Imagine rummaging through the attic and coming across an old, wooden chest. Not recognizing it, you pry open the heavy lid. After clouds of dust scatter, you peer into the chest. You’re puzzled by what you see: seeds. Thousands and thousands of seeds of every imaginable type. Some smaller than a grain of sand, others larger than a coconut. Seeds designed to be carried by the wind, or to be entangled in the fur of passing creatures, or to be transported by brooks and streams, or to be carried in the bellies of birds. Seeds that germinate into multicolored flowers and lofty trees or poisonous plants and destructive weeds. Seeds that grow into plants that provide oxygen, food, beauty, shelter, and shade. Others that develop into plants that devour, poison, ensnare, and injure living creatures. As you close the lid, your hands tingle; you can almost feel the enormous potential contained in the chest. You realize this simple container can easily become a treasure chest or a Pandora’s Box, depending on the types of seeds that are planted.
Yes, the chest represents our mind, and the seeds, our thoughts. You see, our thoughts germinate and create the garden of our life. Thousands of thoughts stream through our minds each day. We seem to think of everything, except our thoughts themselves and the role they play in shaping our lives.
As a young man, Liberace was no different. He, too, didn’t pay much attention to his thoughts. That is, until he read The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol. The book changed his life and transformed Liberace into “Mr. Showmanship,” one of the biggest draws in Las Vegas and the world’s highest paid musician and pianist. Claude M. Bristol had a simple message: “Every person is the creation of himself, the image of his own THINKING and believing. As individuals THINK and believe, so they are.” Two thousand five hundred years earlier, Buddha delivered a similar message: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. . . . What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”
We are born with an empty chest (mind), but when we reach five or six years old, it contains thousands of seeds, which have been placed there by our caretakers. If a child is unfortunate, most of the seeds may look like this: “You’re a naughty child. Mommy doesn’t like you. You’re so clumsy. That’s a stupid thing to say. Go away now. No, I don’t have time to play with you. If you don’t go to bed right away, I’m going to spank you. Don’t touch yourself. Didn’t I tell you to stop sucking your thumb? Go in your room and study your alphabet. Sit in the corner until you learn how to behave. . . .” With seeds like that, what kind of world does the child live in? Is it a warm and cozy garden or a dark and dreary jungle?
As adults, we can operate our minds like aircraft, either manually or on autopilot. When we run our minds on autopilot, our thoughts control us. But when we use our minds manually, we control our thoughts. And when we control our thoughts, we control their outcomes, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
So, how do we “reap a destiny?” How do we escape from the threatening jungle we live in and arrive at the Garden of Eden? How do we change our Pandora’s Box into a treasure chest? How do we control our thoughts? You may be surprised to learn that it is not difficult. If we follow the simple plan that follows, we will start on an exciting adventure. On the other hand, if we don’t follow the plan, the chariot we’re riding in will either crash or not get very far because the wild stallions (our thoughts and emotions) are pulling it in different directions! However, once we tame and control the stallions, we can take our chariot to the destination of our choice. Have you ever wondered why you exist? You are here not because of what you are, but because of what you can become. Join me, so we can together continue becoming what we were meant to be…
The life we now lead was created by our thoughts. If we would like to improve our life, we will have to improve our thoughts. Or, as James Allen wrote, “He who would be useful, strong, and happy must cease to be a passive receptacle for the negative, beggarly, and impure streams of thought; and as a wise householder commands his servants and invites his guests, so must he learn to command his desires and to say, with authority, what thoughts he shall admit into the mansion of his soul.” In other words, if we are to improve, we must become aware of our thoughts and control them, rather than having our thoughts control us. How do we do that? One way is by following the procedure outlined below.
1. Get a pad of paper or a notebook. Spend 15 minutes, longer if necessary, to analyze your average day. What you are looking for is one hour of wasted time each day. Once you have found it, plan to use that time to work on controlling your thoughts, their outcomes, and your life.
2. Did you find an hour you can set aside each day? If so, you are ready to begin opening the chest (your mind) and examining the seeds (your thoughts). You will need your notepad and at least an hour a day for one week. On the first day, write on the top of page one, “What do I think of myself?” Next, carefully and neatly list everything that comes to mind. For example: “I am attractive. I am overweight. I am shy. I am too sensitive. I am a good parent. I am lazy.” And so on. You have set aside an hour, so use it. List everything that comes to mind. Try to come up with a list of 150 items or more. If you can’t do it in one hour, complete the list the following day.
3. Once the list is complete, add a plus sign next to every positive statement and a minus sign next to every negative statement. “I am intelligent” would be a positive statement and “I am lazy” would be a negative statement. As you are not in the habit of examining your thoughts, this exercise will help reveal the contents of your mind. Suppose you discover 75% of your thoughts are negative, that would suggest you are losing at least 75% of your potential! Before you can control your thoughts, you must become aware of them, which is just what this exercise is designed to help you do.
4. On the second or third day return to your list. Every statement that includes the verb “to be” is inaccurate and needs to be corrected. For example, if you wrote “I am lazy,” that is wrong. Why? Because the verb “to be” means to have the essence of, or to equal. Thus, “I am lazy” means “I = lazy,” which is not true. What you meant to say is, “I sometimes behave in a lazy manner.” There is a big difference in those two thoughts, and the difference affects your self-esteem. Don’t allow the verb “to be” to cloud your thoughts. Get in the habit of precise thinking. Even where other verbs are used, you need to reevaluate what you wrote and make it more accurate. For instance, “I lack confidence” is not accurate enough; what you mean to say is, “In my opinion, I lack confidence at this time.” By focusing on the truth, it helps you realize that your negative thought is only an opinion, and opinions can be changed!
5. On the next day, return to your list and dig deeper into your mind by asking the questions who, what, where, when, how, and why. Thus, if you wrote, “I sometimes behave in a lazy manner,” WHEN do you do so? WHY do you do so? HOW do you do so? You get the idea. This exercise is designed to help you better understand yourself. Answer these questions for as many of the statements on your list as possible. True, it is a big project, but it has a big payoff; mainly, a new, better you.
6. Over the next following days, add new questions and make new lists. Questions such as, “What do I think of life? What do I think of my family? What do I think of my job?” If you diligently follow these exercises, you will get a clear view of your present state of mind. After a week of focusing on the contents of your mind, awareness of your thoughts should automatically appear at other times of the day. When this begins to happen, encourage it by pausing and taking control. Let’s say you’re at work and suddenly catch yourself thinking, “Darn it! This guy gets on my nerves!” All right, you caught the thought, now STOP. Label the thought. Is it good? Is it going to help to make your life better? The answer is no. So, CHANGE THE THOUGHT. For example, change it to, “How can I better understand this person and grow to appreciate him or her more?” This new way of looking at things can lead to better understanding, harmony in the workplace, and a new friend. In other words, you can create a better life, a better you, by taking charge of your thoughts.
7. As you practice being aware of your thoughts, you will grow more and more skillful. Whenever you find yourself harboring a negative thought, imagine it is a weed; pluck it out of your mind and immediately replace it with a positive thought. A bar of iron costs $5, made into horseshoes it’s worth $12, made into needles it’s worth $3,500, made into balance springs for watches, it’s worth $300,000. Similarly, a person made into someone who has control over their thoughts has immeasurable value and infinite potential. All it takes is a pad of paper and a pencil to begin!
Creating a New You with the Power of Your Thoughts
You probably heard the expression, “A penny for your thoughts…” Isn’t that an offer that is far too little to hear the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of our friends? For if we were to listen carefully to what they have to say, I’m sure there is a great deal we can learn.
How about YOUR thoughts? How much are they worth? Their value and importance are incalculable. Why? Because your success and happiness depend on them. Do you know that each day winners, champions, and achievers have half the thoughts of ordinary folk? That’s because they spend twice the time mulling over them.
A critical part of the mindset of champions is curiosity. Because they are curious, they ask questions. That’s why they spend twice as much time considering their thoughts, for they pose questions to themselves and then seek to answer them. No wonder they are successful. After all, questions are keys that unlock answers. They also help to focus the mind on one’s goals. Also, as Francis Bacon wrote, “Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much.”
Questions are empowering as their answers help us to solve problems and to advance. Since questioners are on a quest, they find life exciting. And when they find the answers they are looking for, they find life all the more enjoyable. There are no foolish questions. But there are fools. They are the ones who never ask questions.
Well, then, what sort of questions should we be asking ourselves? For starters, here are three important questions: What do I want? What is preventing me from getting what I want? What will I do to remove or overcome the obstacle or obstacles blocking my way? The answers to these questions are no less than the keys to our success.
The renowned author of As a Man Thinketh, James Allen, adds “For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”
A Jewish sage poses three more powerful questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14)
Scholar Joseph Campbell posed one question: “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure (life).”
Now that you have the idea, here are some more helpful questions to ask ourselves: What do I know today, that I did not know yesterday? Will what I am doing now bring me closer to my dreams? What can I do now? What SHOULD I do now?
What can I dedicate my life to? How can I infuse my life with meaning? What cause can I live for? How do I spend my time? Am I contributing to life?
What am I doing wrong? What can I learn from my mistakes? What should I avoid doing? What do I need to do more often? Am I going to make the most of this opportunity (life)?
Now, the nature of our questions determine the nature of our answers. For example, trivial questions produce trivial answers while important questions generate momentous answers. For similar reasons, if you are interested in results, avoid theoretical questions and stick with practical questions.
There are also right and wrong questions. “Do I have what it takes to be successful?” is an example of the wrong question. It is wrong because EVERYONE has what it takes to be successful. The correct question is “Am I willing to pay the price for success?” Everyone wants to be successful, but few are willing to pay the price. So, few succeed.
Also, avoid useless questions and adopt empowering ones. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to an important meeting, asking yourself why this happened to you is useless. Instead, you should be asking yourself questions such as “How can I cope? What are my options? How will I handle the situation once I am finally out of the traffic jam? Is there anything useful I can do while I am stuck here? What can I do to lessen the likelihood of something similar occurring in the future?”
We can also have high or low standards for our questions, which determine whether we lead rewarding or disappointing lives. Perhaps you are familiar with some of these low standard questions: “How can I leave work early today? How can I use sick days to take time off? How can I avoid the company picnic? What is the least I can do and still get paid?”
Examples of high standard questions are: “How can I help my company to reach its goals? What can I do to fully cooperate with my teammates? Who can I encourage today? What is the most efficient use of my time? How can I increase my value to the company? What other responsibilities can I take on?” Can you see how by asking different questions, we get different answers, which lead to different results? Yes, our successes and failures are the results of our questions!
Of course, the purpose of asking questions is not merely to arrive at answers, but to act on them, for questions derive their power from the actions they inspire.
Science cannot answer all our questions. It can teach us our capabilities, but it cannot reveal whether we OUGHT TO do everything we can do. Some questions fall under the purview of philosophy or metaphysics. The answers to such questions often come from deep within. Hermann Hesse explains, “I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.”
Our questions also create our life view. A good example is given by Bobby Matherne, “The way the Buddhist asks the question creates a different view of nature than the way the physicist does. The Buddhist asks wave questions and the physicist asks particle questions. One sees an unbroken whole and the other sees scattered parts.”
As we grow in consciousness, we come to realize there are times to refrain from asking questions. Such a time is described by South African author Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, “I think the most wonderful things in life are beyond reason, that is why I think ‘why’ is often such an irrelevant question; it is very limited. The real things in life have nothing to do with ‘why.’
They are just ‘so;’ they are just ‘thus.’ Life is a ‘thus,’ and until you realize this ‘thusness’ of life, you are stuck.”
Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz wrote “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” What are YOUR questions?
- Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein
- The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & … Tolerance By Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley
- The Power of Thought by Henry Thomas Hamblin
- Thoughts Are Things: Turning Your Ideas Into Realities by Bob Proctor and Greg S Reid
- Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life By Matthew McKay PhD, Martha Davis PhD, and Patrick Fanning
- The God Formula: A simple scientifically proven blueprint that has transformed millions of lives By Jeffery A. Martin
- The Scientific Power of Thought
- The Power of Thoughts: The Magic of Believing by Claude Bristol
- Catharine Vader: The Power of Thought
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.