Create Success by Choosing Thoughts That Empower

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"The ‘real' thoughts, Latesha, are the thoughts that you choose." I wanted Latesha to understand that the thoughts she chooses to nurture will determine her destiny in life.

"For instance," I continued, "let's look at that thought, ‘people will see me have a panic attack.' If that happened, what would that mean about you?"

"It would mean that people will think I'm crazy." Latesha replied.

"And if people think you are crazy, what does it mean about you?" I asked.

"That I'm not management material; I'm not even customer service material. I'll be fired."

"And what do you feel when you think that?" I asked.

"I'm scared-like ‘impending doom' and ‘it's really going to happen.'"

"That sounds just like you are experiencing a little indigestion of the Limbic System of the brain. So what does your Cerebral Cortex say?"

"It says I must be crazy for even thinking this way."

"I can see a link here-it seems like you are in the habit of processing the world around you in a way that keeps you disparaging and feeling incompetent. It has become your reality. And whenever you feed that thought-it just keeps growing-in spite of evidence to the contrary. Can you see how you are letting the ‘feelings' become your reality? That is a thinking error we call ‘emotional thinking' or ‘feel it- be it.' For you, it goes like this: ‘I feel crazy or incompetent, therefore I am crazy or incompetent.'"

She piped in. "So when I feel weak or inadequate, I start to act weak and inadequate."

"You've got it. Now tell me what your Cerebral Cortex tells you about your performance at work. It needs to be a thought that reminds you of your capabilities.

"Well, I have noticed that I am always able to get the production I need from my employees. They smile at me a lot and sometimes express their appreciation for my help. In fact, I got the highest raise of all the mangers last quarter." She didn't look entirely convinced.

"So what did you tell yourself about the validation you received?

"That I am a valued employee and a good problem solver," she replied, with a smug smile on her face.

"So when you nurtured the memory of being validated at work, you experienced a reality of competence. When you nurtured thoughts of insecurity, your reality was that you were incompetent and helpless. You can choose how you experience your life."

I was teaching Latesha some of the basics of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the person identifies their negative, incapacitating thoughts and learns to dispute them. Positive, empowering thoughts are then exchanged for the negative thinking and practiced until they replace the incapacitating thoughts.

For the next several weeks, Latesha listed her negative thoughts and learned to dispute them. Her initial list looked like this:

Negative Thoughts:

  • Having panic makes me weak.
  • I am going to crack up at work.
  • Everyone knows I'm crazy.
  • I'm going to get fired.
  • It is shameful to fail.


  • Everyone experiences fear and many people have panic attacks.
  • I might feel stressed out sometimes, but I am usually able to pick up the ball and keep going.
  • Everyone knows I'm human. Most of the time, I laugh with my employees when I make an error.
  • There is no reason to fire me. I have never even been written up.
  • The alternative to failure is staying in bed doing nothing. Then I would never have a chance at success.

Empowering Thoughts:

  • If I panic, I know the feeling will be gone in 10 minutes and I can just carry on.
  • When I feel stressed, I can walk away for a few minutes and do something pleasurable. I have the control to mend.
  • I have created a culture on my team that encourages people to enjoy the process of work, even when we make mistakes.
  • When I'm thinking that I'll be fired, it only means that I am anxious or tired. I need to take a break and come back to what I am doing.
  • I need to take risks at work in order to see what processes are and are not effective. Both failure and success are part of my job description.


Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD writes about the strengths and skills people use to face their mental health issues with empowerment (moxie) rather than victimization.

She has turned her 30+ years of clinical experience with thousands of clients into stories and tips about how her clients were able to recover from mental illness and addiction and return to the roles they enjoyed during times of wellness. She is author of the website Her email is

Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD, MFT is a freelance medical journalist specializing in mental health.

Her professional experience has encompassed many facets of mental health care, including mental health assessment and treatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), couples counseling, and adolescent group counseling. For the past five years, Katrina has worked with patients across the country to help them resolve their barriers to adequate and effective mental healthcare and chemical dependency/addiction treatment.

Her writing tells the stories of the patients who used their moxie to overcome their distress.


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