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Your thoughts are the internal soundtracks you listen to even more than your favorite song. Over the years, you’ve built a soundtrack about your career. You have a soundtrack for all your relationships. You have a soundtrack you believe about your hopes, dreams, goals, and every other aspect of your life.
If you listen to any soundtrack long enough, it becomes a part of your personal playlist. Soundtracks made of music have the ability to completely transform a moment. Restaurants know this. Movies know this. Gyms know this.
The problem starts when what you play gets in the way of what you want, otherwise known as ‘overthinking’. Overthinking is one of the costliest things on earth because it wastes time, creativity and productivity.
The Three Questions
When you pick the soundtracks you listen to the most, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. It seems way too simple and obvious. So why don’t more people work on their overthinking?
Because everyone has too many thoughts and doesn’t know where to start.
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just asked our loudest soundtracks three quick questions to determine which ones we should listen to?
One of the greatest mistakes you can make in life is assuming all your thoughts are true. We tend to believe that if it’s in our head, it must be accurate. “If I think it, it must be real.” Despite the wild things our thoughts have told us over the years, we trust them. When you start to ask yourself “Is this thought true?”, you’ll be shocked by how many lies you have cluttering up your head.
Imagine if a doctor gave you a serious diagnosis, you’d reach out to a second doctor to confirm what the first one said. When it comes to soundtracks, we’re talking about the thoughts that shape our entire perception of life. It behooves us to ask someone if what we’re thinking is true.
The question “Is it true?” won’t be enough to smoke out the lie in a broken soundtrack. That’s why it’s so annoying when someone tells you, “Stop overthinking that situation—it isn’t true!”. Hence the need to ask the second question “Is it helpful?”
Is the soundtrack you’re listening to right now, the one that’s on repeat, helpful? Does it move you forward or keep you stuck? Does it lead to a decision or limit a decision? Does it generate action or apathy?
Broken soundtracks are tricky and can often skate through the first two questions undetected. They’re great at masquerading as the truth. How could they not be? You’ve been believing some of them for years. But this last question is the one that will undo them.
Is it kind? Is the soundtrack you’re listening to kind to yourself? After you listen to it a few times, do you feel better about yourself? Are you encouraged about your life and your opportunities?
Would You Say This to a Friend?
When you ask a broken soundtrack if it’s true, helpful, and kind, it will often say, “Yes. This is for your own good. This is self-discipline. This is tough love.” That soundtrack will try to disguise itself as a drill sergeant who is just trying to tear you down so that it can build you back up into a stronger, better version of yourself.
The truth is a broken soundtrack will never transition into building you back up. It can’t—that’s not what it does.
Broken soundtracks never evolve into new soundtracks on their own. That process is on us. We’re in charge of retiring the old ones and replacing them with brand-new ones.
If you’re still trouble deciphering whether a soundtrack is kind, an easy way to check is to ask yourself, “If I repeatedly told a friend this, would they still want to be my friend?”
If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, there’s a chance you shouldn’t say it to yourself either.
Turn Down the Dial
The problem with the internal voices we hear is that we want a switch.
We think there’s a switch out there somehow and if we find a way to switch it off we can turn off our overthinking completely. We only have to do it once and we’ll never meet our inner critic again. We believe there’s a switch.
Well, having spent the last few years of his life looking for that exact same switch, Jon writes we couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s not a switch. It’s a dial.
The goal is not to switch it off once and for all. The goal is to turn down the volume, because the voice will never go away. It’s going to get louder sometimes. When life turns up and the negative thoughts resurface, we’re going to turn them down. That’s how our life works. Just like a dial.
That takes a lot of the pressure off because when you hear one again, it’s not a sign you failed to switch it off, nor that you need to go find a different switch. It’s just time to turn it down again.
When you live with a switch mentality, you set yourself up for automatic failure because it triggers the perfectionism soundtrack. It goes something like this: You hear a soundtrack that says, “If you could find the switch, you could turn it off and never be bothered by broken soundtracks again. You’re just one book, one exercise, one diet away from never hearing negative thoughts.” The switch can be any positive thing that you believe will deliver instant, forever silence from a broken soundtrack.
A dial is just the opposite. A dial approach says, “The goal isn’t to stop listening forever to all my broken soundtracks. The goal is to turn them down when they get loud. The goal is to head them off at the pass when a traffic jam, unexpected corporate merger, call from an estranged sibling, or any of the billion surprises life throws at you cranks the volume to 10.”
Borrow from the Best
When you give your brain permission to start finding new soundtracks for your collection, you’ll be surprised how many phrases jump out at you in the most unexpected places.
As for the question “which soundtracks should I borrow?”, Jon writes you should borrow “All of them”.
At the beginning of this journey, you shouldn’t waste time judging which ones are worthy of your new playlist. Just write down any soundtrack that’s even mildly interesting to you.
If you want a head start on your new collection of soundtracks, here are five Jon has personally found helpful. Remix them according to what works for your own life. In his own words:
- People are trying to give me money.
This is the soundtrack I use when going into new business conversations or opportunities. It’s not magic. I rarely walk out of those meetings with pockets full of bread, but readjusting my thinking ahead of time changes my demeanor in the meeting. I don’t get stuck on all the work I have to do or the fear that I could fail the project. I remember these people are trying to give me money.
- I’ll feel awesome after.
This is the soundtrack I turn on when it’s fifteen degrees outside and I don’t feel like running. Instead of thinking about how cold I’m going to be, I think, “I’ll feel awesome after. The after is going to be amazing. I’ll feel so proud of myself. I’ll get all those endorphins and lift my head high that I actually did it.” I used this soundtrack to run one thousand miles in 2019. The same goes for finishing a difficult project. I know that when I finish filming a series of videos that takes months to complete, I’ll feel awesome. I focus on that positive future when my present feels challenging.
- Spare change adds up.
If my goal is to write 1,000 words, I write 1,050. If my goal is to run 3.1 miles, I run 3.3. If my goal is to email ten clients, I email twelve. I think of that extra effort like spare change. It doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. Over a year, those extra fifty words turn into five thousand. Over a year, those extra .2 miles turn into fifty. Over a year, those extra two emails turn into two hundred. I don’t force myself to run ten miles if my initial goal is three, because that’s the broken soundtrack of “more” at play. But a little bit of spare change is always fun to stack up.
- Pick ROI, not EGO.
One afternoon, after reading an early draft of this book, Jenny walked in and said, “Do you want feedback or compliments?” I started laughing because that’s such a perfect soundtrack question. I might want compliments in the beginning stages of the project, but the further I go in the work, the more I need actual feedback.
I remixed her question to a new soundtrack I could use in other parts of my business, not just my writing: “Pick ROI, not EGO.” Instead of picking the thing that feels best for my EGO, I want to pick the thing that has the best ROI: return on investment. This one should be plastered in every conference room in corporate America. When I shared it with colleagues, they shook their heads and proceeded to tell me stories of leaders who threw every bit of data out the window as they led in a different direction with their EGOs.
- Pivot, don’t panic.
When the coronavirus turned my world upside down in the spring of 2020, I had a simple choice to make: panic or pivot. Earlier in my life, I would’ve obsessed about the news, binged on social media doomsayers, and stayed stuck for weeks, if not months. I would’ve eaten macaroni and cheese at all hours of the day and put on twenty pounds of these-sweatpants-are-so-forgiving weight. I did that when I lost my job in 2001 during the dot-com bubble. But this time I’d just spent two years researching the power of soundtracks and knew what I needed to do.
I wrote “Pivot, don’t panic” on a notecard. I repeated that soundtrack to myself and anyone else who would listen. I started a new YouTube channel. I invested in teaching virtual events when live events got canceled. I wrote a new keynote called “Pivot, Don’t Panic” and began teaching it to clients around the world. I pivoted a thousand different ways, and I’ll do it all over again the next time life throws me a curveball.
Flip It Upside Down
How do you create a new soundtrack? The answer is simple. Just pick your existing soundtrack that’s broken and flip it upside down.
You might think this process is more complicated but it’s really not. Take out a broken one and simply ask “What’s the opposite of this? Then you have your answer.
What’s the opposite of a dismissive statement like “That will never work here”? A curious question like “I wonder how that could work here?” The words aren’t all that different, but the results are.
Play the New Anthem
For thirty days, every morning and every night, find a mirror, stand up straight, and confidently say the following out loud:
- I, [your name], choose my thoughts. I know that doing my best starts with thinking my best. Like laying a path for an adventure, these thoughts will set the course for my actions.
- I’m confident that what I think matters. I’m excited to see what happens next. I’m disciplined and dedicated to stick with it. Here are ten things I know:
- Today is brand-new and tomorrow is too.
- I’ve got a gift worth giving.
- The only person standing in my way is me, and I quit doing that yesterday.
- I am the CEO of me, and I am the best boss.
- Winning is contagious. When I help others win, I win too.
- Feeling uncomfortable is just a sign that my old comfort zone is having a hard time keeping up with me.
- Momentum is messy.
- Everything is always working out for me.
- I am my biggest fan.
- The best response to obstacles is to do it anyway.
[In the morning]
- I’ve pulled the slingshot back. I’m not leaving this room, I’m launching from it, ready for a day of untold opportunities. I’ve packed honesty, generosity, laughter, and bravery for the road ahead. Watch out, world! It’s time to step up, step out, and step in.
[In the evening]
- What a day! The best part is I left myself a lot of fun things to work on tomorrow. When my head hits that pillow, I’m off the clock, storing up energy and excitement for a brand-new day.
Go ahead. Before you read on, please give this anthem a try. I’ll wait.
Did You Do It?
Maybe you tried the New Anthem. You found a mirror, closed the bathroom door, and said it out loud to yourself. If you did, congrats. You’re halfway done with today’s repeat exercise. Knock it out one more time before bed tonight and you’re good to go. If you didn’t try it though, Jon doesn’t blame you. You might still be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”
That’s why Jon did a research study around the New Anthem eighteen months before he put it in this book. He didn’t want to share anything he hadn’t tested first. The goal of the study was simple: to explore three questions.
- Does repeating positive affirmations help decrease overthinking?
- Does decreasing overthinking help increase your productivity?
- Does decreasing overthinking raise your success rates for goals
The results of his study came in favorably. In summary:
- You’re 46 percent more likely to decrease your overthinking if you repeat the New Anthem twenty times versus five times. Imagine if today there was something you could do that took less than ninety seconds and made you 46 percent more likely to reduce your overthinking.
- Not only were the New Anthem repeaters more productive, the participants in the study had 21 percent higher satisfaction with their results.
- Repeating the New Anthem helped reduce overthinking and self-doubt. It increased satisfaction and productivity. And finally, it encouraged people to work nine more days on their goals than their peers did. All of that from a simple piece of paper? Yes, and the personal stories we heard from participants added an even stronger voice to the data.
Play & Act
A soundtrack without action is just a fortune cookie. It might be catchy, it might even be clever, but until you put it into action it doesn’t accomplish anything.
If you have a new soundtrack you’ve fallen in love with, fortify it with effort so that if the inner critic gets loud someday, you’ll have all the evidence you need.
It was in 2008 when Jon first believed “I think I can be a public speaker”. But he didn’t have any evidence to back it up. How could he? He was just getting started but he knew he wanted that soundtrack to play for years to come. So he focused on effort. And today, he’s glad that he did because it turns out the fastest way to make a soundtrack true is to turn it into action.
Overthinking steals time, creativity, and productivity by making you listen to broken soundtracks. Do you know what happens when you listen to new ones? That’s right. You give your dreams more time, creativity, and productivity.
Whether you want to build a business, go from a receptionist to a CEO, get in shape, or chase some dream most people can’t imagine, you know that you can. You know how to tap into the secret power of overthinking.
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