advancement I want.
  • Waking early. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day, and I’ve learned to love the early morning hours (read more about this here). While rising early isn’t for everyone, some people really want to wake earlier, but they have problems finding the motivation when the alarm goes off. Here’s a common negative thought: I’m so darn tired. I can just sleep another 20 minutes and there won’t be any harm. But try flipping those thoughts instead: I’m going to become an early riser and greet the day with energy! There are a few things I really want to do this morning, so if I get up now, I can actually get them done!

22 Comments

  • Keith

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    9:16 am

    I Like this outlook. I’ve run for many years and not every time out the door has been easy or fun. I do have a trick that does help me run in spite of any number of good excuses not. I call it ‘regret minimization’. Goes like this: if i don’t run I’ll be reminded all day that, well, I didn’t run and I’ll regret that. However, if i push myself out there and haltingly grind two ugly miles around City Park I can at least remind myself during the day that I cared enough about myself to run. As I’ve gotten older I find a few more of those regret minimization runs creeping in. Not surprising.

  • Sijmen

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    10:43 am

    I’ve already adapted some of your tips from this blog. For exampIe, I read an article here about early rising. Over the last year especially, I went to bed way too late – often 2 or even 3 AM, and then wake up as late as I reasonably could.

    That changed when I got to be home alone for a week, while my parents and the rest of my family was still on vacation. I set my alarm at 6 AM every day, and it’s been going very well.

    The only problem is that I notice some sleepiness setting in around noon, sometimes a bit later. It passes away, but not entirely. Any tips on that?

  • Chanpory

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    10:59 am

    Sijmen, I don’t think I’ve written an article on how to wake up early here. But Leo, the author of this post, has on zen habits. You may be referring to his post:

    http://zenhabits.net/2007/05/10-benefits-of-rising-early-and-how-to-do-it/

  • Carl of PseudoPower

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    12:21 pm

    I’m really trying to wake up early. It’s those pesky nights having hang out with friends that mess me up :).

    I try though. :)

  • Anon

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    3:22 pm

    Great article. Simple, brilliant. But I have a question: How do you deal with inner resistance? That part of you that almost enjoys being negative? (Or is it just me?)

  • damon

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    3:23 pm

    Feeling tired at midday can be a sign of dehydration. I get up at 4 a.m. every (well mostly) morning and the first thing I do is drink some water about 8oz and then another 4+ oz every hour after that. I find that on days I stick to it I don’t feel like I need a siesta in the afternoons. I generally go to sleep when I am tired but attempt to stick to the 4 am rise.

  • spike

    gravatarAug 14, 2007
    11:33 pm

    Norman Vincent Peale all over again. But that is a good thing! Another thought: failure is ‘greatly underated’ in America. It has such negative connotations, but the truth is almost everthing new or risky, every ‘overnight sucess’ is paved along the road of failure. We learn. We move on, we adapt. Fail your way to success!

  • electro^plankton

    gravatarAug 15, 2007
    12:42 am

    This is an incredible read. I too have felt the push of failure and I give in to it. I’m going to flip my thoughts after reading this. Thanks!

  • Sijmen

    gravatarAug 15, 2007
    3:36 am

    Chanpory, you’re right :) thanks!

  • Huda

    gravatarAug 15, 2007
    2:10 pm

    i really loved those wonderful tips, but, i have a problem, when i want to achieve something i feel really enthusiastic about it and the voice in me whispers nothing will stop you from doing it, but when it comes to be accomplished i step back! I don’t know why, I made so many schedules that shows i have plenty of time, that i can achieve this or that, but i just feel desperate when am about to do it!! Please just tell me what to do. i would really appreciate it if u send me more tips to my email. Thanks in advance :)

  • MC

    gravatarSep 19, 2007
    5:49 am

    I have to say that some people are just prone to beating themselves down. I suffer from depression and I know it. Sometimes letting someone else (a friend or a spouse) know of your goals can also help you a lot. Because if you’re not feelling strong enough it helps if someone else gives you a push. Think of it as backup to succeed. Just try not to relly on it every time. Make an effort to do it by yourself (but have your friend at hand to kick you into action if your will power fails).

  • liz

    gravatarSep 20, 2007
    10:19 pm

    my natural clock wants to sleeo at 3am and rise at 4am. I’m extremely productive and manage to have a “personal” life as well. i dont kno if rising early really matters for some people.. for some people, (like me) it is more benificial to get things done at night and then sleep till the last minute you can in the mornings.

    The hints about thinking negative are good though, ill give it a go.

  • corrie

    gravatarMay 28, 2008
    9:00 am

    ek wil graag mxit pc computer sit maar dit wil nie werk nie

  • Rebecca

    gravatarJun 24, 2008
    8:04 pm

    I don’t know if you’ll find it helpful, but I’ve created some simple practice tools for flipping your thinking. They’re called Fl!p Your Thinking (TM) – Flash Cards for the Soul. In particular, the Vitality deck might be helpful for changing mind/body habits.

  • Gus Castellanos, MD

    gravatarNov 11, 2008
    12:11 pm

    The Mind Syntropy Program at 18mind.com has a similar technique. We have great success coaching our clients to “flip out of all thoughts that hurt” (any/all thoughts that cause any negative feeling-mood-emotion). When a bad feeling arises, we ask one to identify what is being held in mind at that moment, and to FLIP that thought to its exact opposite. A common example is the thought, “I should have more money,” which is causes stress-upset-fear-anger; when noticed and identified, it is “flipped” to “I should not have more money.” It may feel strange, paradoxical and/or seem to oppose what is stated above in this post, but it works – one immediately feels a release and relief of the negative feeling. Then, feeling better, one goes on about one’s day and is able to perform, manifest, attract, receive positive things, which may include more money! However it is done, we agree that flipping thoughts is a very simple, yet powerful, method for happiness and success!

  • jane macdonald

    gravatarJan 7, 2009
    3:04 pm

    Can’t believe I found this blog. I went through the Mind Syntropy Program at 18mind.com and had Gus Castellanos as my coach. HE WAS GREAT!!!! This 10 week program saved my life. I am no longer a victim of my emotions. I flip every negative thought that comes my way. I have never felt so good in my life

  • Clint Baxley

    gravatarJun 13, 2009
    10:46 am

    Jane was talking about 18mind.com mind syntropy program where there is a 10 week course on how to flip thoughts. Not positive thinking but actually neutralizing the thought. Please visit and get a free session. Thanks, Clint Baxley

  • Rich

    gravatarJun 30, 2009
    2:55 pm

    Being involved in the highest level of Athletics at a young age. I had a weird coach who would make me visualize playing the perfect Tennis Point were I win. As an adult I now relize he was not so weird but right on. to this day i still use what he taught me but in many different areas of life. This article is right on!

  • Mon

    gravatarSep 23, 2009
    8:28 pm

    i just wanted to try all of the things that i’ve read hope it’s works…. wish me luck guys…so that i could share someting next time

  • rebeccahappy

    gravatarFeb 8, 2010
    12:39 pm

    I am just in the process of going through a Body Thoughts coaching program for weightloss offered by the gals at Ignite Potentials. The thought flipping is one of the tools in the arsenal of change agents they have provided us. I have yet to master it but am slowly implementing each one of them.

    I am happy to find people who have used these techniques with success. Thank-you so much for sharing your journey. I am excited to see my life transform as I learn become aware and apply these things as well.

  • Weightloser7

    gravatarFeb 10, 2010
    5:51 am

    Amazing post, if you want to lose weight there are two keys: workout and healthy food. It is time to experience beautiful life and healthy state!

  • lose 20 pounds

    gravatarAug 21, 2010
    6:33 pm

    Great article. I too have felt the push of failure and I give in to it. The hints about thinking negative are good though, ill give it a go.