One hundred years ago, James Allen wrote, “A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.” Powerful words that can literally transform the life of anyone who chooses to heed them.
Most of us do not consciously choose our thoughts. They enter our mind uninvited, because there is no gatekeeper at the door. Many of the beliefs that form the basis of our thoughts were established in childhood and never questioned. Others were picked up along the way, influenced by the people and circumstances around us. If we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving, positive adults as we began to make our way in the world, then our thoughts are more likely to be loving and positive. If we were not so lucky, we will have to redefine our thoughts ourselves.
While it is tempting to blame our parents and other early influencers for any unhappiness we have carried into adulthood, it is a waste of time to do so. Our parents did the best they could, as did their parents before them. Forgiveness is a necessary prerequisite to letting go of any perceived injustices and moving forward with our personal transformation.
We must also take stock of our current thought process. It helps if we take some time to listen to the thoughts that play out in our head. I have often been surprised at the petty nature of my thoughts. I will sometimes tune in and find I am thinking critical, unkind thoughts about others. I can even get myself quite worked up thinking about some perceived wrong someone has done me. Later reflection may show me that I am simply making assumptions or taking something personally, where no slight was intended. But if I don’t catch myself at this unproductive thinking, I may act on it and cause harm to a relationship without even realizing that I created the issue in my own head.
Taking control of our thinking is not something that happens overnight. The first step is awareness. Until we become aware that there is a strong connection between the thoughts we harbor and the circumstances of our lives, we will see no point in trying to control our thinking. In fact, the two are so inseparable that some people would say their life circumstances confirm that their thinking is correct. So if they think that bad things always happen to them, and bad things do in fact often happen to them, they will conclude that their thoughts simply reflect reality. But it is really the other way around. Bad things happen to them because they think bad things will happen to them. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Fortunately, thought patterns can be reversed. Buddha noted, “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” So the second step is to set the intent to consciously change our thoughts to conform to what we want and who we want to become. We have to challenge those thoughts that run counter to what we desire in our life. So if we are seeking love, we must weed out our unloving thoughts. If we long for personal freedom, we must say no to fearful thoughts. It isn’t necessary to resist the unproductive thoughts; that will just make them stronger. Instead, we just need to replace them with more productive thoughts. For example, if we have always thought we were unlucky, we must begin to think we are lucky. We keep saying it to ourselves until we believe it and it begins to show up in our life. We look for confirmation that we are lucky. It doesn’t matter how small it is in the beginning. Maybe we find a good parking spot in a crowded lot. We acknowledge to ourselves that we are lucky to have found the spot. Then perhaps we see a quarter on the street, pick it up and again think we are lucky. If we continue to reinforce the thought that we are lucky, we will draw more luck to us. We first change our thoughts and eventually we change our circumstances.
The final step is to continue to monitor our thoughts to ensure they are consistent with our desired reality. We must be the gatekeeper to what thoughts we allow into our mind. Initially, this will require concentrated effort. We will be tempted to just let our thoughts drift, but they will tend to drift back to our old thinking patterns. If we want to change our lives, we must first change our thoughts. And if we want to change our thoughts, we will need to focus on our thinking. It is nearly impossible to change our outward circumstances on any sort of permanent basis, if we do not first change our internal beliefs and thoughts. Once we have transformed our thinking process, we will have formed a new habit, and our new way of thinking will become so ingrained, we will not need to expend as much effort to maintain it.
Undoubtedly, we will do some backsliding. It will be obvious to us that this has happened from our outward circumstances and lack of inner peace. This will simply be our cue to get our thinking back on track. As we again begin to think in positive, productive ways, we will gradually shape our external circumstances. It is a law of nature that is as true today as it was when James Allen wrote about it a hundred years ago.
P.S. See related post on changing your life.