“We are what we think. With our thoughts we make the world.”
I’ve been contemplating that quote a fair bit lately. I’ve been on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster spanning two decades, and what I’m really coming to see is that this quote is literally true—each of us lives in a reality of our own making. This is not a matter of metaphysics. In fact, it’s very practical.
Experimental psychologists have long known about “priming.” Priming is about as close as we get to actual subliminal messages. It works like this: If I tell you to repeat after me: soak, bloke, folk, and then ask you what the white of an egg is called… you’re going to be tempted to say “yolk” because the word “yolk” is both similar to “folk,” and related to eggs. Your brain will most likely make that association before you’re even aware of it, and it might take you a moment to remember that the yolk is the yellow part of an egg, not the white.
I’ll give you another example: Take two randomly chosen groups of undergraduate students and get them to fill out multiple-choice surveys. The content of the survey is not important. The important part is that the first group gets a survey with ordinary questions and answers, and the second group gets a survey where the questions and answers are loaded with words like “old, aging, disabled, feeble, sickly, dying…” and so on. Then, you time each group as they walk back to the elevators to leave the building. Consistently, the people in the second group walked more slowly to the elevators. The people given the old & sickly survey feel old & sickly after reading it.
What does this imply?
Well, it means that the messages the world gives us, and the messages we give ourselves—our thoughts—can alter how we feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. It also means that the way we feel is something we can control, if we choose to identify with certain thoughts, and to let go of others. We can psych ourselves up, psych ourselves out, bring ourselves down, work ourselves into a worried frenzy, or feel a state of serene and genuine confidence, all depending on where we invest our attention.
This is key, because most of the time people rarely even notice their thoughts. They blame the circumstances of their lives, or other people, for the way they feel. They feel like victims of life, because they have yet to take responsibility for their thinking habits. This leads people to try and control the world through cunning manipulation, or by sheer force of will—and it causes them to be unhappy when they don’t get the results they wanted.
And if that goes on long enough, they might get angry and resentful, and downright miserable, and as a result might make life difficult for the people around them as well as themselves.
So, what can you do about this? Just pay attention to what you’re thinking, how those thoughts are making you feel, and how those feelings are reflected in the experiences you allow yourself to have. And take the time to think about things that make you feel good; and act in ways that make you feel good.
Chances are, before too long, you’ll see ways to feel happier, healthier, and freer, simply by being a little more conscious about which thoughts you choose to entertain, and which thoughts you’ll dismiss. And chances are, then, that you’ll have a little more energy to deal with difficult situations or people; a little more patience with yourself and with life, a little more ability to recognize fruitful opportunities when they come along, and a little more courage and motivation to act on them.
It certainly can’t hurt. And it sure beats feeling miserable and angry because the world won’t conform to your vision.
Seriously—this is the most important thing you can do, because our thoughts and emotions are at the heart of absolutely every experience we have, and every action we take. If you don’t do it, well, then you can’t really expect your life to change, because you’re still thinking and acting the same old way you always have.
It’s up to you.