Making the Switch

When I meet someone who's a mess of excess, I just itch to coach them. I know that if they'd reroute a few simple brain habits, their lives would improve almost effortlessly. The transformation wouldn't take much work—no need to exhume childhood traumas or hook up an antidepressant IV. We'd just throw the neurological toggle switch that exchanges fight-or-flight mode (the sympathetic nervous system) for rest-and-relaxation mode (the parasympathetic nervous system). Most animals experience this switch in response to environmental conditions. We humans possess an unparalleled ability to create it with our thoughts.

It's almost too easy: Simply by taking your attention off thoughts of scarcity and persistently focusing on observations of abundance, you can replace the nervous, just-in-case mind-set that kept our ancient forebears alive but is killing many of us. The best way to effect this shift is to use these simple exercises:

1. List 10 times you thought that there wouldn't be enough of something and you survived.

2. List 10 areas where you have too much, not too little.

3. List 20—or 50, or 1,000—wonderful things that entered your life just at the right time, with no effort on your part. Start with the little things (oxygen, sunlight, a song on the radio). You'll soon think of bigger ones. Most of my clients realize that the most important things in their lives showed up this way.

I started doing excercise 3 several years ago, and I still haven't finished my list. Once you deliberately focus on abundance, you'll be overwhelmed by all the good things that show up like manna in the desert, without much effort on your part. If this seems too easy, you can go back to fearful, just-in-case thinking (you'll need a diet counselor, a housekeeper, and a financial planner, but that's okay—they can substitute for friends). But if, like me, my business school students, and my clients, you decide to try just-in-time thinking, you'll find yourself struggling less and accomplishing more in ways you'd never expect. You may kick yourself for not discovering this sooner. Relax. I promise, you're just in time.

Martha Beck is the author of six books. Her most recent is Steering by Starlight (Rodale).

From the April 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.