Justin Kownacki had a moving and powerful post on his blog, Cafe Witness, about where he is in life right now. Among other things, he highlights questions about the power of positive thinking, negativity, and how things like debt can influence your life, potentially putting you even farther behind than you currently are.

A couple of excerpts:

I’m perpetually aware that I’m in debt, and therefore, it colors my mood quite drastically. At this stage, it’s impossible to tell if I’m frequently depressed because I’m in debt, or if I’m in debt because I’m frequently depressed.

Like attracts like. So, by that rationale — explains The Secret — the way out of debt, depression, boredom or other general dissatisfaction with life is simply to think positive. After all, if we’re endlessly focused on our debt — or that project that’s never done, or that relationship that’s forever on the rocks — all we’re doing is reinforcing our current negative emotions about the situation, and therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter more of the same. Subconsciously, “we asked for it.” New Age or Common Sense? Part of me rejects this theory outright. Why? Because, at its base, it seems too easy. Granted, maintaining a positive frame of mind during the most trying of circumstances is anything BUT easy, but if attracting wealth, health and contentment into your life is as easy as wishing for it and then steadfastly sticking to that mindframe… Does anyone else see where my doubts are justified?

And yet… in the bigger picture, it does also seem to make absolute common sense. Let’s say there’s a guy at a party. He’s got great energy, he’s kind, he’s attentive, he listens when you speak and he remembers people’s names. He’s a charmer, but his charm is natural, not falsified: he’s having a good life. No worries. No stress. He’s not bringing you down. Who wouldn’t want to be around that guy? And, because that guy can essentially have his pick of people to associate with — after all, he’s a hot social commodity — wouldn’t he also want to be around people whose association provides him with what he needs? So he surrounds himself with positive people, fellow listeners, people who take action.

My teacher’s teacher in the martial arts, Stephen K. Hayes, has a very well thought out and documented approach to dealing with this kind of situation. Justin’s right to say that positive thinking, while a good first step, is not enough. It’s a start, but it requires more than just thinking happy thoughts and trying to be cheerful, because ultimately, on the inside, if you’re not taking action to address the issues, the cheerfulness is a facade that’s easily penetrated.

The rough plan goes like this. What do you want to achieve? What’s your goal, and how do you measure that goal? For example, if you want to have more money, how much more and by when? Set a goal that’s concrete – “I will have $500,000 net after tax income by December 31, 2008” – so that the goal is achievable and can be broken into milestones.

Ask yourself this – what things externally might stand in your way or slow you down from achieving your goals? Maybe it’s a lack of resources – if your goal is to produce a great internet TV series, maybe the old clunker PC you have isn’t enough. If your goal is to earn more money, maybe your boss isn’t willing to give you a raise or change your compensation to a performance-based plan.

Next – what things do you need to do externally to achieve those goals? It could be building your personal network or getting a raise at work. If your goal is a happier relationship, it could be programming reminders for anniversaries and other occasions into your calendar so that you don’t ever forget them. What are the workarounds for the external blocks?

After you know what you need to do and what things could stand in your way externally, you have to tackle the internal. What things internally could stop you from achieving your goals? Maybe you procrastinate. Maybe you feel selfish or shy or unworthy of success. Whatever things inside you that stand in your way, catalog them.

What things can you do, what steps can you take, to achieve your goals? If you’re a procrastinator, how can you alter your habits to change into a do-er? If you’re neglectful in a relationship or careless, what things can you do to be more mindful?

Once you know what stands in your way internally and externally, and you’ve got lists of things you can take action on to overcome obstacles and move towards your goal, put together a master plan. Maybe even get out a calendar and start marking down milestones. If your goal is increased income, have dates along the way that will help measure the achievements you want to make, the contacts you need to have, and so forth. If your goal is more productivity at work, mark down on the calendar when things need to be done and give yourself some extra time up front so that you can achieve ahead of schedule.

Then do it.

Achieving your goals – whether it’s to afford a $1.50 cup of coffee or to have a happy marriage, or whatever the case – can be done as long as another human being has done it. At the end of the day, we all have the same human potential for greatness. Stephen K. Hayes said it best: “An average plan vigorously executed is far better than a brilliant plan on which nothing is done. For you to achieve any kind of success, execution is everything. Resolve to do something every single day that moves you toward your goal.”

And Justin, next time you’re in town, the first cup of coffee’s on me.

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