Stop thinking and start living

Richard Carlson has written a very beautiful book called “Stop Thinking and Start Living” where he talks about common sense strategies for discovering life-long happiness. I have summarised the book here. Read the summary. Hope it kindles you to read the book.

The book as he says was extrapolated from the three principles of the Psychology of the Mind which are-

Mind: the intelligence behind all life
Consciousness: the ability to be aware of existence
Thought: the ability to form a reality; the fabric of life


We can experience a sudden shift in our consciousness. This is commonly referred to as ” a change of heart”. No one knows how or when this will occur, but we do know it exists and is possible. The characteristics of this sudden shift are-
1. Suddenness in onset
2. Accompanied by a feeling of inspiration( a light feeling or a nice feeling)
3. Permanent in nature
There is no relationship between the “feeling better” aspect of sudden shifts and the external appearance of life getting better.


In order to be happy, you must first decide to be happy. You must make a commitment to happiness.Approaching life with the understanding that it’s possible to learn to be happy without changing anything in your life- except your relationship to your own thinking. When you make a commitment to happiness you are in effect saying:” There’s so much in life that I can’t control- the world, other people and their choices and reactions, accidents, imperfections, suffering, hardships. Yet this is my life and regardless of what happens, I’m going to be happy.”Whenever you attach conditions to your happiness you won’t experience it. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way!

Thinking is like the breath. We are not aware of it most the time. But the way you feel is always determined by the thoughts you are thinking. This relationship is formed so fast( in a tiny fraction of a second) that almost no one realizes it’s occurring. Yet this cause and effect relationship is one of the most powerful phenomena you will ever experience as a human being. Whenever you have a thought, and believe that thought to be true, you will feel a corresponding emotional response to that thought. Your thoughts always create your emotions. Negative and pessimistic thoughts lead to unhappiness, positive and optimistic thoughts lead to happiness. Understanding this is the first step towards happiness.

Thinking turns events into problems. Any event can be viewed as neutral. What makes it positive or negative, is your thinking about the event which in turn triggers your emotions, not the event itself.

Your thoughts are not real. They are real thoughts, but they’re not the same thing as concrete “reality”. When you think you are using your imagination to create a picture in your mind of the event rather than the real thing. The event might have been real once, it is no longer real. It’s all in your imagination. You can add additional drama, recreate it, magnify it, make it last longer. If you can begin to see that your thoughts are not the real thing, they are just thoughts, and as thoughts they can’t hurt you- your entire life will begin to change today.

Understand you are the thinker. It may seem obvious, but we are usually unconscious of it, like our breathing. You think the thoughts and the thoughts in turn cause your emotions and that in turn makes you feel “good” or happy or “bad ” or unhappy. Being upset by your own thoughts is similar to writing yourself a nasty letter – and then being offended by the letter.”

Dreaming and thinking are the same, except that dreaming occurs when you are asleep. We know that dreams are not real. Similarly our thinking is not real. We have imagined it. If you become aware of it, you can take the thought seriously or let it go. So it is not as if you just think positively and let go of negative thoughts- which is easy to say, but difficult to follow. The idea here is to have a different kind of relationship to your thinking – one that allows you to have thoughts of any kind without taking any of them too seriously. A happy person isn’t thinking about much at all, other than what she is doing. Happy persons know that the name of the game is to enjoy life rather than to think about it. They are absorbed in what they are doing, that they rarely stop to analyse how they are doing. If you constantly analyse your life, you will be able to find fault in whatever you are doing. True happiness arises when you quiet your analytical mind. It is preferable simply to the best that you possibly can in any given moment and pay attention to enjoying what you are doing, knowing that you can always do better.

Think of this image: leaves floating down a river. Think of thoughts as leaves floating down the river of your mind. Step back from your thinking and simply observe that you are doing it. Your mind then becomes free, and you open the door to experience.

Whatever you give attention to grows. If you give attention to your negative thinking, it will grow and will cause you more unhappiness. It needs humility to admit that our own pain is caused due to our own thinking.   Remember you can’t think your way out of depression. If you do that you will worsen it. Step back from your thinking and understand what is the cause is your thinking and you will get out of it.


At the core of your being is something we can call ” healthy psychological functioning”. You were born with it. You did not have to learn it. It is not who you think you are( your ego), it is your higher self, who you really are and who you can be. It is your wisdom and common sense. However you learnt to have “unhealthy functioning” – all the negative thoughts and limitations you put for yourself. You are the sole creator of your thoughts. You learnt on the way to have these negative thoughts which limit you and cause “unhealthy functioning”. If you disregard these negative thoughts your healthy functioning

The first steps in having the healthy functioning is to trust that is does exist and then having the desire to access it. Healthy functioning is the feeling you have when everything seems OK, when life feels simple, and you have a sense of perspective. You are able to maintain a sense of internal equilibrium irrespective of what is going on around you.

The first step in learning to live in the healthy functioning is to open your mind to the possibility that you can live in it. To do it you have to accept that it exists in you and appreciate it when it is present. Pay attention to it not only when you feel down but also when you are happy. Your healthy functioning must become more important and real to you than your unhappiness has been in the past. You don’t find light by studying the dark. If you are depressed you are already in touch with your negativity. To go towards happiness you have to move towards your ” healthy functioning”.


We have an important ability- the ability to “dismiss” thoughts as they enter our mind. It is a natural and effortless process. The important question to ask yourself is: If I can dismiss one thought, why can’t I dismiss another? The simple truth is that you can dismiss any thoughts you believe you can dismiss. We have very little control about what thoughts enter your mind. However once the thoughts enter, you have the control to dismiss them or allow them to be there. The ability to dismiss them is tied to your ability to understand that these thoughts are not real and have no power to hurt you. There are just images which you can keep or throw away. Once you dismiss negative thoughts, you are free of the negative effects of these thoughts. You are the thinker who is thinking about how bad your life is. The power to stop doing this is in your hands.

We often think that time heals all wounds. This is because with time we often dismiss negative things from our mind. It is not the “time” but the dismissal of negative thoughts which is responsible for the healing. Once a person learns that the secret of mental health is the dismissal of negative thoughts, he is free to experience mental health regularly.


This is difficult to define. But there are some things we can say about it. It exists outside the confines of our individual thought system. Wisdom is the quiet voice that speaks to you when you are feeling good, when you are happy, when you have your bearings. It can never come from negativity nor can it exist when your mind is filled with negative thoughts. It is the ability to see an answer without thinking of an answer. It lies in the space between your thoughts, in those quiet moments when your ‘biological computer’ is turned off. It happens when you clear your mind and quieten it down.


Troubleshooting is seeing what’s wrong or what could be possibly wrong in any situation. There is nothing wrong in trying to improve a situation. But it is harmful to the human psyche, when instead of being receptive to the overflowing beauty of life; we spend time in comparing, analysing, seeing what is wrong. It is wiser to ignore troubleshooting thoughts. Rather than offering suggestions to others, hold your tongue. Allow people to do things their own way. Instead of anticipating potential problems and reviewing past mistakes, live in this moment. See how this takes care of most problems.Remember a golden rule of happiness: it’s impossible to feel gratitude for something when you are too busy trying to improve it.”To break free from unhappiness you have to bring yourself back to the present. You must realize that the past is no longer here- it’s over. It was real then, now it exists only within your own thinking or imagination.


The way we go about making sense of our lives is to organize our thoughts into what is called a ‘thought system’. It is a self-contained thinking unit through which we interpret the world. It is our map of the territory, not the territory takes a great deal of humility to understand that it is just a map- to realise that our upsets come from our own thinking, our own conditioned responses. Our thought systems also have a tendency to validate themselves; it looks for examples to prove itself right, and it can usually do that. So you tend to see things as a result of your thought system. You make a series of conclusions about life. The sum total of all your conclusions can be called your attitude- thoughts that you believe as truth. Your thinking or thought system holds this in place.Because of its self validating nature you are tempted to continue thinking in the way you are accustomed. If you realise your thoughts are not based on absolute truth; they are contaminated by your thought system or your individualised version of life, you can begin to distrust your own thoughts. A happy person is able to admit it to himself that the way he sees life isn’t set in stone. It’s not that the way he sees life has no merit, but he understands that it is self made( based on selective perception and learned experience).When you stop paying attention to your thought system, what is left is healthy psychological functioning.

Your ego is your idea or thoughts about who you are. We don’t need it to succeed. In fact if we let go of our  thoughts of who we are, our insecurity begins to lift; we start living outside our ego and we connect to our healthy functioning. We experience our natural feeling of self esteem, gratitude, relax and enjoy, be in the moment, are touched by the little things we overlook. We feel happy because we think about ourselves the least often. You become far more interested in life and all it has to offer. You see new options and alternatives that were previously invisible. If you begin to ignore, even a little, the thoughts that you have about what you like and don’t like, you might be willing to try new things. It all starts from the willingness to see yourself as more than what you have defined yourself to be.


Life can be seen as a continuing series of choice points. A choice point is an isolated moment in time when you have an opportunity to choose between your healthy functioning( the path of love and contentment) and the path of ‘thinking it through’. What we choose will determine to a large extent the way we feel.

Path of love( healthy functioning) Path of thinking it through
Seeing the truth and moving on Trying to ‘get to the bottom’
Choosing love and forgiveness Choosing anger
Not dwelling on the issue Dwelling on the issue
Happiness rather than being right Being right is important
Letting go Hanging on
Thinking is light and diffuse Thinking is complicated
Little or no analysis Thorough analysis
It’s OK It’s not OK
I don’t need to get into it I need to get into it
It’s OK that we disagree I need to prove myself
No need to have a firm opinion I must express my opinion

Sometimes we do need to take the path of thinking it through, but most often, if we are seeking happiness, we don’t need to go down that path.


The habit that is most difficult to break is the habit of thinking negatively.Some planning and review are essential for an effective life. But reviewing past and future problems, our concerns and worries and speculating about how bad things really are is negative thinking. If you steer clear of this, you will find yourself noticing more beauty and kindness.Choose the path of love rather than fear. Life doesn’t get any better than the simple experience of your own mental health.Becoming aware and turning off your internal dialogue or redirecting it along a more positive route will make you happy.Once you that you stop accumulating negativity and you become and feel happier. To break this, note down each time you say something negative or self defeating. What you think then does not matter-because as u become aware and stop thinking negatively, you will find your mind has become more clearer and freer than before. More creative thoughts, a great attitude and feeling good is the result.


We all have moods. Moods are like the tides of the sea. They come and go. In high moods life feels good and happy; in low moods life seems serious and difficult. Depression is nothing more than a prolonged and painful low mood. The negative thoughts that fill your mind when you are in a low mood are the cause of your suffering – and those thoughts almost always contain gross distortions.But when we are in a low mood we can always find justification for those thoughts. The only way out is to see the absolute absurdity of believing in what you are thinking and feeling when you are feeling low, and then making a commitment to yourself to ignore your own thoughts whenever you find yourself in such a state.The cause of your unhappiness is primarily low mood thinking.Low moods seem as though they will last forever, like darkness in a cave. However just as we know there is light around the cave, we should know that there is good mood outside and this is just an illusion. So we should ignore the negative thoughts that accompany a low mood. This is not denial of the problems that exist. Because if these problems really exist, they will even after you come out of your low mood. But you will be then equipped to solve them.

A happy person accepts she has moods. She knows they are temporary.You don’t have to do anything. Once you do nothing, these moods just disappear.


The oldest and wisest piece of advice for being happy is to live in the present moment. But why is this so difficult? There are two reasons. If you believe that your thinking is something that happens to you rather than  something that you are doing to create your experience of life – it is impossible for you to live in the present moment. If you feel, for whatever reason, you must follow trains of thought as they enter your mind, you will be unable to remain in the present. The other reason is that they don’t understand the power of their own moods, and how to respond when their mood is low. Life is nothing more than a constant series of present moments to be experienced, one after the another. This guarantees a wonderful experience of life.
Present moment living means you are choosing to focus your attention on what is happening right now; you enjoy and appreciate this moment. Non-present moment living is- instead of living in the moment you are waiting for the next one or thinking of the previous ones. Happy people do have negative thoughts- but they are able to see their thoughts as thoughts and dismiss the ones they don’t want.

The problem of living in the past or the future is that thinking in these terms will never produce a happy life. A mind that believes that it will be happy only when certain conditions are met will always create new conditions to satisfy once the old conditions are completed. It is not bad to have goals. But future orientated thinking will guarantee that you will not enjoy the process of achieving these goals and it will guarantee that you will not enjoy the results once you get them. If you want ‘someday’ to be different, you must make a personal commitment to begin to enjoy your life today, as it is right now. There is no other way. the only genuine and lasting happiness that you will find is right where you are.

One of the secrets of living a life free of depression is to eliminate the sense of hurry in your life. The degree to which you feel hurried in your life is dependent entirely on your ability to keep your attention in the present moment.The solution of all hurry is to live in the present moment. Be less consumed with what needs to be done and more consumed with using each moment to the fullest. As long as you continue thinking about things yet to be done you will continue to feel hurried because the mind is not consumed with involvement and joy but with future activities that are yet to be experienced.Save your sense of hurry for when it is truly necessary.

Life isn’t an emergency, it’s an adventure. It is meant to be lived, one moment at a time. Everyone is given the same gift and it is administered in exactly the same way. The gift is life itself and it’s given to us one precious moment at a time.

Don’t postpone all of your gratification. It’s not worth it and you don’t have to. Live as much of your life as you can right now. Enjoy each moment.

As you live in the present moment problems disappear because your moments now begin to blend into natural solutions.

Live each day as if it were your last. Who knows?- it might be. If you do that, then when your last day arrives you will have no regrets. Your life will have been a masterpiece; you will have lived life the best way it can be livied – one moment at a time with grace and appreciation.

Forgive anyone and everyone, including yourself. This frees you once and for all to enjoy your life as you deserve to do.

Life is what is happening when you are busy making other plans. So make a commitment to practise living in the present moment, otherwise your tomorrows will be empty as they are today; you simply won’t be able to  enjoy them.

Learn from your past and then let it go; know that the future will be fine if you approach it one moment at a time.Bring your attention back to the only place where you can truly do something about your life anyway – right where you are.


Healthy functioning Analytical Mind
Living moment to moment Living in the past or future
Focus is on enjoyment Focus is on how life could be improved
Mind is clear and free Mind is full of worry and concern
Seeing the innocence Seeing the evil
Focusing on the beauty of life Focusing on the ugliness
Happy with what is Obsessed with what could be better
Experiencing life Analysing life
Letting go Hanging on
Flowing thinking Computer thinking
Focusing on what you can do Focusing on what you can’t do
Learning from mistakes and going on Dwelling on mistakes and repeating them
Open and accepting Closed and prejudiced
Positive attitude Negative attitude

 The only obstacles to your healthy thinking are the thoughts in your head that you take seriously. It is like when you are disturbed by the noise of the barking dog in the distance when you are relaxing in a quiet mountain. The quiet is always there-it can bring you peace. The barking is always there- it can drive you crazy. Study children to understand healthy functioning. True freedom comes when you begin to distrust, just a little, your thought-created version of your life. Life is like a pendulum-both healthy functioning and the analytical mind do exist. The key to happiness is to discredit the analytical mind when it is not producing happiness for us. It is really about choice ultimately. Your feelings will guide you- if you are happy then you are in healthy functioning, if you are depressed you are in the analytical side.


Mental problems and unhappiness are the result of an individual becoming overly absorbed by the content of his own negative thinking, while at the same time being unaware that he is thinking. The very moment he drops his negative thought process, that person experiences an immediate shift in the way he feels, for the better.Labelling yourself as unhappy is a dangerous thing to do. This leads to negative thinking, which is the source of the problem.

We should however understand that genuine sadness is a natural part of life. Genuine sadness can lead to a feeling of love, wheras getting caught in the dyanamic of unhappiness usually leads to self-pity and hopelessness.When a painful event takes place, you can either choose to take the high road, which leads to growth and gratitude; or the low road which leads you straight to the emotional dump. The high road allows you to feel the sense of loss, yet when thoughts like “Why me?” occurs, you dismiss them. The low road also feels sadness but also pays attention to the painful thoughts that keep entering your mind. The only way to get rid of the low road is to consciously dismiss the sad thoughts as they enter your mind.


When something painful happens in our life, you will have painful thoughts. The content of these thoughts will vary from person to person. The nature of these thoughts is to come and go. However if you hold onto them and make them real, and give them undue attention, it will depress you. It’s always the thought you have about events, not the events themselves that create the feelings you experience. There are no exceptions to this. The content of your negative thoughts is not relevant. The underlying issue has to do with what you did with those thoughts and how you relate to those thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. If you have some worry, the best you can do is to acknowledge the problem and the thoughts you are having, and thenjust know that you need an answer.Your wisdom will usually help you find the answer. If you absolutely must think about the problem, do so knowing that you are the one doing the thinking. Learn to accept thoughts for what they are and they will come and go and you will be happy.


The things we told about grief and loss also apply to illness and death. Don’t attach conditions to your contentment. Tapping into your own healthy functioning is the best option you have. Not getting caught up in your own thoughts starts with the intention of not doing so. Each of us has the ability to dismiss thoughts that are bound to lead to an emotional storm. Life can be so beautiful when we clear our mind.


When your spirits are low, your wisdom and common sense fly out of the window. If you can’t solve a problem in a positive state of mind, you will never be able to solve a problem in a lower state of mind. Remember your thinking is responsible for your unhappiness.


Every person has a curriculum and every curriculum can be overcome and conquered. Each person’s curriculum may be different, but once we understand that life is all about learning to overcome our curriculum, we can do it.


Becoming an optimist involves-
1. Recognising and admitting that you are in the habit of thinking negatively
2. The understanding that thoughts originate within you, and it is something that you are actively doing that creates the psychological experience of life.
3. Seeing that negativeness was learnt innocently.


There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. Happiness is a feeling you tap into, not an outcome of events. If you look for happiness outside of yourself or try to think your way to happiness, it will slip through your fingers because your mind would have drifted away from its source. You simply have to stop postponing what it takes to be happy. Happiness is a feeling, nothing more, nothing less. The happiest lives are often the simplest lives, externally and internally.

Live life in the present moment and and be grateful you have that moment.

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