COMMENTARY: We Are What We Think

In the early 1900’s, a little-known philosopher named James Allen wrote a powerful essay called “As a Man Thinketh” in which he argued that we are what we think, that a person’s character is the sum of his thoughts. He declared that the power to control our thoughts (whether we use that power or not) is the ability to mold our character and shape our destiny.

This is a profound insight, making us personally responsible not only for our conduct but for our circumstances.

He wrote, “As a plant springs from the seed, our actions, character, and even our circumstances spring from our thoughts.” As long as we believe we’re the creatures of outside conditions, we will fail to become the rightful masters of our lives. But if we do the hard work of reflecting continually to identify and modify negative beliefs and attitudes, we’ll be astonished at the rapid transformation it will produce in our lives.

Our thoughts and actions can be either jailors of negativity, imprisoning us in degrading circumstances, or angels of freedom, liberating us to achieve our noble potential.

The relationship between attitudes and circumstances is now well recognized, captured in aphorisms like “Change your attitudes and you change your life,” and “It’s not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude.”

But it’s Allen’s connection between thoughts and character that is especially interesting. Yes, our destiny is determined by our character, but our character is not determined by destiny.

We can’t always control when bad thoughts and negative impulses enter our minds, but we can decide either to nurture or to reject them.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. This does give us something to think about. Are we really what are thoughts are, to a small degree I would say yes. It is how we react on our thoughts that make us who we are. It is what is deep inside us that determines who we are. It is the way we react to something without thinking what should I do, like opening a door to a complete stranger. The automatic “Thank You” when someone does something for you, no matter how small or even part of that persons job.

    Should we put our thoughts on any Social Media Site? NO! Too many people want to put more into a statement than what is meant.

    Who we are is a complex accumulation of many of our traits with our thought maybe a small part of who we are.

  2. Our thoughts do determine our reality. Training our very powerful minds—so that we control our thoughts—should be an essential practice for all of us, just like exercising, cleaning house, or managing our time.

    Buddha said this 2600 years ago, that our minds are powerful and determine our actions. We have the power to be happier, more peaceful, more compassionate, more patient if we develop within ourselves those abilities. But we can’t simply will ourselves to become these things. It’s a practice that takes time—through meditation. We exercise to strengthen the body; we meditate to strengthen the mind.

    I’m enjoying your articles very much. Your presentation of these topics is insightful, articulate, and inspiring. The challenge remains how to drive these elements of character from the head into the heart so they’re natural ways of being every moment, rather than moral wrestling matches.

  3. Colossians 3:2 – Set your mind on things above
    Romans 12:2 – Take captive every thought, making it obedient to Christ
    Matthew15:18 – But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person

    To quote the “philosophers” of 2000 years ago.

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