3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today

Change your thinkingThe writing and publishing life can be hard on the equilibrium. It’s full of ups and downs, hopes deferred, dreams dashed, dreams realized, ego strokes and debilitating criticism.

We wonder if we’ll ever reach our goals. We swing between high-on-life optimism and crushing pessimism. We decry that this path shouldn’t be so difficult. We rail against systems. We wonder how to write a good book. We despair of ever reaching our readers.

But there is another way to think about it. Many of you have probably read Good to Great by Jim Collins, a classic book for business and leadership. In it, he explains what he calls the Stockdale Paradox, a way of thinking that can get anyone through the most harrowing of circumstances.

You can click here for a short audio clip of Jim Collins discussing the Stockdale Paradox, or Google the phrase to learn more about Admiral Jim Stockdale, a United States military officer held captive and tortured for eight years during the Vietnam War, for whom Collins named this Paradox. Admiral Stockdale had a unique way of looking at his brutal situation that allowed him to survive, and go on to thrive later in life.

As a writer, here’s how you can apply the Stockdale Paradox to immediately change your thinking:

1. Instead of wondering whether you’ll ever find success as a writer:

DECIDE that you will find success one way or another, regardless of the obstacles.

2. Instead of bemoaning the difficulties of the writing path:

EMBRACE your current challenges. Know that they will help you become the best person — and the best writer — you can be.

3. Instead of being optimistic and “looking on the bright side,” assuming publication will eventually be your due:

FACE your current situation realistically, acknowledging every downside, every hardship, every difficulty. And be willing to ceaselessly take action to overcome these obstacles and find publishing success.

It’s a paradox because it involves holding two seemingly opposing things in your mind at once: a certainty of success, and an honest assessment of the obstacles. There is no unnecessary pessimism or defeatist thinking; nor is there any sugarcoating or unwarranted optimism.

Decide. Embrace. Face.

Do you need to change your thinking? How can you apply this paradigm to your own situation?




Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Friday Features #41 - YESENIA VARGAS on January 29, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    […] 3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today – Rachelle Gardner […]

  2. Daphnée Kwong Waye on January 26, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Positive thinking, determination, true follower of your dreams… indeed I’ve heard a lot about such advice, and they help! Somehow it’s hard though to remain optimistic all the time, but we should always get back to it.
    And we absolutely need posts like this to remind us to keep striving 🙂

  3. […] to take some positive steps? Use Jim Collins’ Stockdale Paradox to change your thinking; Ollin Morales’ tips for getting off your butt and writing; and Kellen […]

  4. SC Skillman on January 24, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    What you write, Rachelle, is meaningful to me because for a number of years I pursued the “positive thinking” gurus. Gradually it began to dawn on me that the so-called “law of manifestation” wsn’t working for me. So why weren’t all those positive affirmations working? One day I recognised that a lot of things I’ve achieved in my life, I’ve achieved in the face of “negative thinking.” So yes, I do believe in this paradox: the power of negative thinking. Because we are all so complex I believe we constantly tread a delicate line between positive & negative; & we do have a choice as to which one we focus on at any time. Jesus is an excellent example. Surely He never believed God had truly forsaken Him? That could lead on to a very big theological argument!

  5. Jamie Rohrbaugh on January 23, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    This is a great post. One thought that struck me about point #1 is that many of us have not defined what “success” looks like. I read Mark Batterson’s “The Circle Maker” recently and he talked about that a lot. If I start by defining what it means to me to be successful as a writer, I’m a lot more likely to get there and to enjoy the journey.

  6. Sidney Ross on January 23, 2013 at 1:20 AM

    . …Each and every day I visit three(3 books. My bible(1), my dictionary(2) and my own words(3). Randomly reading a paragraph perhaps even a page of each, certainly the three(3) choices I select will deliver variety from these three(3) different places of thought but no greater achievement and no greater thrill I have found: The three(3) have never failed to deliver just the one(1). A one(1) of god, a one(1) of mind and a one(1) of vision.[… .][3=1].

    This is my Gravatar avatar, my facebook avatar may be found at Sidney Ross.

  7. Dan Erickson on January 22, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    I think we also need to re-evaluate our reasoning for writing from time to time. I started writing for personal growth and therapy. As I began to share my writing, others motivated me to take the next step. Now, I’m self-publishing and building a platform. It’s a tough gig, but I remind myself that I’m still writing for growth and therapy and it matters less that I’ve not sold thousands of copies yet.

  8. Leanne Dyck on January 21, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    Wow! Thank you so much for this empowering article. It’s exactly what I needed to read. And knowing that others need to read it as well I’ve shared it on Google +. And I’m going to share it on Tweeter as well.

  9. Regibald Inkling on January 21, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    I have a few rules for myself as I write. None of them consider my attitude. All I know is when I write, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. When I am not writing, I feel like I need to be. My first rule in writing is just write. No thought to future outcomes once the story is finished. No care whether it is ever published or even submitted to agents.

    My next rule is have very well-developed characters. With them, you can watch them play, and the writing never stops. Another rule is to throw away your rules and what experts have said on how to write. Write your own story your own way; nobody else can tell you how to do that. After one reads your work, however, you could receive some positive, influential criticisms.

    I have more.

  10. Peter DeHaan on January 21, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    What a wonderful perspective to adopt. Thank you for sharing it.

    Some days I’m close to having this point of view; others days, not so close.

  11. Heather on January 21, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Instead of bemoaning the “lack of time” I feel I have to pursue my passions, I will look for ways to accomplish my goals, even if it means staggering them in such a way that I can achieve them.

    Thanks for this reminder!

  12. Joanna Aislinn on January 21, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    Wow. Imprisoned and tortured for eight years and lived to tell the tale. That’s cause for a mindset to be developed. Thanks for sharing the wisdom in this post. Excellent.

  13. Roxanne Sherwood Gray on January 21, 2013 at 3:31 PM


    I agree that overcoming hardships and obstacles have helped me become a better writer. Now, I just need to focus on that little word “ceaselessly.”

    Thanks for this post.

  14. […] Paradox and applies them to the writing life (courtesy Jim Collins, author of Good to Great) in 3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today. “Stockdale” refers to 8-year Vietnam Prisoner of War Jim Stockdale and the philosophy he used […]

  15. Melinda Viergever Inman on January 21, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    This relentless deciding, embracing, and facing is necessary. Seeking publication is not for the weak at heart. As a Christian writer, it encourages me to see God using these steps to mold and shape character and patience in me. So, I press on, striving, improving, and growing.

  16. Meghan Carver on January 21, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    The word “ceaselessly” really jumped out at me. Ceaselessly take action. It’s too easy to come across a rough patch and wallow down in the I’m-no-good thinking. Then too much time flies by without accomplishing anything. But if we ceaselessly take action, how much closer could we be to our goal?

  17. Ursula Jordaan on January 21, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    Thanks for sharing! So apropos because just yesterday I was thinking that I need to change my thinking regarding an opportunity that has come my way that I’m scared to embrace. Will look into this further.

  18. ed cyzewski on January 21, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    In one of his recent-ish podcasts, Michael Hyatt, formerly of Thomas Nelson, mentioned that he thinks adversity is good for writers because humility is so important. I think he’s right in so far that writing requires a delicate balance of humility about who you are without giving up on your talent and potential.

  19. Jeanne T on January 21, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I so appreciate this post. I’ve been really thinking about perspective this year. When I look at the circumstances in my life with an inaccurate perspective, or incomplete perspective, I will respond in a way that leads to discouragement. When I can consider things with an eye that sees situations accurately, I can respond in a way that will move me forward. I think your number three says it best:

    3. Instead of being optimistic and “looking on the bright side,” assuming publication will eventually be your due:

    FACE your current situation realistically, acknowledging every downside, every hardship, every difficulty. And be willing to ceaselessly take action to overcome these obstacles and find publishing success.

    I liked this!

  20. Maurice Overholt on January 21, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    This is excellent. Thank you! I had heard of the paradox before and forgotten about it.

  21. Julie Luek on January 21, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    To me, this is called life. Not that at 48, I’m old, wise and ready to depart life’s lessons, but I have learned a few things.

    1. Nothing is my due.
    2. Dream and try for them, but remember that their success or failure don’t define me.
    3. Life is made up of successes and failures. Fact.
    4. Problem-solve. When I start acting like a wind-up toy hitting the same wall over and over, it’s time to change directions. Many things are out of my control.
    5. Strive but learn to be content in the moment.
    6.Listen to my inner guidance above all.

    Now…to apply that when I’m in the midst of crisis!

  22. Jessica Nelson on January 21, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Oooh, I like this!

  23. Lisa on January 21, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Thank you for the encouragement. An equal measure of hope and realistic vision is wonderful advice.

  24. Lisa on January 21, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Your post today is so consistent with the message the Lord keeps impressing on my heart about my writing, but moreover, my ministry purposes. It is something I am continuing to put before the Lord in prayer in determining how to steward the calling well, while keeping balance in life…to press on into the sometimes-uncomfortable pursuit of a dream while embracing today.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and the way they are shaping me.


  25. vrabinec on January 21, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    You’re asking fiction writers, dreamers by nature, to be realistic? Funny. 🙂

  26. Diana Harkness on January 21, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    I haven’t read the book, but writing should not be done only for the sake of publishing. In the same way, any work we accomplish is for our own good and the good of others, not primarily for financial gain. Once we fall into the trap of considering financial gain or public acclaim as our first priority, we lose our focus and work becomes drudgery.

  27. Sue Harrison on January 21, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    My husband gave me a quote from http://www.thepassivevoice.com that fits in with what you are saying in this apt and inspiring post, Rachelle.

    “As an artist in today’s society, you are responsible for you own successes and failures. Do your best to capitalize on the former and survive the latter. You won’t always make the right choices, but now, at least, you have choices. And that’s a very, very good thing.”

    • Beth K. Vogt on January 21, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      Love this!

  28. David Porter on January 21, 2013 at 6:41 AM

    Thanks Rachelle,
    You are an encourage-er. I receive a lot of blogs in my mailbox but I think yours is the best blend of information and encouragement.

  29. Ernie Zelinski on January 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM

    Regarding: “Instead of being optimistic and “looking on the bright side,”

    Below is the link to the “New York Times” article about their take on “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

    I love the part about several people being burnt after walking on hot coals at an Anthony Robbins seminar.


    I also like how the writer of the New York Times article states:

    “What if all this positively is part of the problem? What if we’re trying too hard to think positive and might do better to reconsider our relationship to “negative” emotions and situations?”

    This passage also applies:

    “Beware of false prophets and whimsical gurus extolling their sweet nothings and empty talk falsely represented as spiritual awakening and the road to success. Most are telling you how to make your life work when their own lives are in a big mess. You cannot fake it until you make it. Success is not one big motivating thought away. A flaky prayer cannot ordain a fabulous career.
    Whispering hope alone cannot manifest
    superb achievement and render remarkable prosperity. Only the person of integrity, action, passion, excellence, and creativity carries in his or her heart the capacity for making an impact on this world and being rewarded handsomely for it.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

    Anyway, that’s my contribution to the paradox of being positive about attaining success and how you have to be in control of your mind so that you are not too positive.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • SJOlson on January 21, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      Wonderful thoughts. I too get exasperated with all the ‘feel good’ pep talks. I must face the negative and deal with set backs and disappointments in a constructive manner. God teaches us through it all.

  30. Ellen Gregory on January 21, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    It seems to me it’s all about taking responsibility for our own destiny. It’s up to us to utilise all the possible tools at our disposal and make it happen. I actually find this extremely heartening, because it suggests I have some measure of control, rather than relying solely on all the other forces around me (and the stars) to align… Thank you!

  31. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on January 21, 2013 at 3:21 AM

    This is really a simple, excellent approach to developing a balanced but ultimately positive attitude to dealing with challenges – staying away from the tar baby of blind pessimism, and avoiding sunshine fantasies that sap initiative and will.

    There are three further points that are worth considering –

    1) When you attitude changes for the better, some people will not like it – and they will try to pull you back into THEIR comfort zone in which you play the role of Doomed Victim whom they may succor. Sounds crazy – is crazy – and can come from the most unexpected quarter.

    2) When self-pity builds like a choking fog in your mind, it’s usually built on the thought – “I’m special, and I deserve better.” When you’re tempted to dwell on the ease and comfort you deserve, bear in mind that there was Someone, 2000 years ago, who cried out in frustration against the fate he wanted to avoid. He truly WAS special, but His experiences were ordained for a larger purpose.

    3) The process of Decide / Embrace / Face is one that you will have to implement every single day, and usually more often than that.

    Success is a coice.

    So is survival.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on January 21, 2013 at 3:22 AM

      Choice, not ‘coice’!

    • Beth K. Vogt on January 21, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Appreciate your added insights, Andrew, especially the whole self-pity = “I deserve better.”

    • Cherry Odelberg on January 22, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      I especially like point number 1.

    • Sidney Ross on January 23, 2013 at 1:38 AM

      Craps- “the lowest throw at hazard” has often worked for me. Crazy- “unbound” is a close second. Faith- “binding” a full circle back to one(1).

      facebook avatar: sidney ross