Soundtracks by Jon Acuff: Book Overview & Takeaways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Soundtracks" by Jon Acuff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Soundtracks by Jon Acuff about? What are the main takeaways of the book?

In Soundtracks, Jon Acuff gives readers a set of tools to help them stop overthinking and start chasing their goals. Acuff says that the best way to overcome negative thoughts is to replace them with positive, motivating ones.

Read below for an overview of Soundtracks by Jon Acuff.

Soundtracks by Jon Acuff

In Soundtracks, Jon Acuff offers strategies to help you take control of your thoughts. Acuff argues that while overthinking tends to undermine your productivity and self-esteem, you can harness the power of overthinking and use it to work toward your goals

According to Acuff, to take control of your thoughts, you’ll need to interrupt negative thoughts, replace them with positive ones, and repeat those positive thoughts until you believe them, and they become patterns. Acuff refers to these recurring thought patterns as “soundtracks” and argues that by switching from negative soundtracks to positive ones, you’ll be able to motivate yourself more effectively.

(Shortform note: Acuff refers to all repeated thoughts as soundtracks, in reference to music’s power to shape the emotional impact of scenes in TV and in movies. This metaphor gains extra rhetorical weight when you consider that music can powerfully impact your mental and physical health, improving everything from anxiety levels to sleep quality. While Acuff isn’t talking about music, throughout Soundtracks he suggests that much like music, positive thinking can have a significant impact on your life.)

Step 1: Interrupt Negative Overthinking

To begin taking control of your thoughts, Acuff argues that you must first interrupt negative thoughts to prevent overthinking. Overthinking occurs when your negative thoughts are so persistent that they begin to distract and discourage you. Over time, overthinking leads you to believe that any action you take will result in failure, so you avoid going after your dreams.

For example, suppose that your lifelong dream is to become a first-rate sushi chef, but because you lack confidence in your skills, you’re convinced you’ll never get a foot in the door. Nevertheless, you apply to a few restaurants, and to your surprise, your top choice offers you a trainee position. In the days before your first shift, you can’t stop imagining the embarrassment when the staff realizes you have no idea what you’re doing. You get so anxious about it that you decide not to go in at all, and the opportunity passes you by.

Step 2: Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones

Once you’ve managed to interrupt your negative thoughts, Acuff recommends that you replace them with positive thoughts that encourage you to take action toward your goals

(Shortform note: In addition to motivating you to pursue your goals, positive thinking also has health benefits. A positive emotional state correlates with a longer life expectancy and a lower risk of heart disease. By pursuing Acuff’s strategies for positive thinking, you can increase your productivity and improve your health at the same time.)

Strategies for Choosing Positive Thoughts

To maximize the power of positive overthinking, choose positive thoughts that relate directly to your goals. As Acuff writes, choosing thoughts that pertain to your goals helps empower you to perform better in the most important situations in your life.

For example, suppose you have an upcoming presentation at work that you’re worried about. Thinking generally positive thoughts about work is good, but thinking more specifically about the presentation is better. If you spend the week beforehand reminding yourself that you’re a well-prepared and skillful public speaker, it’ll help you carry yourself with confidence into your presentation.

Acuff notes that when choosing positive thoughts, you should focus on finding solutions to difficult situations and not on the situations themselves. This can be especially helpful when dealing with a situation that’s causing you mental stress and anxiety. Focusing on solutions helps you avoid anxiety and stay on task, whereas focusing too much on the situation will only make you more anxious.

For example, suppose you’re a writer and you can’t stop stressing about the deadline for your next draft. Instead of thinking about the deadline, you could think positively about solutions, remembering how you’ve succeeded in similar situations in the past. If you get stuck thinking about the deadline, saying to yourself “I have to get this done by Friday,” you’ll likely feel more anxious. On the other hand, if you think something positive and solutions-oriented, like “I successfully met my last deadline, so I can apply the strategy I used then to meet this one,” you’ll feel more confident and more ready to tackle your work head-on.

If you’re having trouble coming up with positive thoughts, Acuff suggests inverting old negative thoughts. This method can help you come up with positive thoughts that relate to any situation where you’ve previously struggled with overthinking.

For example, if you’re a distance runner, and one of your old negative thoughts was “I’ll never be able to run a marathon,” you could flip this thought upside-down. Your new line could be something like “I have what it takes to go the distance.”

In addition to inverting negative thoughts, you can borrow positive phrases from others. Acuff notes that positive thoughts can come from anywhere—friends, favorite books, even song lyrics. Coming up with your own positive thoughts can feel difficult at first, so it can help to outsource them, especially when you’re first getting started.

Step 3: Repeat Positive Thoughts Until They Become Patterns

Once you’ve settled on new positive thoughts, the final step is to repeat them until you internalize them. By repeating your positive thoughts until they stick, you’ll avoid returning to old negative thoughts and becoming demotivated.

To demonstrate how repeating positive affirmations can impact your life, Acuff hired researcher Mike Peasley to measure the effectiveness of Acuff’s approach. In the study, participants who repeated positive phrases overwhelmingly felt that doing so helped them work toward their goals.

Acuff recommends that you repeat your positive thoughts out loud each day to maximize their effectiveness. While doing this may feel awkward at first, Acuff argues that it will help you internalize positive beliefs about yourself and increase your confidence more quickly.

If you’re having trouble with this step, Acuff advises that you make a list of every success you experience, even small ones. Listing your successes can help you believe in yourself and in your positive thoughts, making it easier to feel confident repeating them.

Lastly, if you’re having trouble remembering and repeating your new thoughts, it can also help to create a physical symbol to remind you of them. There are countless possible examples—a piece of string tied around your finger or even a pair of lucky socks. Whatever symbol you choose, each time you see it, remember your commitment to positive thinking and to yourself, and it’ll help to keep you motivated.

Soundtracks by Jon Acuff: Book Overview & Takeaways

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jon Acuff's "Soundtracks" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Soundtracks summary:

  • A guide to stop overthinking and start chasing your goals
  • Why human brains are wired for overthinking
  • How to repeat positive thoughts until they become patterns

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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