“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Henry Ford
I’m always amazed by the power of our thoughts to influence our reality. We can literally shape our lives by the thoughts we entertain. Dr. Srikumar Rao, in a Success Audio CD interview (October 2009), said that the moment we define something as being either good or bad, that’s how we perceive it. More than simply shaping our perceptions, our thoughts can have a tangible impact on our circumstances.
This isn’t anything new. Many noteworthy and influential authors have written extensively on the topic, even dedicating books to explain this powerful concept. James Allen penned As a Man Thinketh. T.J. Hoisington gave us If You Think You Can. Ken Blanchard, Paul J. Meyer, and Dick Ruhe together authored Know Can Do! Napoleon Hill provided his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich. All of the above indicate the power of our thoughts to shape our world. Add to that list books like T. Harv Ecker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind and Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge (along with numerous others) and it’s clear that the relationship between our thoughts and their effects on our reality have fascinated many modern thinkers. Yet the concept precedes even those noted works. I would do you all a disservice if I failed mentioning what some of the preceding authors acknowledge as the source for the principles they expound: The Bible. The very title of James Allen’s book comes from Proverbs 23:7 (KJV), and the Scriptures have many other verses that comment on our thoughts influencing our actions and affecting our life.
What’s the point of all this? It goes back to what Mr. Ford said in the quote above: If we think we can or think we can’t, we’re right! Therefore, if we want to change our results, we need to start by changing the way we think.
Success Starts in our Thoughts
In an article appearing on the American Management Association website, Liza Siegel points out the power of an optimistic outlook. Using the TV reality show “The Apprentice” as a basis, she notes that the applicants selected for the show go through rigorous examination by producers, doctors, psychologists, and casting directors who pick apart all aspects of their lives. The common denominator for all who make the final cut is an overwhelmingly positive outlook on past experiences, whether good or bad. Whenever they talk about setbacks and disappointments, they uniformly see those situations as having worked out for the best. She illustrates her point further by using the example of first season contestant Nick Warnock, whose upbeat personality and positive outlook lead to his team’s success in a challenge even though he had no real experience in the field the challenge embraced. Her conclusion as to why this happened is: “Optimism can truly outweigh lack of experience.”
Therefore one key to success is to think optimistically. That’s not always easy to do. We all face various hardships, some more than others. For example, a person may interview for a job only to have the prospective employer select another candidate. Or perhaps you set a performance goal for yourself at work and don’t achieve it. How do you view the outcome? It is easy to think pessimistically, telling yourself “This always happens. I’ll never (get hired/reach my performance goal)!” If you’ve been a victim of such negative thoughts (what a friend of mine calls “stinkin’ thinkin’”), how can you turn things around?
Whenever you have what Dr. Siegel calls “fortune-telling” (such as ‘I’m never going to get hired’) or “all or nothing” (‘I know my career is over because I didn’t hit my sales goal’) thoughts, you need to immediately take steps to correct your thinking. The article, “You Can Fight Pessimism,” says the first step is to recognize those thoughts as negative. Next, both articles encourage you to challenge your conclusions by looking for alternative explanations. By using specific facts, expose your negative thoughts for what they are: overreactions. Then revisit those same experiences and look at them more positively ( for example, ‘I didn’t have what that organization needs, but I know there’s a company that needs what I have!’ or ‘I was targeting the wrong demographic. Let me adjust my approach and nail my sales goal this time around!’).
The Connection Between Positive Thinking and Hope
The late C.R. Snyder, a professor at the University of Kansas with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, has extensively studied the value of hope. Commenting on Professor Snyder’s teachings, Joe Wilner discussed the concepts of “Waypower” and “Willpower” in an article appearing on the Psych Central website. They are part of Dr. Snyder’s Hope Theory, which essentially states that hope is the belief that you can find the means to achieve a desired goal coupled with the belief and motivation to use those means effectively. Additionally, the article “You Can Fight Pessimism” also mentioned Dr. Snyder’s research. It stated that the more hopeful you are impacts the type of goals you set as well as the number of goals towards which you work. In turn, the more goals you achieve increases your hopeful feelings. He encourages devising multiple ways to reach a goal. That way, if one route fails you can try another. Additionally, if you’ve set a large goal for yourself that is beyond your present ability, break it down into smaller things and tackle the ones you can manage at present.
Thus, positive thinking breeds hope, and hope bolsters positive thinking. In turn, both help in achieving goals. So there are huge rewards in developing a positive, hopeful attitude. “That’s easy to say, but not always easy to do,” some will argue. There’s truth in that. The world around us promotes negative thinking. If you take a look at the nightly news or read the headlines in a newspaper, only a small fraction of what they present is positive. So developing this attitude requires going against the grain. You have to become like salmon and swim against the stream of popular opinion and the flow of societal norms. Unlike salmon, however, doing so isn’t programmed into us. We need to make an effort. In addition to the steps previously mentioned, here are some suggestions that may help:
- Guard Your Associations. The people we spend the most time with have a great influence on our thinking. So be careful of those with whom you associate. This includes online associations through social media.
- Guard Your Recreation. Entertainment such as television, movies, and music has an impact on our outlook. We need to be careful that what we take in is upbuilding. This doesn’t mean we need to cut off the above, but it does mean we must exercise selectivity when making choices in those areas.
- Guard Your Reading. We talked about newspapers above. The same rule applies to any magazine or book we choose. Is the overall message positive, or does it encourage us to commiserate with the negative thinking of others? Our reading choices have a profound effect on our subconscious, and that has a direct effect on our thinking.
Our thinking matters. It affects whether or not we have a positive outlook on life, and that influences how hopeful we are. Together, those factors influence how effective we are in achieving goals, and goal-achieving affects the quality of our life. So if you want to enjoy your life more, start with your thinking, because you are what you think!
How has your thinking affected your life? Have you noticed how changes in thinking affect your results? Has thinking positively made you more hopeful? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.
Bonus One: I came across the American born Japanese artist Nano. The song below definitely rocks…and yes, it has a positive message. Enjoy!
Bonus Two: Don’t forget our Reader’s Support Sweepstakes! The deadline for entry is this Friday! Get all the details here!
Bonus Three: Some of the Related Articles listed below speak out against positive thinking. I included them to present an opposing view, and to highlight that sometimes viewing things from an opposite angle can help highlight the same underlying principles.
- As a Man Thinketh (latasiasmith.wordpress.com)
- Positive Thinking: Should vs. Could (modandmind.wordpress.com)
- 10 Tips To Make Positive Thinking Easy (lifehack.org)
- 7 Awesome Health Benefits of Positive Thinking (playstrongnation.com)
- Why Positive Thinking Depletes Your Sales Performance (And 5 Ways to Get it Back) (blogs.salesforce.com)
- 5 Big Happiness Myths Debunked – – And The Power Of Negative Thinking (fastcompany.com)