‘Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.’
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Germany)
Everything we say and do arises from our thoughts.
How we think lies at the root of every word we speak and every action we perform – where we live, who we choose as our friends, what job we do and how we spend our time. Our live are shaped by our thoughts from earliest childhood until the day we die. For this reason, recognising the power of the mind is the most important theme that underlies the 16 Guidelines for Life.
It is a natural instinct to experience the world as something 'out there'. This focus on external circumstances makes us vulnerable to their ebb and flow, which can never be completely in our favour. However, if you probe more deeply, it becomes clear that your experience of the world is significantly affected by what is going on 'inside' – by your state of mind.
One day, to see a man and woman embracing in public can make you feel relaxed and happy. On another, you might feel envious and miserable. We are also influenced by our cultural conditioning. In one country, an embrace between a man and a woman, whether married or not, is regarded as a natural show of affection. In another, it may be considered immoral and unacceptable. Our emotional reactions are driven by a complex mixture of experiences, attitudes and beliefs.
If you pause to consider, you can recognise that behind every emotion lies a thought. We are often not conscious of this, because events happen so quickly. An outburst of anger might come from the thought, "This person frightens me," "I'm going to get hurt," or 'I can't get what I want." When we are depressed, thoughts can pile up relentlessly: "I'm not good enough," "I've made such a mess of things," "no-one likes me," or "this will never come to an end." Even if the thoughts are exaggerated or untrue, our minds have the power to create a downward spiral of misery and dissatisfaction.
Therein, however, also lies an opportunity. Just as an athlete trains her body, we can train and transform our minds, and in doing so shift our habitual patterns and explore new ways of living. Cultivating humility, patience, contentment and delight offers us four ways to achieve this.