As I said earlier, you could say with confidence that you were not a thief: That was a concrete distinction, no problem, no confusion, you have objective, credible data to rely on. But now, when labeled as "hopeless" or "loser" or "ugly," someone is attacking your worth. Who are you to disagree? Maybe they're right, you thought: Maybe I am a loser. Maybe I am ugly. Resisting the label is difficult enough, if for no other reason than that it's so hard to quantify. Now stir emotional pain into the mix. It doesn't matter whether you heard the label once or heard it a thousand times: If you experienced the word at an emotional level, it became meaningful. Hurt made the word concrete. So thanks to its emotional sting, and because of--not in spite of--its abstractness, that label became even more vivid and real for you than a three-dimensional object like "ball." If you were to look up "label" in the dictionary, you'd find it defined as "a term of classification." A label places us within a certain group of other people who supposedly are similar to us. The label also says that we are not like certain other groups of people. Everyone within the classification behaves a certain way; everyone outside it behaves differently. America's political system today is a case study in how low expectations and negativity hinder creativity. Today, the country is in a huge power struggle between the far left and far right. That's really is all it is: a power struggle. Neither party is solely at fault, even though each side would like to claim that the other party is the problem. The reality of the conflict is that both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, have an interest in perpetuating this struggle. That way they control the masses by inciting them to disagree. After all, low expectations regarding our leaders, institutions, and political system breed apathy, which is exactly what the far right and far left hope to engender. Most people realize that the issues we should be solving are not getting resolved because this huge power struggle between the left and the right continues every day.

I believe the vast majority of people lie somewhere between the far right and the far left. Although I don't have scientific proof, I'd wager that the majority of Americans are somewhere near the center of the political spectrum. The problem is that the middle ground is at the mercy of these two groups who are in this huge power struggle. As a result, most Americans end up feeling like their voices do not matter! There is nothing entirely new here; patterns like this have been going on ever since governments first formed. What politics does, as Philip II of Macedon said, is "divide and conquer." While we can stop believing our willpower is limited, our perception of willpower is just one facet of temperament. Several recent studies have found a strong connection between the way we think about other aspects of human nature and our ability to follow through. For example, to determine how in control people feel regarding their cravings for cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, researchers administer a standard survey called the Craving Beliefs Questionnaire. The assessment is modified for the participant's drug of choice and presents statements like "Once the craving for prescription opioids starts, I have no control over my behavior"; "The cravings for prescription opioids are stronger than my will power"; and "I'll always have cravings for prescription opioids." How people rate these statements tells researchers a great deal about not only their current state but also how likely they are to remain addicted. Participants who indicate they feel more powerful as time passes increase their odds of quitting. In contrast, studies of methamphetamine users and cigarette smokers found that those who believed they were powerless to resist were most likely to fall off the wagon after quitting. The logic isn't surprising, but the extent of the effect is remarkable. A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that individuals who believed they were powerless to fight their cravings were much more likely to drink again. You have to work hard to build a healthy eating pattern--it does not come naturally to many people. When you are depressed, it is much easier to eat take-out and prepared foods that are higher in fats and salt and not as healthy for you. Grocery shopping and cooking may seem overwhelming, but try to remind yourself how important it is for your mental and physical health. You may find it easier to stick to a healthy diet when you plan ahead. Do this at times of the day when you have the most energy. First, make a shopping list of healthy foods for the grocery store. There are Web sites that can help you with easy menu planning.

Try to go shopping at times when it is least crowded and you are not hungry, and if possible, bring a friend along to help you. Many markets have a salad bar with healthy choices to start--just watch the amount of salad dressing you use. Cook soups, stews, or chicken in large batches so that you can freeze portions for later use, on days when fatigue sets in. Buy vegetables and throw them in a crock pot to cook all day--the result is a healthy, nourishing meal with little effort! Cook on days or times of day when you have more energy, or ask a friend to help you do it together. Make your grocery shopping and cooking part of your weekly routine and schedule them in. Some people find that a weekend day is the best time for them to shop and cook for the week. Then just do it even if you do not really feel like it. Some people experience anxiety along with their depression, and with this they may have unusual food cravings and a tendency to snack on junk food. Try to resist this temptation. Have only healthy foods and snacks at home to reach for when the urge is there. Bring a healthy snack with you to work and have it readily available. A piece of fruit, yogurt, or 12 walnuts or almonds are far better choices than chips or candy. Talk to your doctor if unusual food cravings persist. Keep variety in your diet as a way to ensure your body gets the many nutrients it needs. Variety also helps keep you from getting bored with the same old menus. Try a cooking class. This will also get you out of the house and introduce you to new people and new ideas, which are good for your depression. So why do we fall prey to erroneous thinking? Are we stupid?

It certainly doesn't seem so! All of us make the kinds of mistakes in thinking and deciding that are discussed in this book, including highly trained professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and CEOs of major corporations. Instead, two basic reasons come to mind. First, we all have natural tendencies to search for and evaluate evidence in a faulty manner. The reasons for these tendencies range from evolutionary considerations to just wanting to simplify the thinking process. Second, critical thinking and decision-making skills, which could counteract our natural tendencies to err, are typically not taught in our schools. Our education system requires courses in English, history, math, and the sciences, but not in critical thinking and decision making. Yet such courses would develop skills that could have a significant impact on the decisions we face every day of our lives. Most of the topics discussed here come from two fascinating areas. One concerns the psychology of judgment and decision making, which has uncovered a wealth of information on how we think, and how our thinking can go wrong. The other concerns the difference between science and pseudoscience. Much of what is reported on TV and other media outlets is actually pseudo or junk science, which is not real science, but is passed off as such. You can surf the channels on any night and find so-called scientific investigators reporting on such things as ESP, alien encounters, Bigfoot, and the search for Atlantis. Given the proliferation of pseudoscientific thinking that permeates the media, we are increasingly susceptible to thinking like a pseudoscientist--which contributes profoundly to errors in our beliefs and decisions. When you think about what that means, you recognize that a label is a kind of prediction. Bluebirds will always flourish in school; Yellow Birds will always struggle. Because you're a Sagittarius, you're going to do X in a certain situation. She's a Scorpio, so she'll do Y instead. You hear even smart people indulging in this kind of voodoo in order to reduce other people, and themselves, to a predictable set of boundaries. High school tends to be a fertile breeding ground for our impulse to classify.

There are the cool and the uncool, the jocks, the nerds, the beauty queens, granolas, freaks, dopers, and so on. These years are an acutely vulnerable time of life, when we are especially sensitive to social relations and we're hungry to know where we fit in. Our emotional sensitivity means that the labels we assume in high school may penetrate deeply into our self-concept. Expectations about our classmates and ourselves may "harden" to the point that not living up to one's label becomes unthinkable. We develop some very firm ideas about how other people "should be" or "shouldn't be." We don't want the "dumb jock" football star to make straight As, because that violates our desire for predictability. It's not right when the pencil-necked geek masters the guitar and becomes Buddy Holly; he was supposed to stay a geek. More importantly, we may become convinced, ourselves, that the prediction associated with the label that has been placed on us is the real thing, ironclad. We may become so adapted to our own label that we see any challenge to it as futile and even a threat. We can sometimes get comfortable with the fact that at least we have some identity. We may even actively defend it: "This is my box. Don't tell me to get out of it. I am the trouble-making rebel and don't you forget it!" You may fear that if you were to lose the label, there would be nothing to replace it. The point is that when you were young and vulnerable, you may have bought into a classification that now blocks your way back to your authentic self. Remember that the world has an agenda for you and your authenticity is not anywhere on that agenda. The world loves labels. Labels are convenient. Refusing to live by a label makes you inconvenient. That's what diminished collective expectations are about. It is the dividing wedge driven in by the media and through the educational system, and it's prevalent just about anywhere. Think about it: the only way people are ever going to get beyond collective diminished expectations is by having higher expectations and expecting more of government (in terms of better results), but particularly expecting more of ourselves, because everything starts with the individual.