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Motivational quotes are everywhere, and they remind us of useful things we already know but have forgotten. Two recent messages struck me with their introspective power. Both are by recognized, distinguished thought leaders—one an academic psychologist and philosopher, the other a psychologist and holocaust survivor. Their conclusions are profound and were reached through different experiences and understandings of the human psyche.

William James (1842–1910) taught at Harvard University and has been called “the father of American psychology.” He was a leader in the idea that we could control our lives through the power of thought. He said: “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”

This was a breakthrough notion at that time. The prevailing idea had been that God’s will, chance, or luck determined your life.

Victor Frankl (1905–1997), who was a concentration camp inmate, survived the holocaust and subsequently wrote a fascinating book titled Man’s Search for Meaning. Through his personal experience of horrendous torment, he found that “Everything can be taken from a man . . . but the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Given that we have the power to control how we think, why are we so poor at it? We find ourselves replaying the movie in our mind, on a pitiful endless loop, of some past humiliation, insult, degradation, or unfairness. If we can control our thoughts, why can’t we hit pause on that movie and stop it from polluting our present?

We don’t muck around either, do we? Not only have we unleashed the horrid past, we invite the future apocalypse into our present as well. We imagine all the things that could go horribly wrong. We attack our optimism muscle with thoughts of future doom and gloom, thereby disabling it. We can’t seem to turn these thoughts off, either.

Real freedom is to recognize that, while we can’t completely turn these ugly musings off, we can neutralize them. But can we separate worry from reminiscence and from divination? How do we do that?

Let’s use two of Dale Carnegie’s stress management principles. Let’s live in “day tight” compartments. Think of each day as an airtight container, into which nothing can enter. We need to concentrate on shutting out the worry component, not trying to block the complete recollection or prospect.

We observe our memories, relive the pain, but firmly tell ourselves that was the past: “I am not going to go back to that time ever again.” We can see our pain point in our mind’s eye, but we don’t have to attach ourselves to it or embrace it, as if a crocodile has gripped us in a death roll.

This is similar to meditation techniques, where you observe your breathing cycle but you don’t attach your mind to it—you just note it and let your mind move on.

Our control, and therefore real freedom, is over the amount of worry we ascribe to the memory or the foreboding. Regarding the past, we can decide to cooperate with the inevitable, face the fact it happened, and know we can’t change it. Having done so, let’s switch our thoughts away from that memory to something much more pleasant or successful. Let’s swap our debilitating thought with a much more positive memory.

Regarding the future, we should prepare for it but not attach the worry emotion to it. Let’s view it this way: What is the worst that can happen? Having contemplated that prospect, we mentally accept that this is inevitable and will happen. Mentally, we prepare for the worst. Finally, we get our brain working on how we can improve on the worst. We switch from mental incapacitation and paralysis to producing possible solutions and alternatives. We move from negative to positive. We do this by controlling how we think about the issues.

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We move from negative to positive . . . by controlling how we think