Day 126
Creative Commons License photo credit: Okko Pyykkö

I drew upon the philosopher who ruled the great Roman Empire for the title of this article. Yes, Marcus Aurelius said: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Probably the most vital lesson we can learn in life is the importance of what we think. Some say that if they knew what you think, they would know what you are. Indeed our thoughts make us what we are. If we think failure we will fail. If we think of lack and worry we will have lack and worry. If we think happy thoughts we will be happy.

When you consider that a man walking on the moon, a city skyscraper, the greatest works of art, literature and film all germinated from a single seed that is thought it is easy to understand the true power of our thoughts. Thoughts are things and they affect other things, other very real and material things that we generally consider solid and stable. Our modern world is a virtual reality. You only have to walk in a modern city to see this. Everywhere you turn from the concrete underfoot to the skyscrapers, cars, mobile phones, chairs, clothing, bikes and so on. All of these things were first and foremost a thought.

You may have heard of elite athletes making use of mental rehearsals. This is being touted as a decisive element that separates the elite from the rest. Importantly mental rehearsal is not visualization where you observe yourself in a particular situation. Rather it has been found to work best if the athlete imagines the sport event as though they were actually competing, as it would appear from their perspective.

Scientists have looked into what is actually going on in the body when someone goes through a mental rehearsal. They hooked volunteers up to electromyography (EMG) and monitored the results while they went through mental rehearsal. They found that the electrical impulses being sent to their muscles were just the same as if they were actually physically performing the action. Quite simply the electrical activity produced by the brain is the same no matter if we are actually doing something or just thinking about doing something.

Try this on for size. Another study had volunteers imagine flexing one of their biceps as hard as they could five times a week without actually physically doing anything. The results are astounding. The volunteers had a 13.5 percent increase in size and strength of their bicep after just a few weeks. The effect lingered for three months after they stopped the mental training.

It becomes clear that the singe biggest challenge facing us is choosing the right thoughts. So how should we handle the very real problems and stresses that confront us daily? Dale Carnegie suggested that we should be concerned about our problems but not worried. For him concern meant realizing what the problems are and calmly taking steps to meet them. Worry on the other hand is no more then futile mental running is maddening circles.

The fact is some situations and events in life are as they are. It is our particular attitude, our thoughts, about the events that befall us that color our personal reality. The French philosopher, Montaigne, said: “A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what happens.” Your opinion is the one thing that is in your control and it is that one thing that will make your life what it is. Most often, though, it appears to us as if our feelings regarding our state of affairs is not in our control. Many people feel as if life is doing them.

How then can we regain control over our own feelings in regards to our affairs? After all it can seem an impossible task to fly in the face of very real troubles and deep worry. Well, there is a most excellent feature of our body that we can make use of. It is essentially a feedback loop. Even if you feel you have no direct control over your feelings you still have control over your physical actions. Therefore, if for example you are feeling burdened by worry, sit up straight, place a big broad smile on your face, take a deep breath, sigh it out, and hum a happy tune. Maintain this for 60 seconds and I guarantee that before that time is up you will feel much better. It is in fact impossible to remain unhappy while acting out the symptoms of being amazingly happy. From this you will have regained control over your thoughts.

I will leave you with a lengthy quote from James Allen who wrote a book called As a Man Thinketh:

“A man will find that as he alters his thoughts toward things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him…Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life. Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are…The divinity that shapes our ends is in ourselves…All that a man achieves is the direct result of his own thoughts…A man can only rise, conquer and achieve by lifting up his thoughts. He can only remain weak and abject and miserable by refusing to lift up his thoughts.”

The power is in your own hands. You are ultimately responsible for your own state of being. Your life is what your thoughts make it.

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