Close up of Rodin's The Thinker

Image by  Brian – Progressive Spin

Our thoughts can influence our energy level – how good we feel.  To explain what I mean I’d like to tell you a story.

The story is about two friends who will we call Jack and Jill.  Jack started business a business a few months ago.  He’s quite unclear what he is legally required to do or even how to keep the books for his business.  Jill is just about to finish studying a bookkeeping course.  It wasn’t a very good course and so she is still a bit confused about how to set up a set of books for a business.  She thinks that helping Jack set up the books for his business will help Jack and herself too – it will give her some experience with bookkeeping in the real world. 

And so Jill goes over to Jacks place one afternoon.  After saying hello over coffee they get down to the serious business of constructing some accounts for Jacks business.  Things go well for a while but then . . . they hit a snag.  Jill’s course just hasn’t covered the way that Jack needs to keep his books – he sells lots of little items.  Keeping a record of each one would be impossibly time consuming but how else could he keep track of inventory – or find out anything about which items sell best.  This is a major snag: they try and think of ways, the search the net, they look through Jill’s course notes repeatedly.  After three hours they are thoroughly exhausted and fed up.  They can see no way forward, they have been over the same ground five or six times and it is simply no use.  To say they were out of energy would be an understatement.  (Jill’s opinions about her course don’t bear printing on this family-friendly blog don’t bear repeating.)

But then . . . Jill thinks of something to try and, it works!  There is a way.  It’s pretty easy and will do everything Jack needs to know.  They are elated: it is late now, but the rush of energy carries them along for another hour or two.  Finally they finish late at night, content with having got the way to do Jack’s books figured out.

This is a fairly normal kind of story.  Things like this happen every day.  But, in one way, it is very strange.  The elation came from an intellectual insight.  It didn’t come from doing any exercise or eating some food for an energy boost.  It just came because of the realisation that there was a way to solve a problem.  Late night after working a couple of hours more they felt better than when they had worked less but couldn’t see a way to solve a problem. 

This is a simple illustration of the power of our thoughts.  We can go from energy less and miserable to energised and elated in seconds just by realising that we can solve a problem.

It was experiences like this that lead to the founding of positive psychology – the originator of the movement Martin Seligman wrote a book called Learned Optimism.  If we can learn to look on the bright side we will usually feel better. 

Does this mean we ignore the rotten parts of life?  This can lead to crass insensitivity, it’s like saying,  “Sure your friend died a long and painful death, but hey it’s a sunny day!”  I don’t think there are many people who would seriously advocate this.

A friend of mine says that trying to ignore the rotten parts of life is like trying to pull the wool over your own eyes: it just doesn’t work.  When we’re in pain there is no use pretending otherwise.  Pretending our world doesn’t contain awful events is just, well, pretence.  (This doesn’t mean that we need to obsess about them; but to try to ignore them uses up our energy, and we live diminished lives.)

I want to draw attention to how important our attitude to life is.  I don’t want to say that, ‘if we just think the right way, then everything will be fine’.  It seems to me that there is a real world beyond our thoughts.  This is a world of quite wonderful beauty and has some parts that are truly awful; and just trying to think differently won’t make the awful bits go away.  Our thoughts and our attitude to life are powerful but not all-powerful.  Just changing our thoughts won’t change the world.

To become familiar with the power of your thoughts you can try the following experiments.

  • Recall experiences you have had like Jack and Jill’s – where a realisation changed how you felt; for better or worse.
  • Recall a time when you put a childhood fear of feeling behind you.  How did you do this?  What was the realisation that lead to this happening?
  • Close your eyes and recall a time when you were in love with someone.  Recall it as vividly as you can, what it felt like in your body.  Then open your eyes.  It is possible that the world will look slightly different.

If you would to tell me about a time when you learned about the power of your thoughts I’d love to hear it.  Please tell me your story in the comments.  Looking forward to hearing from you.

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