Josh Ritcher is an author, speaker and mental empowerment trainer who helps people rewire their thinking patterns, resulting in a more joyful, healthy and successful life. In addition to speaking and coaching, Ritcher volunteers at recovery centers to help people overcome addiction. His e-book, Ship for Brains, is a favorite of ISPA keynote speaker and business guru Daymond John.

Pulse: In your book, you list quite a number of self-help practices you’ve tried over the course of your life. What drove you repeatedly to seek self-improvement and self-help?

Josh Ritcher: I’ve been into self-improvement from the first time I bought some Tony Robbins tapes from a garage sale when I was 17. The thought of figuring out how to make massive positive change in your life sounded pretty awesome at the time. That curiosity continued throughout my life. I’ve always sought out a deeper understanding of the human condition and human potential. I love the movies and TV shows where people beat the odds— the kinds where they survive horrific conditions on a mountain or live through what medical understanding said they shouldn’t.

P: Your book’s title, Ship for Brains, is funny, but it’s also related to your key metaphor for understanding the brain. Can you explain that metaphor to our readers?

R: I was watching a show about cruise ships a few years back. Cruise ships are such large objects in the ocean that they are extremely susceptible to outside conditions, like the wind and waves. These outside forces push the ship off course and the captain has to constantly course correct.

The wind and the waves are like life. Life never goes the way we expect it to, and we are constantly being pushed off course while trying to reach our goals. What most of us do (myself included) is stand on the bow of our ships yelling at the wind or blaming the waves for blowing us off course and not reaching our goals. The true control is not in trying to read the waves or predict where the wind will blow, but in the bridge of the ship (the brain). We have to stop making excuses and learn how to steer the ship with the controls that we have so that we can make course corrections. If we course-correct slightly each day, we can reach our goals.

P: What led to your discovery of how to “reprogram” your thinking patterns?

R: I was a typical guy, trying to force my will on the world and shave down square pegs to fit in round holes. I had been building a tech startup for almost a decade outside of my day job; I was sleeping only a few hours a night, dealing with massive stress and drinking to shut my brain down so I could sleep. This continued for years and many unforeseen things happened to the business. Negative thoughts of stress and failure became common noise in my head. I wasn’t even aware that I had control of my thoughts; like so many, I was asleep at the wheel and just reacting to everything I thought was happening to me. At its peak, when the startup was crashing down around me, I found myself on the sixth floor of a parking garage ready to leap, but I walked away and checked myself into rehab. It was here that I realized I could actually watch my thought patterns and course correct. This awareness ignited my curiosity.

P: What makes your method different from the other, more traditional self-help methods mentioned in Ship for Brains?

R: One of the big ones is repetition. Your brain automates repetitive things so that you don’t have to consciously think about them, because conscious thoughts take up a lot of energy. So, if you think a conscious thought for enough days in a row, your brain will see a pattern and say, “rather than using all this energy, let’s automate it and conserve energy.” We might as well use that to our advantage, right? I tried this first with the word “should”. Should was a negative word I used against myself for many years. “I should have seen that coming, I should have done this, I should do this in the future.” I used the word should against myself constantly, so I decided to eradicate it from my vocabulary and change it to the word “could”. Could is a much kinder word: “I could have done that, but I didn’t and that’s okay.” For about a month, when I said the word “should,” I would rephrase the sentence with the word “could.” Over time it became automatic, and I stopped saying “should”—the brain took over, the word “could” had been inserted and “should” erased.

P: What is the first step that readers can take to reprogram your brain?

R: The first step is to become aware that you have thoughts, that these thoughts are not you and that you can control them. Negative thoughts change what you see in the world, so our outer world is very literally a reflection of our inner world, because that’s what we are telling the brain to perceive. We have all the control in our heads. What do the quality of your thoughts look like? Do they match where you want to be in life? If not, you need to do some housecleaning. This is key to taking back control of your life.

P: How did you become interested in public speaking and leading seminars? Why are doing these important to you?

R: I was ready to take my own life because of my negative thought patterns, and I had no idea what power I actually possessed. Addiction rates are through the roof, people are checking out with their devices, binging shows, overeating— they’re seeking ways to numb their emotions and stress. Our brains were not built for all this stimulation, and we were never taught how to deal with it. My mission is to wake up others to their own power and to teach people about the ultimate control they have.

P: You’re also involved in helping others recover from alcohol addiction. Could you tell me more about that, what you do, and why it’s important to you?

R: I’ve been going back to my recovery house for four years now, and almost all the people that pass thought those doors are the same. We’re all intelligent people who don’t know how to handle our overactive brains. I am passionate about helping those who fight with addiction. Life is hard, and our thought patterns can rule our lives if we don’t become aware of them. I also know that sobriety doesn’t have to be hope based (“I hope I don’t use this week”) and that we are absolutely not powerless.

P: Lastly, what work do you do on Shark Tank? How has working with so many entrepreneurs, not to mention the Sharks, impacted your life?

R: Shark Tank has been such a great experience for the last decade of my life. It’s a show that actually changes lives, and being a part of that is really a unique experience. My department designs the pitch displays for all the entrepreneurs, and we design them both for the Sharks and for the people watching at home. For many of these entrepreneurs it’s their first time on TV. After a career of designing for camera, we know what works and what doesn’t. We help them all equally, and each season that means designing for over 220 entrepreneurs. It’s a massive coordination effort tending to all of their unique needs, but we get paid to help people realize their dreams: nothing gets better than that. The Sharks have become friends and we all joke around onset in between pitches. It’s a family vibe in the Tank now, and everyone on that stage loves coming to work. Our team is so talented and it’s because of them we can pull these crazy stunts off so smoothly.