“What we think we become.”
This idea has been mooted since ancient times by great teachers to famous personalities – from Buddha to Earl Nightingale. The list is an impressively long one.
It had also garnered its fair share of criticisms and detractors. Many skeptics have voiced their doubts and disagreements. This concept has been debated ad infinitum among intellectuals – philosophers, psychologists, scientists, spiritual leaders, and anyone else who has something to say about it.
Ultimately, they all have agreed that there is some truth in it, if not entirely true. As is the case with anything else, in this instance as well there are conditions attached.
Just because you are smitten by someone famous doesn’t mean that you will become the person or a clone of the person. Nor will you become your favorite dish or a rose because you can’t get your mind off them.
Physical transformation is not what we are talking about here. When you are obsessed with something or something is occupying your mind for long, you tend to absorb some of its attributes – be it that of your hero or the most cherished things.
The concept is more abstract than material or concrete.
The idea that we can turn our thoughts into reality has been established using scientific methods. As it has far-reaching consequences, this has been the subject of numerous studies and research over the decades.
If your curiosity is piqued and you want to know more about it and learn about how you can apply it in your life, read on.
We Become What We Think About Quote
“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha
The power of mind forms one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. And this remains the mainstay of Buddha’s teachings. In essence, it means negative thoughts will bring pain and suffering, while positive thoughts will fill your life with happiness.
“We become what we think about most of the time, and that’s the strangest secret” – Earl Nightingale
The American author and radio speaker in his syndicated radio program, Our Changing World, spoke about how he was immensely influenced by the book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. He realized that he has been reading this concept all his life from the bible to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“As ye sow, so shall ye reap…” – Isaiah 37:30 KJV
“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and philosopher
There are more quotes from famous personalities of bygone days on the topic.
“A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” – Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor
“As a man thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” – James Allen, the English philosopher
“Life consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.” – Mark Twain, American author
The Earl Nightingale quote rings truer than any of the remaining “we become what we think about” quotes, as it adds the condition and offers more clarity. The “most of the time” part of the quote makes it more believable and acceptable to even skeptics.
Pause for a moment now and think back. How were your life experiences when you were feeling happy and positive? How was it when you felt down in the dumps?
When you have already made up your mind that something you are about to attempt will go wrong, will you give your all? What are the chances that you will find success?
On the other hand, when you are upbeat and feel ready to conquer the world, you will be ready to go that extra mile, that too without grumbling, to ensure that you achieve what you set out to do. Naturally, success will follow.
Many of us know from our own experiences that this is true. That is not good enough to convince others. You need to give them proof.
So, before we explore ways to assimilate this concept into our lives, let’s examine the authenticity of the statement.
What does psychology say about it?
Growth mindset & fixed mindset
In psychology, this concept is explained with the help of a growth mindset and fixed mindset. In case you are unfamiliar with these terms, here is a concise definition of the two mindsets.
A person with a growth mindset believes that they can build on their skills and improve themselves. On the other hand, a person with a fixed mindset thinks that talent is inborn and cannot be honed or developed.
Those with a growth mindset do not consider their lack of skills as a permanent setback as they know that they can work on them. They are neither ashamed about it nor do they try to act smarter than they actually are.
They are not discouraged by setbacks and failures. Rather they try to learn from them and move on. Neither do they ignore nor suppress pain and suffering. Instead of wallowing in misery and self-pity, they work hard on themselves and try to reach for the stars.
Needless to say, none of these actions are considered or followed by those with a fixed mindset.
True desire or shame?
What is fueling your mind? The shame that you have not reached the goal you set out for yourself or the real desire that you want to accomplish it?
Both shame and passion can make you work towards your goal with equal vigor but your experience and the result won’t be the same.
Let’s understand this with an example.
Take this instance. You are artistically talented but you want to get a specific mundane job desperately.
“I am well-qualified. I have enough experience. The job is mine.”
In psychology, this attitude is referred to as toxic positivity. It involves disregarding negative emotions and responding to a difficult situation with false reassurances instead of empathy.
In this case, you may or may not be well-qualified for the job. You may or may not have enough experience. Or you may have other flaws that render you unsuitable for the job. Since you are desperate, you tend to brush aside all the negatives and conjure up the positives so that your wish will come true in your mind.
If you care to look deeper, the job is not the goal for you here. You merely think it is. What you really want is financial security, prestige, and other benefits associated with the job. This means your goal is not aligned with your desire. While you are working towards your real desire, you fail in achieving the goal.
Another point to note here is that you don’t need that particular job to make you feel important or to secure your financial status. You can follow your heart and still achieve all these things. Just look around you and you will realize that artists have enough opportunities to earn fame and fortune.
As long as your talent is genuine and you have what it takes to work hard, success will come knocking on your door sooner rather than later. There is no need for you to obsess about that particular job. Even if you do get it, you may not be able to succeed as it is not your true passion.
When you are trying to mold your thoughts to impact or change your life, it is important to pay attention to whether your goal and thoughts are in alignment with what you truly desire.
Does science back this concept?
How can we prove or disprove this statement – We become what we believe or think about?
To get a better understanding of this, you need to have some basic knowledge about how the brain works. Or how it processes thoughts.
When a new thought comes up in your mind, neurons bond to form neural networks and pass on the message to the correct location through neural pathways. As you think the same thought more frequently, the neural networks become more established and neural pathways get more entrenched in your brain.
This is both good and bad. It takes less effort when you are repeating the same action. On the other hand, once you form habits, they are hard to break as well. Your brain will automatically associate the thought with a certain action and you naturally find it difficult to break free from it.
It is possible to form new neural networks and neural pathways for the same thought. However, it will take more effort and repetition to dispel the earlier association and establish a new one.
In other words, it is possible to use your thoughts to change your life and direct it in the path you desire.
Research and studies to support the claim
In the Jan-Feb 2013 edition of Harvard Magazine, the pioneering work of Dr. Ted Kaptchuk on the placebo effect was brought to the attention of the world by Cara Feinberg. Dr. Ted Kaptchuk is the Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The article chronicles the findings of Dr. Kaptchuk as he was conducting a “clinical drug trial” to show the effects of prescription medication/acupuncture in relieving the pain of the trial participants. Just two weeks into the trial, some of the patients receiving both medication and acupuncture reported severe side effects. In fact, the patients were warned of this.
Some receiving acupuncture treatment reported real relief. However, the aim of the study was not to compare two treatment methods. Both were fakes. The pain medication given was made of cornstarch, while acupuncture needles were “retractable shams that never pierced the skin”.
Though from this study alone, it would be preposterous to contend that patients can “think themselves better”, it demonstrates the importance of perceptions in outcomes in patient care. How patients perceive the treatment and how doctors create these perceptions do have a significant role in the chance of getting better.
Change your mind to change your life
Inertia. You are always going to run into resistance if you want to change the status quo – be it your thoughts or your mindset. Accepting something new and rejecting established thoughts and beliefs do not come easy. Anyone who has ever attempted this will attest to this fact.
However, you will encounter resistance doesn’t mean you cannot overcome it. With the right approach, you can do it. Here are some tips on how to go about it.
- It is easier to change a concept than something concrete. Even if you want a change in something tangible, such as weight loss, a job, or an expensive car, convert it into a concept or a feeling. Think of how getting them will make you feel and work towards that feeling or emotion.
- Make sure that your goal and thoughts/beliefs are well-aligned. If you set a goal and your passion is something else, you will find it impossible to achieve it despite hard work. Dig deep to unearth your true desire and align it with your goal.
- Believe. This is the key that can open many closed doors. Believe that you can change. Believe that you can improve and grow. Believe that you can accomplish what you set out to achieve.
Goals and thoughts are two separate entities that you have to bring together to make things work for you. Unless they complement each other, they will clash and your attempt will be headed for failure. In “we become what we think about”, the “we become” is the goal and “what we think about” is obviously the thoughts. To succeed in life, there needs to be an agreement between the two.
If your goal is to lose weight, think of how it will make you feel. You will be less stressed and feel good about how your body looks. Combine these thoughts with practical steps to make it happen. And, there you have the winning combo.
Apply this winning formula to any scenario, follow it through with dedicated action, and success will be yours.
Our thoughts and beliefs are powerful and they have far more implications on our lives than we realize or care to admit. The thoughts that we entertain during self-talk and the thoughts that fuel our talk with others can influence our lives positively or negatively. They can make us feel better or worse.
Most of us have a fixed “line of thought” or narrative that we tell ourselves again and again and stick to it no matter what. Often we use this narrative when interacting with others as well. We believe in it, we expect it to be true, and so, we project it onto others. We are seldom aware of the truth that this decides the outcome.
By changing the narrative, by changing the beliefs and views, we can change outcomes.