Genius Catalyst: The Gay Thumb

By Michael Neill

Change comes best in steps, not leaps.
geniuscatalystWhen I was a child, a rumor went around the school yard that the thumb on top when you folded your hands with interlacing fingers was an indicator that you were gay. I didn’t know what ‘gay’ meant, but I could tell by the facial expressions and tonality of the people saying it that it was a bad thing I didn’t want to be. (And no, for the record, I no longer think that—but bear with me—I’m telling a story!)

While I no longer remember which thumb it was, I was horrified to discover that I had the gay thumb, and immediately made plans to pack up all my worldly belongings into a small shopping bag and head for the Far East where people with all kinds of thumbs could live together in peace and harmony. However, after a long and heartfelt talk with my favorite teddy bear, I decided that rather than run away, I would face up to my demons and force my thumbs to behave like the good heterosexual digits I knew them to be.

I embarked on a program of reconditioning my body to behave in a new way. Each morning, I would consciously interlace my fingers at least 100 times, being sure to place the ’non-gay’ thumb on top. At first, it felt incredibly odd to connect my hands in the ‘wrong’ way. But after only a few mornings, it began to feel more and more normal. At some point in the first two weeks, I closed my eyes and brought my hands together. When I opened my eyes, the heterosexual thumb was on top!

I had done it—I had changed ‘normal’ and ‘comfortable’ simply by consciously repeating a few new behaviors on a regular basis. And despite the collection of show tunes and Barbara Streisand records gathering dust in my closet, I have a wife and three kids to show for my troubles….

Nothing hampers our quest for happiness, success and well-being more than the supposition that if we haven’t already attained our goals for our hearts, minds and bodies, we will need a giant leap to reach them. Practice, on the other hand, is very democratic: it works for any of us, no matter where we start. Incremental transformation is the most reliable, lasting, and discrimination-free way we’ve found of attaining any level of enlightenment.


Choose a quality or trait you would like to cultivate in your own life—for example, love, peace, patience, focus, balance, faith, hope.

What could you do each day (even if it’s just for a few minutes a day) to begin real-izing (making real) that quality or trait in your own life? Examples:

Loving kindness—I could start (and/or end) my day with a heart meditation, perform five deliberate acts of random kindness each day, make a point of telling each member of my family I love them at least once a day.

Focus—I could practice counting up in my mind from 1 (2, 3, etc.) and notice how high I get before I get distracted, then return to 1 and begin again.

Confidence—I could spend a few minutes each day remembering times I’ve felt confident and stepping back in to the moment so I see what I saw, hear what I heard, and feel what I felt. I could take five minutes a day to act as if I were a confident person, standing the way I would stand, moving the way I would move, and speaking the way I would speak if I were already confident.

Have fun, learn heaps and remember—practice makes practice!

Michael Neill is a life coach and the author of “The Seven Myths of Success,” an audio program. Hear him Thursdays at 11am on HayHouse Radio or visit his website,

This article was originally published on January 31, 2007.