The Power of Free Will

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Wanda moved to the dance floor of my ballroom dance studio and nodded that she was ready. I turned on the music, hoping she would execute the complicated turn correctly. But her body language foretold the outcome. As her eyes filled with fear, she slumped. Then she slung her feet around and toppled off balance, nearly falling.

Was it because Wanda didn’t have the skill to do such a turn? No. I’d seen her do the same turn more than 100 times, competently and successfully.

The difference this time? She was scheduled to do an amateur performance later that day, and had allowed her head to become filled with self-doubt. Even though she knew the routine perfectly, she had turned to me with a defeated look on her face and said, “I’m not really ready to do this, am I?”

I assured Wanda that she was ready, reminding her that we’d rehearsed the routine over and over again. I suggested that she walk through some of the steps to assure herself that she knew what she was doing – and that catches us up to where I opened this story.

After her near fall, Wanda looked at me with wide, confused eyes. “I don’t know why that happened,” she said.

There was no evil puppeteer pulling her strings and causing her to topple in the middle of a step she was easily capable of doing. And there were no sudden gusts of wind blowing her off balance either. What knocked her down were the defeatist thoughts she allowed herself to have.

I’d been through this with Wanda before, and I said the same thing I’d said to her many times:

“Wanda, you have the free will to choose to think however you want to think – that you can do it or that you can’t do it.”

Eventually, with enough cheerleading from me, Wanda managed to get through her performance that night. Unfortunately, though she finished without humiliating herself, she was terrorized the whole time and didn’t do anywhere near the job she could have done.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The reason I understand Wanda so well is that for a good deal of my life … up to my late twenties … I too allowed my head to get filled with defeatist thoughts. These thoughts prevented me from achieving anything more than the most mediocre of successes in all aspects of my life.

I hit a low point before I finally took action to prevent myself from becoming an old man who could only ask himself “What if?” That’s when I started to develop my Dare to Live Your Dreams program.

As part of that program – to overcome the negative thoughts that were keeping me from achieving my goals – I came up with a system I call “Thought Harnessing.” Here are the steps:

1. Immediately recognize when you are having a negative or self-defeating thought.

2. Make a conscious decision to refuse to continue that line of thinking.

3. Force yourself to replace your negative thought with a positive one.

4. Take an action right away that will help you move toward the goal you are trying to achieve.

5. Reward yourself in some small way for controlling your thoughts.

Jeff Y. used Thought Harnessing to successfully negotiate a real estate deal that earned him $60,000 in less than three months.

Jeff had always been nervous whenever he was going to make an offer on a piece of property. All he could think of were the many ways he could fail. And as he drove up to the prospective seller’s office, he started having his normal fears of doom.

But this time, something was different. He recognized what he was doing and forced himself to cease that line of thought. Instead, he imagined himself handing a contract to the seller, and the seller eagerly signing it. With that positive thought in his head, Jeff exited his car and headed for the door to meet the prospect. And as he walked toward the door, he rewarded himself for turning his thoughts around with a little chocolate bar.

Needless to say, it worked. Jeff made his offer, the owner accepted, and three months later Jeff had successfully bought and re-sold his first pre-foreclosure property.

Lana J. also used Thought Harnessing – in her case, to revive her career.

Her employer’s business wasn’t doing well. And though Lana knew she ought to be looking for a new job, she was reluctant to do it. She was in her late fifties – and every time she thought about contacting prospective employers, she imagined them laughing cruelly as they informed her that she was too old to be hired.

But then Lana used the five-step Thought Harnessing process to get rid of her negativity … and actually applied for some jobs. Instead of making fun of her age, the prospective employers were impressed by her years of experience. And within two weeks, she had procured a new position and was earning 50 percent more than her previous salary.

Today’s Action Plan: Thought Harnessing is just one of dozens of techniques included in my Dare to Live Your Dreams program. Make a commitment to try it the next time self-doubt is keeping you from accomplishing a goal. And when you try it, keep something in mind. As Michael Masterson has pointed out many times, simply thinking positive thoughts isn’t enough to propel you to success. You have to act on those thoughts. That’s the reason “taking action” is such an important part of the five-step Thought Harnessing process.

[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence is a produced screenwriter, direct-mail copywriter, and business author. In addition to the Dare to Live Your Dreams program, he is the creator of the Quick and Easy Microbusiness System, ETR’s program for starting a business for under $100.]