Your thoughts create your reality. I know it sounds magical, but by the end of this post I hope you can see the truth in this statement.
When I was growing up, for whatever reason, I was plagued with this idea that “I’m not good enough.” I’m not good enough to have a lot of friends, excel in sports, be at the top academically, go out on dates etc. I remember approaching situations with this belief and seeing evidence again and again reaffirming this truth.
As I grew out of the awkwardness of adolescence, a lot changed but this underlying belief was something I unknowingly held onto. In my young adult life I could think of several examples personally and professionally where this belief resulted in feelings of doubt and lack of confidence.
Undeniably, this belief has influenced a lot of my decisions, the way I approach certain situations, and certainly affected the people around me. The funny thing is that holding onto this belief turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In hindsight, it is so clear to me that there was no evidence at all for me to think that “I’m not good enough”, yet by approaching some things in life with this belief I created a situation where it would become true.
I’m not sharing this to get pity points 🙂 but to give an example of how significant our mindset, thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs are in creating each of our realities. If you think about it, the only real difference between your reality and my reality are the thoughts, perceptions, and biases in our minds.
I like to think of it like a film projector. The film is the flow of life and what is displayed on the screen is your reality. The projector is your mind, full of your thoughts and beliefs. Depending on what types of thoughts or beliefs you hold onto, the film is either going to show up bright & sunny or dark & murky. The ball is in each of our courts to decide what type of projector we want to have, as for myself, I’ve decided it’s time for an upgrade.
To drive the point home I want to share a few examples:
1. Batman: What thoughts would go through your head if you woke up blind tomorrow morning? Most people imagine a world of limited opportunities and a life of dependency.
Daniel Kish became blind as a baby and chose not to align himself with these expectations. Throughout his life, almost everyone (except his mother) told him what he could or couldn’t do as a blind person, and he chose not to listen to any of them. Over the years, he learned to see by making clicks with his mouth and used the variations in sound to understand the world around him. Now he enjoys what most people would describe a normal life where he rides bikes, goes rock climbing & hiking, while getting around the world independently without a cane.
The only difference between Kish and other blind people is that he chose not to adopt any of the beliefs that said blindness was a disability. Kish is convinced that if we really wanted to help people with blindness we would stop reinforcing the beliefs that blindness means you must live differently.
Robert Scott, a Sociology professor at Stanford, wrote the following in his book The Making of Blind Men:
“The disability of blindness is a learned social role. The various attitudes and patterns of behavior that characterize people who are blind are not inherent in their condition but, rather, are acquired through ordinary processes of social learning. Thus, there is nothing inherent in the condition of blindness that requires a person to be docile, dependent, melancholy, or helpless; nor is there anything about it that should lead him to become independent or assertive. Blind men are made, and by the same processes of socialization that have made us all.”
2. Positive Psychology: As I wrote about in my last post, positive psychology is proving how positive emotions, happiness, and well-being affect our life outcomes. Even when controlling for demographics, research is showing that people who are happier and experience more positive emotions are healthier, recover faster from illness, have better job performance, earn more money, and are more creative. These studies show that our emotional dimension have a large impact on how our reality and lives play out in the physical world.
3. Placebo Effect: “Also called the placebo response. A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo — a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.”
The Placebo Effect is a testament to the power of belief. Our beliefs in the effectiveness of a drug actually has a physiological impact. Similar to insights from Positive Psychology it is amazing how our beliefs have physical implications.
4. Four Minute Mile: Roger Bannister was the first person to run a mile under 4 minutes. Prior to Bannister’s epic run the common belief was that man can’t break the 4 minute mile barrier. What’s interesting is that after Bannister broke this barrier, thousands have followed in his foot steps and ran the mile in under 4 minutes.
What changed? I think when people saw someone break this barrier it changed their beliefs, and suddenly the impossible became possible. This new mindset gave people permission to also run the mile under 4 minutes (in addition to probably a lot of hard work & training).
5. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, has written in depth about the growth mindset. She researched how the adoption of a growth mindset vs. fixed mindset significantly impacts life outcomes.
People that cultivated a mindset of viewing the world as a sea of growth opportunities are more likely to thrive during some of the most challenging situations in life. In the face of failure, growth mindset people became more determined to learn and try again. Folks with the fixed mindset often times feel dejected and give up. Despite common life obstacles, Dweck saw how a difference in mindset completely changed how a person would respond to a situation, and thereby resulting in a significant impact on their lives.
All of these examples point to the importance of thoughts. The thoughts in our mind affect everything in our reality. Even though it may be difficult to point to a direct cause and effect between a thought and something in your reality, the culmination of years of approaching the world with certain thought patterns certainly have an effect on your day to day reality.
If there is something in your reality you want to change I would encourage you to start with your beliefs and thoughts. We attribute a lot of our accomplishments and proudest moments to hard work, goals, and self discipline, but what is left out of the conversation is the importance of working on our mindset to believe we can accomplish anything.