The idea that our thoughts create the circumstances in our lives is not a new one. In fact, this idea has recently been popularized by self-help gurus and new age mystics, including through best selling books such as The Secret. Positive thinking is gaining increasing prominence as a panacea for our ills, and its ability to transform negative situations into positive ones is being widely touted. If you read last week’s column, you will probably guess that I have nothing against positive thinking ÔÇô in fact; I am a big proponent of using the power of the mind and positive emotions to change undesired circumstances. Leading scientists such as Barbara Fredrickson have demonstrated that feeling good, as a result of positive thoughts or actions, can have a healing and even transformative effect in our lives.
While many self-improvement authors espouse the power of the positive thinking this should not be seen as encouragement to become delusional, or deny objective reality. Positive thinking should not mean burying our heads in the sand about existing problems. However, while acknowledging your problems, you should not allow them to dominate your thinking.
Many of you will question just how we do that, particularly if the situation is life-changing or threatening. At times, our pervasive negative thoughts may seem perfectly justified. While I am not advocating making light of challenges, I am saying that creating a catastrophe, out of any issue – let’s say it is lack of money ÔÇô by picturing your family becoming homeless or your children as social outcasts is most definitely not going to help you. Turning unwanted scenarios over and over again in your mind will not only leave you feeling powerless, it could actually accelerate the arrival in your life of the very thing that you dread.
If you don’t believe me, try this experiment devised by Richard Bach yourself: think of anything, no matter how outrageous it is, and hold it in your mind for a few moments. Don’t work too hard at it; just allow the image you have chosen to drift in and out of your mind a few times throughout the day and over the next few days. Now, watch how long it takes that same image to materialize in your life – it could be a few days perhaps a couple of weeks, but materialize it will. This helps to explains the old adage; and the title of this article, that as “as a man thinketh, so is he.”
For centuries, countless writers have been telling us that we can control our happiness through our thoughts. Celebrated philosopher, William James, advocated using our attention in a positive manner to draw desirable circumstances into our lives. James went so far as to suggest that even if we don’t feel like being cheerful, we should pay utmost attention to what we do and say, make sure that it reflects cheerfulness and pretty soon, it would lead us to that disposition.
Consider also the position of famed positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his definitive work, Flow, which is the culmination of a series of scientific studies, Csikszentmihalyi writes that gaining mastery over what happens in consciousness leads to a happier life. He says that a person can make himself happy or miserable regardless of their actual circumstances, by simply changing the contents of their consciousness; and adds that while “the self directs attention…attention also determines the self.” In a nutshell, where we focus our attention affects ÔÇô and may even create ÔÇô our lives. So, if you don’t like the results that you are getting so far, consider what you spend most of your time thinking about and the resultant feelings.
For many of us, it is difficult to accept that our thoughts really do shape our reality. Sometimes, it’s much simpler to blame someone else for our problems ÔÇô the boss who lacks empathy or the world that’s conspiring against you to ensure you remain a failure. This can be a seductive proposition, because it absolves us of all guilt and responsibility for anything that may be going wrong in our lives. But if you’re tired of making excuses for why things are not going the way you want them to and are ready make a positive change, then try spending more time thinking about what you want as opposed to what you don’t want. Positive thoughts and feeling good feelings will lead to a radical improvement in your circumstances, probably sooner than you think – I guarantee it.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with this thought from one of the greatest thinkers of all time, James Allen: “all that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thought.”
Get your free copy of Allen’s classic, As a Man Thinketh, here: http://asamanthinketh.net/aamt.pdf