At the time, going to the gym couldn't have been easier--the fully equipped facility was located in my apartment complex. I couldn't blame my no-shows on traffic, nor could I blame it on membership dues, because membership was free for residents. Even taking a long walk would be better than doing nothing. Yet I somehow found reasons to skip my workouts. I decided to make a price pact with myself. After making time in my timeboxed schedule, I taped a crisp hundred-dollar bill to the calendar on my wall, next to the date of my upcoming workout. Then I bought a ninety-nine-cent lighter and placed it nearby. Every day, I had a choice to make: I would either burn the calories by exercising or burn the hundred-dollar bill. Unless I was certifiably sick, those were the only two options I allowed myself. Any time I found myself coming up with petty excuses, I had a crystal clear external trigger that reminded me of the precommitment I made to myself and to my health. I know what you're thinking: "That's too extreme! You can't burn money like that!" That's exactly my point. I've used this "burn or burn" technique for over three years and have gained twelve pounds of muscle, without ever burning the hundred dollars. My "burn or burn" calendar is one of the first things I see in the morning. It reminds me that I need to either burn calories or burn the hundred-dollar bill.6 As exemplified by my "burn or burn" method, a price pact binds us to action by attaching a price to distraction. But a price pact need not be limited to smoking cessation, weight loss, or fitness goals; in fact, I found it helpful for achieving my professional ambitions as well. After spending nearly five years conducting the research for this book, I knew it was finally time to start putting words on the page, but I found it difficult to get down to writing each day and instead found myself doing even more research, both online and offline. Even worse, I found myself a few clicks away from consuming media that was entirely irrelevant to my writing goals. Clearly, I was not making traction. To appreciate the significance of peer review, publication, and replication in the scientific process one just has to look at the cold-fusion fiasco.

In the 1980s Professors Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishman of the University of Utah obtained some preliminary results that seemed to indicate they had developed a method to generate unlimited energy through a procedure called cold fusion. Rather than submit their study to a peer-reviewed journal, where their methods could be evaluated, Pons and Fleishman immediately called a press conference to announce their findings. In good science, information is typically not brought to the media until the study has gone through peer review; in fact, if a study hasn't had peer review, it's usually an indication of "bad science"--that is, poorly done science. Pons and Fleishman opted for the immediate fame of a national press conference, but paid the price. After their spectacular announcement, other researchers attempted to replicate their results--and failed. Cold fusion has since been relegated to the junk heap of pseudoscience. The bottom line is, science's greatest strength is its ability to self-correct. Bad science can and will occur, but the process of scientific inquiry should, over time, weed out the bad from the good. Science uses theories in its attempt to better understand our world. Many people believe that a scientific theory is nothing more than a guess or a hunch. But for a scientist, established theories are far more than simple intuition. Viable theories have considerable data in support of their predictions. This distinction between the public's perception of the term and its scientific meaning has led to a lot of misunderstanding. For example, some people say that since evolution is only a theory, we should consider creationism as an equally plausible alternative theory and teach it as such in our schools. This argument demonstrates a fundamental misinterpretation of the word theory. The theory of evolution is not merely someone's guess as to how we got here. Rather, it represents a conceptual structure that is supported by a large and varied set of data. No other alternative approach comes anywhere near to explaining our place in the world than evolution.11 But remember, there are no absolute truths in science. A scientific "fact" is nothing more than a conclusion that has been confirmed to such an extent that it's reasonable to believe it at this time. In science, all knowledge is provisional.12 So how does science progress?

An initial theory is advanced that attempts to explain part of our world. As we've seen, hypotheses based upon the theory are proposed, and researchers gather data to empirically test them. If the data support the hypotheses, we can be more confident in the correctness of the theory. As the number of studies providing support for the theory increase, it becomes established and accepted by the majority of the scientific community. A well-established theory, such as evolution, is often called a "paradigm," and has become widely accepted because the evidence from many different scientific studies supports it.13 If, on the other hand, the hypotheses tested are shown to be false, we must modify the theory in some way to adapt to the new evidence, or else discard it and propose a new and better theory. Whether we modify an old theory, or propose a new one, the resulting theory has to explain everything that the old theory did, as well as accommodate the anomalous evidence that has been uncovered. This incremental, adaptive process is how science progresses. Study by study, science brings us closer to a truer understanding of our world. As an example of scientific progress, consider our early belief that the Earth was flat. A flat Earth theory was accepted because it seemed to make sense--the Earth certainly looked flat! However, some more careful observations were inconsistent with the theory. People noticed, for example, that when a ship sailed away from port, the bottom of the ship disappeared before the top, which couldn't happen if the Earth was flat. So a radical new theory had to be proposed--the Earth was round! As science developed, Sir Isaac Newton's work on gravity predicted that the Earth should not be a perfect sphere. Rather, the Earth should bulge a little at the equator and flatten out at the top and bottom, a fact that was confirmed by empirical tests years later. We now know that the Earth's diameter is 7,900 miles from North to South Pole, and 7,927 miles at the equator. Rather than perfectly round, the Earth is an oblate spheroid. The distinction between vipassana meditation and other styles of meditation is crucial, and needs to be fully understood. Buddhism addresses two major types of meditation; they are different mental skills or modes of functioning, different qualities of consciousness. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, they are called vipassana and samatha.

Vipassana can be translated as "insight," a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. Samatha can be translated as "concentration" or "tranquillity," and is a state in which the mind is focused only on one item, brought to rest, and not allowed to wander. When this is done, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquillity that must be experienced to be understood. Most systems of meditation emphasize the samatha component. The meditator focuses his or her mind on a certain item, such as a prayer, a chant, a candle flame, or a religious image, and excludes all other thoughts and perceptions from his or her consciousness. The result is a state of rapture, which lasts until the meditator ends the session of sitting. It is beautiful, delightful, meaningful, and alluring, but only temporary. Vipassana meditation addresses the other component: insight. The vipassana meditator uses concentration as a tool by which his or her awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion that blocks the living light of reality. It is a gradual process of ever-increasing awareness into the inner workings of reality itself. It takes years, but one day the meditator chisels through that wall and tumbles into the presence of light. The transformation is complete. It's called liberation, and it's permanent. Liberation is the goal of all Buddhist systems of practice. But the routes to the attainment of that end are quite diverse. In fact, a recent study found that one-third of adults in the US may be unknowingly using prescription drugs that could cause depression or increase the risk of suicide. As one report stated, "A team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago warned that over 200 commonly prescribed drugs carry warnings that depression or suicide are potential side effects. But patients and clinicians may be unaware of this link because the drugs may treat conditions unrelated to depression or mental health. Those include some painkillers; blood pressure and heart medication; hormonal birth control pills; proton pump inhibitors; and antacids." Indeed, many medications can lead to serious physical symptoms, which are often treated with--you guessed it--more medication! Relying completely on medication as the solution.

When general practitioners prescribe psychotropic medications without the input of a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist, and when patients request medications based on self-diagnosis drawn from Internet research or a TV-commercial-fueled desire for a certain brand of medication, we often see a person given an antidepressant when they're really suffering from an anxiety disorder (and vice versa). Medication is too often perceived as a quick fix, to the exclusion of other possible--and necessary--care. One-dimensional treatment answers. There's an old saying: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In the context of medical care, that means physicians who are trained to think that all disease is the result of a biochemical malfunction in the body will naturally reach for one-time "magic pill" fixes, excluding other options. I should say at the outset that I have high regard for skilled, compassionate physicians. But my work with hundreds of depressed clients has caused me great concern about the typical medical model of treatment. Often medical practitioners ignore alternative causes for chronic depression and quickly prescribe a pill as the cure-all. Despite current research showing that many other wellness factors affect our mood--such as gut health, sleep patterns, inflammation in the body, and behavioral habits--a disappointing majority of professionals continue to limit analysis and treatment to what's going on in a patient's gray matter. Shortsighted self-help books. The problem is made worse by self-help books that overwhelmingly reinforce this narrow approach. That is, they see depression as purely a problem in the brain that can be resolved through cognitive or mood therapy and/or with drugs designed to affect the brain's chemical makeup. Such books have sold well thanks to the many thousands, even millions, of readers who have successfully used these methods to heal. However, their effectiveness is mostly limited to people with mild depression or the regular "blues." Those conditions certainly form part of the depression epidemic, and techniques that address them make a valuable contribution. But they also leave millions of Americans who suffer from more serious and chronic forms of depression out in the cold. It might sound like a cliche, but think of the process of gaining confidence as a journey. It won't happen overnight, and there may be ups and downs along the way, but you will get to your destination if you keep going. Remember to look back from time to time to see how far you've come. When you have identified which goals will make you happy, try this further step to help you work towards them. A positive way to ensure that your goals will work for you is by making them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). This can be applied to goals relating to any aspect of your life - they don't have to be work-related.