Return to Lesson 1

Your Limbo is Listening

–  Speak Positively –


I want you to be happier and I am certain that what you are about to discover can help you achieve more happiness.

In 2006, I wrote a book titled Seven Secrets for Feeling Fantastic in which I described in simple terms how the part of your brain responsible for how you feel—your emotions—is wired, and how you can put it in a better state so that you can feel better, more often. As the title indicated, it had a positive spin as I intentionally wrote the book not so much for people who were clinically depressed, but for those who just wanted to be more upbeat than they were.

What truly (and pleasantly) surprised me was the feedback I received about the book. While it certainly resonated with my target audience—and I received many reports from individuals who told me how it had lifted them and helped them to live more happy—what I wasn’t prepared for were the incredibly uplifting stories that came from people who were desperately down but were able to come back to life through the strategies I had shared in the book.

I discovered that the strategies for boosting emotional wellbeing and becoming happier lift people regardless of how high or low they are on the emotional ladder. My research has now shown that on average, people who put what you are about to learn into practice, experience a 30 percent reduction in depressive symptoms, anxiety and stress, and a 20 percent improvement in their overall mental health and vitality. And these are the average results—people who have greater needs report greater benefits. Furthermore, these studies include males! Men are sometimes turned off by the topic of “feelings,” but we men have feelings too! For example, we feel hungry! Seriously though, men and women, young and old—everyone—desires to be emotionally up so this is for you—whoever you are.

What you are about to learn builds on my first book Seven Secrets for Feeling Fantastic and draws together in an easy-to-read-and-understand way the latest discoveries from three fields that have exploded over the past decade: Neuroscience, Positive Psychology and Lifestyle Medicine. I am incredibly passionate about this material and the lessons it teaches because feeling down is on the up. Despite my home country of Australia being rated among the top 10 “happiest” countries in the world in most years of the World Happiness Report (although it slipped to 11th in 2019), antidepressant usage has doubled in the past decade, making them the most commonly used medications, taken by approximately one in 10 adults every day. The statistics are even worse in countries like the United States. Studies show that only about 20 percent of people report they are flourishing in life. It seems people everywhere are struggling, yet as you will discover here, there are many scientifically supported actions you can take to give yourself a lift.

I should point out that I am not naively suggesting that you can be a 10 out of 10 on the emotional ladder, day in, day out—no one can. Sometimes life is tough and we all have ups and downs. To quote the ancient wisdom of Solomon, “There is a time for everything…a time to weep and a time to laugh.” I should add here, if you experience extended periods of low mood and exhaustion, you are advised to seek medical advice from your doctor or healthcare provider.

Here is some encouraging news: research indicates that life circumstances only contribute about 10 percent to our level of enduring happiness. This offers hope. Regardless of your life circumstances, you can discover more joy. Studies also suggest that another 50 percent of your enduring happiness is determined by genetics, which explains why some people are naturally cheerier than others—although another new field of science called “epigenetics” is suggesting that your environment (nurture) may have a lot bigger part to play than genetics (nature). This leaves roughly 40 percent—almost half—of your enduring happiness that you get to choose for yourself, and I want to help you choose better.

Now, it is not enough just to hear; you also need to do. For this reason, as you learn the simple science behind how you can lift your mood and your life, I will present ways to put these learnings into practice. Give these self-experiments your best effort and see how they work for you. As with most things in life, the more you put in the more you will get out, and the science certainly indicates that this truth applies to increasing happiness.

I sincerely hope this helps you to live more, happy.

Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joy, laughter and jests.
–  Hippocrates  –

I never came across any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.
–  Albert Einstein  –

I am Australian, and we “Aussies” are famous for shortening the names of virtually everything to make them simpler to say—characteristically the mascots for the Sydney Millennium Olympics were “Syd,” “Millie” and “Olly.” In the spirit of simplicity, let me introduce you to your “Limbo,” which is the nickname I have given to the part of your brain referred to as the “limbic system.” Your Limbo contains several structures, all with complicated names, but getting to know it as the “Limbo” will suit our purposes just fine. However, in case you just need to know, while there is some debate among brain scientists regarding what structures are considered part of the limbic system, I agree with the well-respected Neuroscientist D Clark who includes the amygdala, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, septal nuclei, hypothalamus, olfactory system, sensory association cortices and portions of the thalamus. I am sure you feel better for knowing that!

As you are about to discover, your Limbo is an incredibly important part of your brain that you will want to keep in great working order. Just in case you are wondering where your Limbo lives, it is located in the middle of your brain, just below the part that looks like a cauliflower, which I like to call the “Leader”. You will be learning more about the Leader a little later.

Much has been learnt about the Limbo through the work of inquisitive brain researchers who love to push buttons and see what happens. They began by wiring up the Limbos of cats and rats in a way that allowed the researchers to send a tiny electrical impulse to the area when they pushed a button.

The researchers noted that if they stimulated one part of a cat’s Limbo, the cat would begin to purr (and dribble of course), become playful, and generally turn into a very happy and likeable animal. Intriguingly, if the researchers continued to stimulate this part of the cat’s Limbo, it would also lose all interest in food. Happy and thin, what could be better? Having your Limbo wired up in this way sounds appealing. But don’t be too hasty. The researchers discovered that if they moved the wires slightly and stimulated another part of the cat’s Limbo, the opposite reaction occurred: the cat threw a hissy fit—hackles up, claws out, and even some spitting thrown in for effect. What’s more, the cat would eat anything it could get its paws on. Repetitive stimulation of the cat’s Limbo in this way caused it to morph into an obese, hostile fiend that was no fun to be around.

So that the rats in the laboratory didn’t feel left out, the researchers also wired up their Limbos, but this time they added another element. They provided the rats with the capacity to press the button so that they could stimulate their own Limbo. To the amazement of the researchers, the rats repeatedly pressed the button, even in preference to eating and drinking. If left unchecked, the rats would eventually die from exhaustion, albeit with their tiny paws still poised on the button attempting one more buzz.


Home of Happy—the Limbo’s main gig is mood

The researchers had discovered that the Limbo is the region of the brain responsible for emotions. ‘Feeling’ is the Limbo’s core business and ‘mood’ its main gig. If stimulated in the right way it made the cats and rats feel good; if stimulated in the wrong way it made them feel bad.

Our brains are not unlike that of rats and cats, a little larger (in most cases) and more complex, but we too have a Limbo. And just like cats and rats, our Limbo is the part of our brain that determines how we feel—scientists even refer to it as the “emotional brain.” Put simply, it is your “home of happy” if you stimulate it in the right way. This is what you are going to explore next: how you can stimulate your Limbo in the right way so that you can feel better and “happier” more often—more up and less down! There are some really good reasons why you should stimulate your Limbo in the right way.

Greater quality of life

Firstly, being more emotionally well leads to a greater quality of life. Think about this statement for a moment: the quality of your emotions determines the quality of your life. I am sure you will agree this is true. If you spend most of your time up and feeling good, life is good. If on the other hand, you spend most of your time feeling down and low in mood, life is lousy. Note that the things in your life—your relationships, circumstances, possessions, and so on—are merely vehicles to emotions. If these things lead to positive emotions they contribute to our quality of life, whereas if they breed negative emotions they detract from our quality of life. As much as you are able, it is good to surround yourself with “wings” as compared to “weights.” In short, the first good reason you should endeavor to give yourself an emotional boost is that it ensures your quality of life is better, and as upbeat people are more fun to be around, the quality of life of those you associate with will be better as well!

Live longer

The second reason to pursue emotional wellness is that happy people tend to live longer. In 2001, researchers from the University of Kentucky published a fascinating paper on the longevity of nuns. The researchers uncovered the autobiographies of 180 nuns that had been penned when the nuns first entered the convent in the 1930s. The researchers then analysed the tone of the writings —whether they were upbeat and optimistic or forlorn and pessimistic—to see if it influenced how long the nuns lived. It is worth noting that nuns are ideal for a study like this because their lifestyle habits are quite comparable: they have a similar diet and physical activity levels, and they don’t do drugs or participate in other risky activities! The researchers found that less than one in five of the least happy nuns were still alive at the age of 93, whereas over half of the happiest nuns were.

Similar findings have been replicated by other studies. While analysing the writings of well-known deceased psychologists, researchers from the University of Kansas found that those who used more positive emotional words lived about 3 years longer. Another study found that older individuals with a more positive outlook towards ageing lived 7.5 years longer than those who didn’t share the same optimistic outlook.

To take it one step further, researchers from Wayne State University asked the question, “Can longevity be predicted by something as simple as how much someone smiles in a photograph?” To test it, they took 230 Major League baseball cards from 1952, rated the player’s “smile intensity” on the card, and mapped it against how long they lived. Remarkably, the players who pulled the cheesiest grins (these full smiles are referred to as Duchene smiles), lived on average 7 years longer than those who didn’t smile at all.

A smile adding seven years to your life is truly incredible, although it obviously wasn’t just one smile—the smiley players in the baseball study were probably smilier most of the time. (Although, it is probably worth smiling more in photos just in case!)

A little later you will learn why being happy increases your lifespan, but the takeaway message is that happy people tend to live longer. After reviewing many studies examining the relationship between longevity and happiness, renowned researcher Dr Ed Diener estimated that a very happy person is likely to live between four to 10 years longer than their unhappy neighbour. It would seem that the ancient proverb is correct: “Being cheerful keeps you healthy; it is a slow death to be gloomy all the time.”

Be more successful

The final reason you should strive to be more emotionally upbeat is that happier people tend to be more successful. To continue the theme of “smiling studies,” one study found that the extent to which women smiled in their college yearbook photo significantly predicted their levels of wellbeing and marital satisfaction 30 years later. That is even after taking into consideration how physically attractive or socially desirable the women were deemed to be.

The productivity benefits of happiness have been repeatedly demonstrated in the workplace. Happier employees are more creative, display superior performance, are more inclined to “go the extra mile,” and perform more helpful acts that translate to better customer service.

Happier people also tend to be more present, in more ways than one. They exhibit less absenteeism by taking fewer days off. Perhaps even more importantly, they demonstrate lower levels of “presenteeism”, which relates to that experience of “being there but not really being there?” Happy people tend to experience it less. It is hardly surprising then that happy people tend to earn more—one study found as much as 30 percent more! It literally pays to be happy!

I hope you are gaining a sense of the importance of getting your Limbo into a great state; it can affect your quality of life, length of your life, and how successful you might be. There is still more you need to know about your Limbo. While the Limbos foremost function is feeling, it also has three other important functions. As you consider them, note that these other three functions are always linked to Limbo’s primary function of feeling.


Do you need help with your memory at times? Do you find yourself forgetting things you should remember, but remembering things you probably should forget? It is your Limbo that decides what gets filed and what gets forgotten, and it makes that decision on the basis of how it feels.

By way of illustration, have you ever had the embarrassing experience of meeting someone for the first time only to have their name vanish from your head moments after they have told it to you? Their name has gone in one ear and out the other! What makes it more embarrassing, is when they have clearly made a mental note of your name and insert it into every sentence at least three times: “So Darren, tell me Darren, how is your day going, Darren?” It is awkward to ask their name again because it suggests a care factor of zero when you heard it the first time. In other words, if there is not strong feeling attached to something, we tend to forget it. This is why Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, states that the sweetest sound to anyone is that of their own name. It communicates we care.

On the flip side, we have no problem remembering the name of a certain someone who sets our heart aflutter. I don’t recall much about grade three—I don’t remember the classroom or the teacher—but I do remember the name of the girl I had a crush on. When I got to sit next to her in story-time my heart pounded in my chest. I remember her name to this day because strong feelings promote strong memories.

While we are on the topic of school, which teachers feature most prominently in your memory? I can recall two. The first strapped at least half the class each time we met and so I lived in fear of him. The second took an interest in, and nurtured me, which made me feel good about myself. Ironically, I remember little of what they taught me in class, but I will always remember them because of the way they made me feel. Indeed, the thing we remember most about people is the way they make you feel. This is worth reflecting on. How do you make others feel? You will be remembered or forgotten, for it.

The take away message is that your Limbo, which is primarily responsible for your feelings, is also in charge of your memories. Hence, if you don’t feel strongly you will likely forget, and if you do feel strongly you will likely remember. If the feelings are intense enough—like when a terrifying event triggers a phobia—you can remember for a lifetime. [For a fascinating insight into the life of Rebecca Sharrock, who can remember everyday of her life since birth, check out this podcast. Her story testifies to the strong link between memories and emotion].

As you proceed you will discover many more uncanny things about the Limbo’s involvement in memory, but I hope you are gaining a sense of how important this part of your brain is!


Most of what you do, you do for a feeling—either to avoid pain or achieve pleasure. Aristotle arrived at that notion thousands of years ago. The reason for this is that your Limbo—your emotional hub—is responsible for your drives. It is for this reason that feelings move you. In fact, the word “emotion” quite literally means “to move.”

This is why fear and love—the two strongest feelings experienced by humans—are tremendous motivating forces that inspire our best efforts. Even someone who avoids exercise at all costs will find it easy to find the motivation to push themselves to levels of exhaustion they didn’t know existed if they are chased by something they are petrified of! Strong feelings like love and fear can also motivate you to perform all manner of strange and sometimes embarrassing actions. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman points out that smart people can do some really dumb things when feelings gets involved, or in other words, when the Limbo takes over.

For many years, I have been involved in helping people adopt healthier lifestyles and what I can tell you is that to achieve long-term behaviour change requires more than just knowledge. The world is full of people who know what to do but who don’t do what they know. Why? Well just ask someone why they are eating a pizza the size of their head even though they said they were going on a diet, and they will tell you: “I feel like it!” Ask a couch potato why they don’t get up and do something active and they will tell you: “I don’t feel like it.” They couldn’t be more explicit—their Limbo isn’t in the mood and so their motivation levels are low. The behaviour change experts who wrote the book Change Anything advise that in order to adopt a new behaviour for good, you need to discover a way to feel positively about it.

Clearly, mood and motivation go hand in hand, so if you are interested in discovering greater levels of motivation, you need to leverage your Limbo. As you implement the Limbo-lifting strategies you are learning, don’t be surprised to discover more motivation!

many automatic bodily processes

I know you are not the kind of person who exceeds the speed limit when driving a car, but you probably know someone who does. Hypothetically speaking, if that person were to speed down the road and then suddenly hear a siren and notice in their rear-view mirror a police car with flashing lights indicating for them to pull over, they would likely experience several automatic changes within their body: their heart would pound in their chest; their palms would sweat; and butterflies would come alive in their stomach.

There is a strong relationship between your emotional state and many automatic bodily processes. I say “automatic bodily processes” because they occur without you having to think about them. In fact, thinking can’t make your heart rate increase, palms sweat and tummy lurch, unless of course you think about something that makes you feel, in which case the Limbo does the work. You will learn more about this later.

As the Limbo has such an impact upon our heart, it is not surprising that people with higher anger scores are two and a half times more likely to experience a heart attack than more placid folk. Similarly, it is understandable that the emotional stress of being exposed to heavy traffic increases the risk of a heart attack in the following hour, by almost three times. There are now many studies indicating that a happy Limbo helps your heart to be happy too.

In case you were thinking that those butterflies that take flight in your stomach during anxious moments are harmless, think again. Researchers are discovering that there is an intimate connection between the brain and the gut, as you will learn more about later. Scientists have discovered that approximately 70 percent of your immune system is distributed around your gut, and so it is little wonder that an upset gut can influence your health in a very profound way.

In a fascinating study conducted by researchers from the University of Ohio, blister wounds administered to the forearms of married couples took 30 percent longer to heal following an animated argument with their spouse, which of course raised stress levels.

Similarly, wounds inflicted on the hard-palate of dental students healed 40 percent slower in the stressful lead up to exams as compared to the low-stress summer vacation period. The take away message is that how you feel affects how you heal.

What this means is that it not only feels good to experience positive emotions, it is also good for you. Happiness and health go hand in hand—one promotes and complements the other—and the reason for this is the Limbo is intimately involved in both.

Hmmm—do you want your Limbo in a good state?

As you consider the functions of the Limbo: Happiness; memory; motivation and many automatic bodily processes—you can see that they can be represented as “Hmmm.”  That is the sound that you are hopefully making as you consider how important it is for you to get your Limbo in the best possible state you can.

So how can you achieve this? Here comes the exciting part.

Just like the cats that became friendly or ferocious when the researchers stimulated their Limbo in the appropriate way, you can push the buttons to stimulate your own Limbo for better or worse. In doing so, you change the way you feel. So let me show you how to stimulate your Limbo for good!

A wise, old Indian teacher instructs his grandson: “Each of us,” he says, “has two wolves within our head that fight each other. One is a black wolf and it tells us things that bind and destroy. The other is a white wolf that liberates and sets us free.”
“Which wolf wins the fight?” asks the grandson.
The teacher replies, “The one we feed.”
–  Old Cherokee Tale –

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it.
– The Message –

Let me set the scene by asking what might seem like a stupid question. We have established that your Limbo is the emotional hub of your brain—your Home of Happy—but how does it know when to make you feel glad, bad, mad or sad?

The question is not as silly as it sounds. You see, your brain, which includes your Limbo, has no sensation of its own—it cannot feel anything of its own accord. When a surgeon operates on the brain he or she has to use anesthetic to get through the scalp and skull because skin and bones have pain receptors, but once inside and working on the brain, no anesthetic is required. Your brain is numb! Cut it, burn it, prod it, poke it, and you won’t feel a thing. This leads back to this interesting question: if your Limbo has no feelings of its own, how does it know what emotion to excite and when?

The answer is that it relies on what it is told, which of course leads to a further question: what tells the Limbo how to feel?

Your Limbo is hard-wired to several other parts of your body and it receives messages from them. Follow the logic here: if you know what those sources of input to the Limbo are, you can purposefully and intentionally use them to send the messages you want your Limbo to receive and in so doing, change your emotional state. This is what you are about to learn—where your Limbo gets its information from and how you can intentionally use those sources to send your Limbo uplifting inputs. I hope you can see the potential of this to help you live more!

So, let me tell you about the first source of input to your Limbo.

Your language zone

Located in your higher brain (remember I call it the Leader) are two areas, known as the Broca’s and Wernike’s area, that work together to form our speech and language. Leading from these areas is an extensive array of nerves connecting to the Limbo.

To state it simply: your Limbo listens to your language. With this in mind, there is something else you need to know about the Limbo. Although your Limbo carries some incredible responsibilities—it defines how you feel, determines your motivation, deciphers your memory and directs many automatic bodily processes—it is also highly impressionable. In fact, you can liken your Limbo to a two-year-old child in terms of its ability to think and reason. It is great at its job, but its job isn’t to engage in higher-order thinking; that’s the responsibility of the Leader. Essentially, your Leader is your thinking brain while your Limbo is your feeling brain, and like an infant relies upon its guardian for leadership, your Limbo looks to the Leader for guidance. Your Leader offers this guidance every time you speak, both to yourself and others. So are the messages you are sending positive?

What did I say?

Most of us talk to ourselves, we just prefer not to get caught doing it. I always speak to myself just before I launch off the side of a cliff in my hang glider. Before I get in my harness I say to myself, “OK, I have checked the glider and it all looks good, this is going to be a great flight!” Then I fasten myself in and move close to the cliff, and when the conditions feel good I say, “Feels good.” Finally, just prior to taking the first step I say, “Clear to go!” Note that I choose my words carefully because others who hear me may think I am speaking to them, and I don’t want to come across as crazy! Why do I talk to myself like this? It makes me feel calmer.

 I am sure you have heard the “speak positively” thing before and you may have thought it was just pop-psychology. But I hope you now realise that it has merit because your brain is wired that way! Your Limbo is literally hard-wired to be influenced by language.

My hang gliding illustration is one example of using language for good, but often we use language in negative ways, and this is bad for our emotional wellbeing. For example, if you were to consistently say things like, “Oh no, this is really, really bad!” and “I’m so useless!” around a two-year-old in your care, what emotional state would they be reduced to? They would soon become a psychological wreck. Yet many people submit their two-year-old Limbo to this type of verbal battering. Like the Old Cherokee Tale about the wolves, you feed your feelings with your words.

I see so many examples of people negatively manipulating their own Limbo and reaping undesirable emotional outcomes—effectively sabotaging their own happiness. I once picked up a hitchhiker and as he strapped himself in I asked how he was going. Big mistake! In a gruff tone, he replied, “Terrible! I have the worst luck. Got up this mornin’ and my fridge was broken. Lost all me food and I’d just been shoppin’ the day before. This stuff always happens to me! So I got in me car and it won’t start. So here I am tryin’ to catch a ride in this scorchin’ heat.” He paused for a moment to take a breath and finished with, “And the worst thing is these things always come in threes!” How do you think his Limbo was doing? As he spoke I could imagine the two-year-old Limbo inside his skull saying, “We’ve already attracted two bad things today and another one is on its way!” As the hitchhiker got out of my car I said, “Good luck with that third bad thing.” I was sure he would find it.

Consider another illustration. If you want to feed a fear, talk it up. For example, few people enjoy needles, but those who fear them most often feed the fear through their language. They will tell you that a standard vaccination needle is “huge” or “massive.” “It’s as thick as my finger,” they will dramatically proclaim. It doesn’t just feel like a prick, “it kills!” If I was a two-year-old and someone I looked up to was telling me about this horrific experience I was about to endure that kills, I think it is fair to say that I too would be terrified. Is it any wonder their Limbo freaks out?

The point is that what you say to yourself matters because you are designed that way. It doesn’t matter whether the words that ruminate in your head actually find their way out of your mouth, your Limbo still hears them because the message still gets sent from the language area of your Leader down the “wires” to your Limbo. Hence, your internal dialogue is also important.

I make this point because you might be thinking to yourself, “Well when it comes to speaking positively, I am doing pretty well.” However, it is one thing to be able to bite your tongue or even exchange pleasantries with others, but another thing entirely to take control of what is said in your internal world. Indeed, your internal dialogue has a profound effect on how you feel.

For example, have you ever talked yourself (internally) into feeling a particular way? Perhaps you have felt a little queasy in the stomach and started to tell yourself you might be coming down with something, and ended up having to go and lie down. There is a condition comically referred to as ‘medical student syndrome’ which refers to the phenomenon where budding doctors believe they have contracted all kinds of diseases after learning about their symptoms. They sit in class and their internal dialogue goes something like this: “I get headaches occasionally” and “Oh no, I sort of had a rash that looked a little like that.” Before long they are getting themselves checked out for all manner of ailments.

I am sure you are familiar with how easy it is to talk yourself (internally) into feeling annoyed with someone. It can start with something innocuous like them not acknowledging you when you asked them a question. The real reason they didn’t respond was because they didn’t hear you, and while you suspect that might have been the case your internal dialogue gets the better of you. Words start forming in your head and your Limbo listens in attentively: “They always do that. They have absolutely no respect. They must be annoyed with me about something and are trying to make their displeasure known. Well, two can play this game! If they want war, they picked on the wrong person! Ahhh!” It is amazing how quickly internal dialogue can escalate. Within minutes an unsuspecting victim can become a sworn enemy; imagine what days and days of stewing can achieve.

Another important aspect of internal dialogue is your explanatory style. It is human to try to make sense of life, but it has been observed that people differ in the way they explain life events to themselves and this has a big impact upon both their health and happiness. When optimists experience a setback, they tend to explain it to themselves as bad luck, while they attribute good outcomes to their skills and talents. On the other hand, pessimists interpret bad situations as their own creation, and good ones as a coincidental fluke. Essentially, optimists have a tendency to bombard their Limbo with uplifting words, while pessimists flood theirs, with doom and gloom. Is it any wonder pessimists are characteristically seen as sullen and downcast and optimists as bubbly and outgoing?

The power of words on our emotional brain is well-documented. In fact, bibliotherapy—literally meaning “book therapy” and involves engaging with inspiring writings—has been shown in many studies to be highly effective for giving people an emotional lift. You don’t need to read an entire book, even just a few words can have a positive effect. Researchers from Queen’s University conducted a study in which participants were asked to unscramble sentences of five words. The researchers found that when the sentences included religious words such as “divine,” the participants displayed more self-control—in the form of being more able to endure discomfort and delay gratification—in exercises performed shortly after.

In another study, subjects were asked to unscramble seemingly random words. Some subjects were given truly random words, while another group were given words like “Florida,” “Bingo” and “Gray”—words associated with the elderly. While the subjects in the later group didn’t make that connection, as they left the study venue, the researchers observed that these participants moved slower than those participants who didn’t unscramble “elderly” words.

These studies highlight the pervasive influence that words, language and speech can have on your Limbo. The challenges at the end of this chapter will help you speak more positively, but before we get to them, it is important to know that your Limbo listens in not only to what you say to yourself, but what you say to others as well.

Speaking positively to others

I often muse over “comeback” statements. You know how it works: someone says something degrading or demeaning to you and so you attempt to level the score by firing a get-even comment back. The reason we respond in this way is because it feels so good, doesn’t it? Or does it? Delivering a devastating comeback may be sweet in the mouth, but it often turns bitter in the belly. Few times in my life have I been sharp enough to make a really good comeback. Usually it takes me about 24 hours to come up with something truly witty and by then the moment has passed. But on the odd occasion I have pulled it off, I can’t report any long-lasting emotional boost. Likewise, if you are honest with yourself, I am sure you will concede that negative speech, whether directed at yourself or at someone else, drags you down emotionally. It does so because your Limbo listens in on the lot.

One of the world authorities on marriage is Professor John Gottman. He and his colleagues have conducted numerous fascinating studies and published prolifically. In one study he could predict with nearly 90% accuracy whether a newlywed couple would divorce within five years simply by listening to how they spoke to, and about, each other in an interview. His research suggested that in order for a relationship to flourish, there needs to be at least five positive things said for every one negative.

The idea of a “positivity ratio” is intriguing, and John Gottman is not the only one who has discovered it. Marcial Losada studied the effectiveness of business teams and discovered that the highest performing ones were those that had the highest ratio of positive to negative interactions—the best performing teams had 5.6 positive statements for every negative one. While there is some debate about the exact ratio, it seems that approximately five or more positive comments are required for every negative in order for individuals, marriages, families and even businesses to flourish. If the ratio falls below approximately three to one, there is often impending trouble. Speaking positively to others benefits both them and you. Your Limbo gets to hear the words on the way out, and their Limbo gets to hear the words on the way in. So now you have learned the value of speaking positively, and the reason why it works, it is time to experience it.

Putting it into practice

Here are the challenges I will be offering in the “Experience” section that follows this “Learn” section of the lesson. Remember, the more you put in the more you will get out!

1. Be complimentary

Mark Twain once wrote, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Following that logic, he could get by on a meagre six compliments a year! Most of us however, need them coming more frequently. So, be the dispenser of compliments. It is an excellent way to help you get your positivity ratio up! In one of the inspiring and quirky presentations by Kid President called “20 things we should say more often” he concludes with, “say something nice!” It is pretty simple but amazingly powerful.

I often tell my children that there is a greater and a lesser way to make people like you. The lesser way is to make them feel good. The greater way is to make them feel good about themselves. Nothing works better at making someone feel good about themself than by offering a compliment. We often think good things about others but we don’t say them enough. Start doing it. It doesn’t need to be face-to-face if that is too scary. Write an email. Send a text. Test and see if it makes a difference to how you feel.

2. Ingrain inspiration

We are losing a treasure from the past. Nowadays we have access to information at our fingertips—we can carry around hundreds of books on a small device that fits into our pocket! However, having something in your pocket is not the same as having it in your head! Before the advent of our marvellous technologies, people had limited access to information and therefore had to memorise texts and sayings. There was—and is—tremendous value in doing this.

So, ingrain inspiration by committing to memory one or more inspirational texts or sayings. There are thousands of uplifting things to memorise—just google them! Write it down on a piece of paper or type it into your phone—this is an important step towards memorising anything, especially if you are a visual learner. Practice reciting it until you know it by heart. Every time you do, your Limbo is listening. Also, let it become your response to negative self-talk. When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, pinch yourself and instead recite back the inspirational text you have memorised.

I try to make a habit of memorising inspirational texts and sayings, and I have lost count of how many times I have had one pop into my head at a time I needed it. It is as though we create a memory bank of wisdom for our two-year-old Limbo to draw from…and it does!


Like the rest of your brain, your Limbo is devoid of sensation, so it relies on incoming messages to know when to make you feel happy. One of the sources of input to your Limbo is the language area of the Leader which means that your Limbo is Listening. Speaking positively—to both yourself and others—can help you live more!