Our thought life is powerful. Actions, good and bad, result from what we think about. I love what the Episcopal bishop John Beckwaith said in the nineteenth century:
Plant a thought and reap a word;
plant a word and reap an action;
plant an action and reap a habit;
plant a habit and reap a character;
plant a character and reap a destiny.
If you want to become a more generous person, you must push your Self to regularly do good things for others. If you start down that path, over time you will become a generous person. If you tell your Self, “I’m not a generous person. It’s just not in my nature,” then you will continue to give to others sparingly. As Beckwaith says above, we become the type of people our thoughts tell us to be.
When you have a thought that you repeatedly act upon, your thoughts and resultant actions become a habit. Through this process you direct your brain to change its wiring. Repetition of the same thoughts, actions, and habits strengthens the wiring to make the habit more powerful.
While emotional dysfunctions and addictions are hardwired in your brain, you can weaken them by not using them and build new wiring to a better place by thinking differently.
We scientific nerds have a saying that, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” That simply means that the neurons and pathways most used become stronger, so wire neurons together that produce good habits and emotional health.
Because your thoughts matter, it is important to learn to be careful with them. Do not compromise your Self. With time and practice, be conscious of any negative or Self-destructive thoughts because they highly influence who you are and who you will become. In light of our new understanding of genetics and its relationship to brain plasticity, emotional dysfunctions and negative Self-talk take on a whole new meaning. Thinking the same negative or unhealthy thoughts will reap an unhealthy and negative destiny.
Fortunately, recent science in positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapies suggests that the converse is also true. You can plant positive thoughts of change and reap positive brain wiring, actions, character, and ultimately a positive future.
I have heard several variations of the following story: “A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.”[i]
Because of brain plasticity, the thoughts we feed the most get stronger.
Want to change your life and your mind? Change your thoughts. I want to encourage you that even right now you are in the center of change.
By simply reading this blog post you are beginning to understand that you may have been feeding the wrong dog. Here is the most important and exciting news: you own your mind and can choose how to focus your thoughts. Because of the wonders of brain plasticity, your Self-directed thoughts, choices, and actions can change your brain and your mind. This takes desire, practice, many new starts, and courage to work hard.
Pay close attention to the latter part of what I just wrote. It is hard work to change your brain and your mind but it can be done, and it ALL starts by feeding the right dog.