How To Increase Your Productivity 500%

Ways to deal with depression and Negative thinking

I missed investing in Google. I missed investing in Foursquare. I made fun of the guy who started Lycos.  I missed, I lost, I suffered, I cried. I could’ve started other businesses instead of the ones I did. I could’ve accepted job offers instead of lying in my hammock crying about failures. How much time have I wasted thinking of just nothing but crap. Probably years.

I want to be productive, healthy, and happy.When you spend even two minutes mentally debating the worst people in your life (as I did the first two minutes after I woke up today) those two minutes add up. Throughout the day, these thoughts add up until you ask yourself at the end of the day, “What happened?” and you have no answer.

People say, “well I played too many games. Or I gossiped too much at the water cooler.” But nobody says, “I spent too many fragmented minutes and seconds thinking thoughts of pessimism or jealousy.

Better to not have 80% of my thoughts (or more on some days!) be “not useful”. So one practice is to label thoughts even more specifically. You pretend your brain is a giant Gmail inbox. Here are nine filters you can use to get rid of the negative thoughts.

Nine types of thoughts that will prevent you from succeeding at your business or in your job.

1)      Pessimistic thoughts:  For instance, judging myself too harshly. Or assuming I’m no good at something so I shouldn’t even try. Or assuming I’m destined to be an unhealthy old man. These are all negative thoughts. How do I know I can label them as “negative thoughts”? As opposed to negative reality? Because they have no basis in fact. I don’t know how I will be as an old man. And if I judge someone too harshly before I even know them –what’s the point? It’s one thing if they reach into my pocket and try to take my wallet. Then I can judge them: “this person steals things” but until then, why judge? And yet I do. What a waste!

Or, before I give a talk, thinking that I’m going to do horribly despite the fact that I’ve prepared well and it’s a friendly crowd, etc. All the evidence suggests that my negative thought is not based in reality and yet I’ll still think it. When I ran a fund of hedge funds I always found myself waking up at three in the morning thinking some fund was stealing from me. I was paranoid about this. So paranoid I eventually had to shut the fund of funds down. But I should’ve just labeled these thoughts “negative” or “not useful” and gone back to sleep.

2)      Vice – My vice thoughts start when I wake up. Who made me angry the day before? Do I look good in the mirror? Or when I look at the below picture of Larry Page (referred to as “human being #1” in my house) I get envious. Or am I constantly thinking of the waffles I’m going to eat at breakfast in the city later? That might be a fun thought (just like constantly thinking about sex) but it’s not necessarily one that will bring me closer to happiness or success. I can enjoy the waffle when I eat it. I can enjoy sex when I’m doing it with someone I love. I don’t have to think of it every second of the  day.

3)      Perfectionism/Shame–  We spend our first few years of life being programmed by commercialism into thinking that some things are important: getting a college degree, owning a home, having as many people as possible love you (fame), getting attached to certain things (like the Dr. McCoy doll I have sitting right next to my computer that nobody better mess with), getting a private plane, having sex with as many people as possible. These thoughts of what a perfect life would be like are binding. What if you don’t get the college degree, or own the home, or get the yacht in the Mediterranean. Will you feel shame? Will you panic? How come?

Perfectionism is a form of bondage. We want things to be “just right” or else we are unhappy. We become ashamed. Why, when I had $10mm, did I want $100mm? I had enough to live forever. And yet, some feeling inside of me thought I was imperfect, unloved, not good enough, unless I had that $100mm. And then, of course, I lost it all. And I really did feel shame. For years! Bondage thoughts are not only not useful, they are damaging.

4)      Possessiveness– there’s that Sting song, “if you love someone, set them free.” A lot of people love others but don’t want the other to be free. They say, “I love you” but the love is tainted with need, with desire, with jealousy. How do you catch yourself when you feel this less pure form of love. Jealousy is like this also. Why did this friend sell his business for $80 million and I’m still working 29 hours a day. Or why did this other friend cash out when he was just a low-level employee of Facebook? It’s hard. But it’s still a type of thought that will bring you down, force you to live a lesser life than the person you were meant to be. When you think you have the purest motives, take a second to check yourself – what are your ulterior motives. What would happen if you don’t get what you want?

5)      Painful – We just had the Thanksgiving holidays. This gives rise to a lot of pleasurable thoughts. But also painful ones. Often we’re put together with family and friends that bring back memories. Often painful memories that lead to anger, that lead to provoking. We want all the thoughts to be pleasurable. Mmmm, turkey, stuffing, cake, loving family. But it doesn’t work out that way. We remember the past, we remember the things that were done to us. Everyone shouts hysterically, confusing it with historically. I went to a Thanksgiving once where one sister threw coffee on another sister. What started out as pleasurable thoughts (“MMM, thanksgiving!”) quickly turned painful. This Thanksgiving I spent the entire day on a plane. It was my best Thanksgiving ever!

It’s too much to say: I’m not going to think these painful thoughts. We’re not Jesus. But for me, just being aware that I’m about to go into a situation where painful thoughts might occur, helps me to label them and filter them when they come up. I hope.

6)      Fear. Everything changes. I’m going to get older. I’m going to fail at some of the things I start. Heck, I have proof of that. Maybe some day Claudia will hate me (I hope not.) Maybe some day my kids will. (One of them a month ago said to me, “I hate you”, and it made me afraid for a second that her words weren’t the senseless provoking of a nine year old but I suddenly pictured  her as a twenty-nine year old saying it.)

But these fears of the  future are just as useless as the painful thoughts of the past. They have nothing to do with how we can be happy right now. So they deserve to be labeled and put in the mental spam box.

7)      Obsessive. Perhaps the biggest time and life waster.  One time I was so obsessed with another woman I’d go to sleep with my phone right next to me wishing she’d call. I’d wake up disappointed she didn’t call and wondering what she was doing all night. I’d wait until I thought she was awake and then I would call and ask her to breakfast. If she couldn’t, I’d go to her area and wait around until she was available. I’d keep circling the block to see the light was on in her window. My entire day revolved around her. Of course she got sick of me. In which case I became more obsessive. What does this have to do with being an entrepreneur? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. That valuable energy I was wasting could’ve been spent developing Groupon or heck, Lycos.

Or sometimes when someone is angry with me, I can’t just give it up. I have to prove myself right. I have to make sure he or she knows how wrong he is. I play over the argument over and over again. I can’t understand how they can think I’m wrong. Or what I did to deserve such harsh treatment. I’m RIGHT! So get with the program.

8)      Sadness.  I don’t want to suggest that it’s “bad” to feel sad. If someone close to you dies, you’ll feel sad. But often people stretch out the sadness until it becomes an addiction, an excuse to be pessimistic.” I’m “never going to be happy” because…X, Y, and Z.”

Our mind likes to be sad. It likes the barriers to happiness. Happiness is too wide open and scary. Sadness keeps us confined inside our boundaries. Those boundaries become the walls that pessimism lives inside of. It’s easy to be pessimistic because then we fool ourselves into thinking we don’t need to do too much. What if in 2004, some kid at Harvard didn’t say, “I’m going to make a little website that everyone on the planet is going to put ALL of their personal details on.” What if he said, instead, “Ahh, I don’t feel like it. Some girl who looks like the girl with the dragon tattoo just broke up with me and can I really compete against anyway? Don’t be an idiot, Mark.” And he just went under his covers and cried. No good!


9)      Unimprovement. We know exactly when we are thinking of things that are not good for us. Am I going to eat chocolate until 1 in the morning while watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta? It’s most likely this is not good for me (although “Real Houswives of Beverly Hills” is a completely different issue).

The mind is like a giant Gmail box. Emails are constantly coming in. Most of them are junk emails and are instantly filtered into the spam box. But many other emails come in that we don’t know what to do with.

In Gmail you can create filters. For instance, when someone sends me a receipt for my latest book “I Was Blind But Now I See” I am able to label the email “Bad Behavior” because when my next self-publlished book comes out (working title, “Bad Behavior”) I can easily filter every email with that label and send it to them.

It’s the same in our mind. If we use the above nine labels above, and then filter anything (or most things) with those labels into the “not useful” box as per this post, then here’s what happens:

A)     Our brain gets quicker at noticing when we are thinking not-useful thoughts.

B)     Your negativity is like a rock constantly being doused with water when you use the above labels. Eventually the rock withers to nothing, although it takes time. It’s persistent practice.

C)      We have more time for the useful thoughts – the thoughts that lead to productivity, minimalism, happiness, freedom.

D)     We can identify which labels are occurring the most and develop problem-solving techniques to directly deal with them. Not every “not useful” thought should be treated the same.

Don’t believe me. Don’t pay any attention to this advice. Like everybody else, I’ve got 6000 things to do today. And I know if any of the nine things above drag me down, I won’t get things done. I’m already feeling anxious about it. And I’m not helped by the 12 cups of coffee I’ve already consumed. In fact, I could be slipping into an obsessive panic.

Not useful.

See “The Power of Negative Thinking”

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  • Ciaran Murphy

    I panicked today too. I think it was also coffee related.

  • Brett Stubbs

    Wait a second, is this a repost? 

    • James Altucher

       No, but I had a similar post on techcrunch a few months ago. I’ve modified it and changed it to fit this blog.

      • Brett Stubbs

        It’s still good, and I need it just as much. Funny enough, at the time I was reading it, I had already wasted an hour that morning, mostly on negative thoughts, and not wanting to do something a client had asked me to do. 

    • Abby Marie

      maybe he started the post after thanksgiving and didn’t publish until now? time flies!! COFFEE!! 

  • Hope

    What you think about is the direction your mind inclines. (Buddha, translated and paraphrased)

    • James Altucher

       Unfortunately, it takes a lot of practice to incline your mind in a direction that is more useful.

  • Mouthymoa

    Great Blog!
    I need to past this onto the woman I am obsessed about

    We all live in our heads, our perception becomes our reality.

  • Preemptive Placebo

    My wife rarely swears.  When she does, I know it’s something big.  Just a few minutes ago she shot off a long string of obscenity directed toward the radio.  The local NPR affiliate.

    Someone special is coming to town in April.   Tickets go on sale at 10 am.  First thing this morning she logged into the website and got ready to make the purchases.  That’s when she heard the local NPR guy say that the university where the event is being held had allowed their students to purchase tickets yesterday.  The event sold out. 

    “%$#  $(%&! !%  *#%%”

    Normally I try not to find humor in the misfortune of others.  But seeing that the someone special coming to town is the Dalai Lama makes it kind of hard not to laugh. 

    I told her she may learn something from James’s post today. 

    She said, “&$^% you”

  • Dave Lucas

    Hi – your comment “We just had the Thanksgiving holidays” reveals you have a warped perception of time, which could be inhibiting your success. Now, this isn’t a “fatal error” message by any means, but James, I’d like you to think of time as a river. Thanksgiving was way way way back up that river – really TOO FAR UP – so much so that there is nothing you can do about it unless you try to swim backward against the flow, which I would not recommend!

    By the way, I missed a lot of great investments too. Problem is, there’s no way to figure out what’s going to stick and what’s not. Five years ago who would have thought myspace would be in the toilet?

    Blog On!

    • James Altucher

       I wrote this post right after Thanksgiving.

  • Ted Scarborough

    Fears of the future are just as useless as painful thoughts of the past. 


  • rollingdancefloor

    Some things I like to hear. Good music, I love you, Thanks man, No charge, Here’s that money I owe you, Yes, Please, Good news, Good stories, Good advice, Anything positive.

  • dora flood

    ” Then I can judge them: “this person steals things” but until then, why judge?”

    Like stealing investment ideas then writing a book? Does it stop there? How to judge them? I for one don’t have a good answer but do enjoy this blog. Thanks.

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    “Pessimistic Thoughts” is the killer. Everything else you talk about has a short term or mid term solution to it. But thinking negatively is something that is extremely hard to break. The old adage of “just think positively” is akin to telling an overweight person “just eat less”. It’s proven more and more that the calorie restriction diet is a failure. Likewise with positive thoughts. There has to be something more substantial behind the mere mental action of thinking positively. It always sounds simple but there are so many triggers every day that you don’t even realize why they happen. Unfortunately, a lot of these “trigger & associations” were formed in your youth for X, Y, and Z reason. But we must press on!!

  • Robert Torres

    Lycos, now there is a forgotten name.

  • J. Paul Taylor

    James, your blog is becoming one large contradiction. You spend so much time blogging about negativity, that your blog is essentially wallowing in negativity. Also, your obsession with Larry Page is no longer cute, it’s pathological and weird.

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      I don’t agree at all with your assessment. I think these are real problems that real people suffer with. Part of the solution is to acknowledge that they exist…Well done, James, for keeping it “real”…

  • Courtreportinglife

    “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

    • Anonymous

      Simple, but not easy.

  • Rachelfiske1111

    So well said! Thanks. A Harry Potter character named Professor Moody says: “Constant vigilance!!” And that’s what I tell my yoga clients.

  • Feng

    That’s what separate the great from the mediocre. The great ones know how to not waste brain cycles.

  • Rick

    Loved this post! My favorite was the hypothetical Zuckerberg quote: “What if in 2004, some kid at Harvard didn’t say, “I’m going to make a
    little website that everyone on the planet is going to put ALL of their
    personal details on.” What if he said, instead, “Ahh, I don’t feel like
    it. Some girl who looks like the girl with the dragon tattoo just broke
    up with me and can I really compete against anyway? Don’t be
    an idiot, Mark.” And he just went under his covers and cried. No good!” Although, I heard that part of the movie was made up, that the girl never broke up with him and they are still together. :)


    Just when I think you’re losing your touch, epic work! TY!

  • Bokem2willis

    Can someone help me out with this? I read plenty of books about living in the now, thinking positive, etc. My biggest worry about being this enlightened, non-worried human is that it will zap my ambition and I’ll be completely satisfied as a guy who doesn’t do squat day in day out. 

    If Michael Jordan didn’t let stupid stuff get to him, he would have never made it. I’m sure being a women-less dork for a good part of his life compelled Buffett to get super wealthy. Eminem really needed to let all that stupid nonsense bother him so he could create his songs. I really think to be a successful entertainer you need emotions. 

    I need something to keep me pissed off and angry to make change. Am I wrong??


    • Gonzalo Gandia

      Yes, you’re absolutely right, that is a paradox. I think the point is that you have to look at the “bad” things that happen to you in a positive way. Obviously, getting pissed off and making sure you do (or try to do) better next time is a POSITIVE reaction, while getting pissed off at yourself and locking yourself up in your apartment because your disappointed is a negative reaction.

      • Bokem2willis

        I guess we should always read our spam before we hit the spam button. I think this is risky b/c you have to play with the negative thoughts and channel them so you can use it as fuel. Jordan and EM are great at this but I’m afraid most humans will fail and go crazy, hence why most people just end up average in life. If you perfect what James has written you’ll shrug every thing off and it will feel good in the NOW but I’m afraid you wont make it very far in your craft. I want the super model to call me fat b/c it will bother me every second and I’ll do something about it to prove her wrong. If I just laughed it off, I’ll stay fat. So short run, I’m happy but long term I screw myself and end up with a mediocre person and die of heart disease. This is obviously very shallow of me, but I’m only trying to get a point across. 

    • Marie Sardalla-Davis

      There are two ways to motivate a donkey: a carrot or a stick. Most people are only ever motivated by a stick (move to avoid pain!) Others keep their eye on the carrot and move toward it. This is how Tony Robbins explained it in the early ’90s.

      • Bokem2willis

        Whats the point of obtaining a carrot (replace w/ whatever your goal) though?? Sorry to keep bringing up my examples but I feel like guys like Jordan and EM only wanted the carrot b/c they were beaten by a stick sooo many times. By getting a carrot you defeat the stick that hit you so hard. 

        • Carsten Legaard

          Do not rely on what You “think” might have driven Jordan, Buffet and others. Ask them instead. When You get to really know the story of such men (and women) they can be both Your stick and Your carrot

  • anonymous coward

    I read this post and was like, oh, another “shut off your internet; set aside time for facebook; get up early and get dressed even though you’re working from home; blah, blah” post.
    And once again, blew all those ‘how to be productive’ articles out of the water. You’re a great writer.

  • Anonymous

    outdone yourself as usual. i had a chance of starting something new yesterday, i got a job but i panicked and told the other person i would not be charging anything, imagine my dismay when he said the work was actually good. Fear makes us miss on so many things in life.

  • Jac Xu

    Bravo! I probably have the 9 feeling together today because it closes to my birthday, I didn’t give myself a nice birthday gift, which is a job.  I have been searching for job for 6 months after I graduated from MBA

  • Veeh Waithira

    That’s an interesting concept of using filters in the mind. Problem is sometimes I can’t even identify the underlying emotions lingering in the background. If only when we were created we came customized with all these filters and all. My, I would actually have the strength to say to chocolate. Great post James, though this is one tough challenge.

  • standswithagist

    This is like the DBT practice of observe/describe/label thoughts so you can get to the point where they are not apes on your back, but a monkey in a zoo you watch fling its poo, from a safe distance…

  • the444

    This is cool stuff.  The hub and I are learning to filter and spam-box thoughts.  We remind each other not to read or dwell on terrible news stories.  A prominent pop star passed away but since we’re not fans, neither of us even said a word about it.  Sounds harsh but I have limited disk drive space in my brain for dwelling on sad/bad things.

    His project:  Learning not to frame things negatively automatically.  Last night I said, “Well, at least I did get a few things done around here” and he said, “This place is a never-ending battle to clean” (it’s true, we’re both atrocious housekeepers) but the point was, I had framed it positively and he framed it negatively and I stopped him right there; hopefully he can learn to do it my way.

    My project:  Not using my overactive imagination to predict bad outcomes or surmise that people don’t like me, and in a detailed and deep manner.  I have no idea what people think and need to care a lot less what they think and need to decide what to do without outrageously creative imaginary fears of bad outcomes (my unhelpful crutch) influence me too much.

    • James Altucher

       the444, its great you and your husband are already trying to do this. Your paragraph #3 reminds me of me. It is a very useful exercise to filter that into the mental Spam box as I can say from great personal experience with it that it has made me a lot more productive during the day, particularly since I am usually wrong.

  • GreenWorld (BVI)

    James, you are spot on.  I am English, and I suppose we have a tendency towards moroseness anyway, but a bunch of things in your list really hit me (darn it, I should have bought facebook shares on the private market three years ago – arghh!)  There, I’m doing it again.

  • Judy Heminsley

    #2 Vice – I felt better when I read a Steven Pressfield post recently about fighting negative thoughts when he first wakes up. Nice to know it’s just the human condition and not a personal failing, eh?

    • Jean-Paul

      Judy, can you provide link to the Pressfield post?

  • Anonymous

    I’m printing this post, and gonna read it at least twice a day for the rest of my life :p.

    you nailed it 

  • socrates

    Nice post, I am definitely struggling with negative thoughts. For years, I can’t remember truly feeling positive about my life. Now, I am starting to see glimmers of hope. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I am trying every day to be positive. 
    Thanks for the post!

  • imabusinessman

    LOL Rooney Mara comment

  • Babylost

    James, I find almost everyone I meet wants to have sex with me (Male and female, and I’m a guy). It’s flattering, but I have very low self esteem and I have a hard time dealing with the attention. People inevitably end up upset that I don’t give them the attention they desire.

    What should I do?

    • Motorhead

      have sex with everyone

      • killedbydeath

         You win some. You lose some. It’s all the same to me.

    • Marco Polo

      That makes you the king. You should be proud. Choice of quality sex partners is the thing most seek but have difficulty obtaining.  The real signal of low self esteem is a fetish for Asian women. We know that Asian women are delicious but there is always something wrong with fetish guy: Short, creepy, bad or no personality, thimble dick, or some other godforsaken thing. Think about all the Asia fetish guys you know…see what I mean. If they’re a real shitpiece they’ll get stuck with an ugly one who carps all day. You’ve spared yourself that fate. The world is your oyster.

    • Carsten Legaard

      Babylost, those attracted to You might well be attracted to the smell of weakness, which certainly ain’t You. You should read and learn all James’ posts about self love and You should dedicate Yourself to learn self love, eventually by the services of a well reputated therapist or coach. After that go and have sex with whoever You want and it will be a whole lot better …

  • Goran Kalanj

    They say we use some 20% of brain anyway.

  • standswithagist

    A quote I love is “focus your thoughts like a laser”. So you can either use it like Goldfinger to try to destroy something, or like in Lasik surgery to fix a problem… put that energy to good use ;)

  • Lsimon

    Sucking on a lemon marathon.

  • Peter Connor

    James, there are some things that should never be written down, or spoken, because it gives them credibility, and is just plain bad mojo.  Claudia will never hate you, or even not love you,(and vice versa) and that should be fixed in your conscious brain at all times. Trust me on this, I am older than you.

  • Rsquared

    Finally, brfethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things arejust, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if ther be any praise think on these things.  Philippians 4:8

  • Anonymous

    James, when you gonna write a post about the food you eat? 12 cups of joe and waffles… stuff but bad for the brain and spirit over the long haul. A big change in diet could make a difference in your life. 

  • titu

    if i no need any men . then why i live?

  • Penny Stock Blog

    Interesting post

  • Albert C Francis

    Great thought James! It really helps. Thanks!

  • Joseph Hurtgen

    Thanks James. Negative thoughts really can slow us all down. Here’s a link to some more ideas for having a productive life.

  • Duane

    There is a really good website about boosting productivity at