We are what we think

How many times have you heard it said “If you keep thinking about that..… it’s going to happen”? Usually it’s about something bad that might happen to us – never seems to be a positive! I just wondered whether there is any actual truth in the statement “we are what we think” and if so could a more constructive mind-set lead to a happier and more fulfilled life.

In my article ‘Just What is Gratitude About then!’ I finished with a wonderful quote by Canadian writer Robin S. Sharma who said “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell on determines your destiny.” Powerful words indeed but is there substance in all of this?

When did this notion all start?

We tend to assume (or at least I did) that this is a relatively new concept but I’ve been having a look and find references dating back over 2,500 years: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” – Buddha. Or how about Socrates from a similar period – “The mind is everything; what you think you become.”

So what’s happening in our head then?

You’ve probably heard the saying in neuroscience: “neurons that fire together wire together.” Simply put, the more you run a neural-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Most of the firing for our thinking occurs in the frontal lobe of the cerebrum – the outer bit separated into two hemispheres.

  • It is widely accepted that the average person has around 70,000 thoughts per day – a staggering statistic which I struggle to get my head round. (Some scientists estimate a lower figure of up to 60,000 – but still!!)
  • Of those 70,000 thoughts it is said that 95% are the same as yesterday *
  • Up to 80% of them are negative.*

*National Science Foundation published article, 2005.

The Scientifically proven benefits of a healthy mind-set

So you see, there’s a lot going on in those heads of ours and you may agree with me that if somehow we could swing the balance of all those negative thoughts over to a few more positive ones, it’s really going to give us an advantage in so many ways – and here are a few:

  • Positive Thinking can reduce Anxiety – Researchers from Kings College in London instructed 102 subjects diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD) to replace their excessive worrying with potential positive outcomes over the period of a week. After this period participants showed significant reductions in their anxiety.
  • Enjoy better health – There are numerous studies revealing that a positive outlook can improve overall health. There reason is quite simple; by disengaging with the negative our bodies are not weighed down with stress, anxiety or frustration. Less stress in the body leads to a stronger immune system.
  • You Brain is always building – This one can go either way! Whether we like it or not our brains are constantly changing – that old firing and wiring thing again. We can control what we allow ourselves to think about. Don’t let other people control you. I love this quote from Jim Rohn “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” It all starts in the mind.
  • More Health Benefits – Researchers are continually exploring the benefits of the impact our thoughts have on our overall health. These may include: Increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Healthy mind-set hacks

Yep, a lot of what I’m going to say here is plain common sense. That said, it’s good to stay mindful and practice some of these little techniques that all add up to make the day better.

Take stock, Identify areas you may want to change. Have a think about what occupies your mind a lot that is not serving you. There may be several areas, maybe something major like your finances or a relationship to smaller more trivial things like the frustration of the rush hour traffic. We might not be able to change the situation at that moment in time but we could re-frame it by turning the problem into a potential opportunity.

A Bright Start – Start as you mean to go on – Get out of bed, plant your feet on the floor and tell yourself that it’s going to be a great day. You’ve just signaled to the brain your intention and you’re gaining momentum right from the off.

Do what feels comfortable – don’t feel you have to look in the mirror, high 5 yourself and make some great proclamation. If you want to and it helps great – but you may wish to be a little more conservative!

Have a laugh – Allow yourself to laugh a little, particularly when things seem tough. Laughing in the face of adversity is a great way to take some stress out of a situation.

Don’t hang around with Negative people – easier said than done at times I know, but if you have option, steer yourself away from people constantly on a downer. Some people are only happy when they’re moaning about something – avoid them if you can.

Think gratitude. Finally, whatever comes our way, there is always something we can genuinely give thanks for.

Final thoughts

Personally, I believe that mind is matter, and matter is mind and that as long as we continue to wait for circumstances outside of us to change, we are missing a trick. If we can focus our minds on what we want to happen rather think constantly about what we have experienced in the past, we give ourselves a much better chance to think better and just maybe, improve our lives going forward as a result.

You may totally disagree with me here but either way, I’d love to know your thoughts on the old adage “you are what you think”.

Thank you for taking the time out, I really appreciate it.

Have a fantastic day!

Tim

8 thoughts on “We are what we think”

  1. Wow, Tim – do we really have an average of 70,000 thoughts a day?? I am totally blown over. Although, I have certainly never even remotely thought that I would count my thoughts, I have to agree with you that ideally, you remove negativity from your life. I have reached the point where I steer away even from negative people even if it means that I could lose some friendships. However, the bottom line is that no one will take care of us as well as ourselves.
    Thank you for a very profound post.

    1. Great comments Mariella, thank you. Keeping company with people of a positive mindset wherever we can is key. Our mind is an amazing gift and if we use it to our advantage we’ll lead a fulfilling and happy life.

  2. I’ve read a book, Think and Grow Rich at least 10 times so far. I listened to Bob Proctor, Tony Robbins, Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, and many other great men and women, and the thing I learned, the thing you talk about in this post, is absolutely true! We become what we think about. I’ve changed my life on so many levels thanks to this. That’s the key, the secret, the one and only thing people need for success in life. Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Many thanks Ivan, you’re so right! I love your comment “we become what we think about”. Not letting any of our thoughts enter our mind unchecked is one of the best habits we can ever form. All the best, Tim

  3. Hi Tim,

    I completely agree with all the above points. There have been numerous people who have put forward the hypothesis that by adopting a healthy mindset, they have either avoided or aided treatment of a disease/condition, e.g. stress, cancer etc.

    Fascinating read and concepts though!

    Sharon

  4. This is a great post! It’s amazing how many thoughts we have in a day and how many of those are negative. I once put a rubber band around my wrist for a day and snapped it every time I had a negative thought. Ouch! My wrist sure was sore at the end of the day. But it did make me more aware of my thoughts. Now I tell my girls that every time they say something negative about something, they need to think of at least two positives. Trying to train them young to re-train their brains.

    1. Thank you Carla, great little technique there you used and very effective. What a great way too to encourage your children! All the very best to you, Tim.

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