Our thoughts are so powerful that they actually do shape our reality.
Did you happen to see the movie A Beautiful Mind? It was released in 2001 to great critical success, and it won four Academy Awards, including best picture.
The main character of the film, played by Russell Crowe, is John Nash, a real-life mathematician who actually won the Nobel prize, as the movie depicts, and also suffered from schizophrenia, as Crowe masterfully interprets.
Schizophrenia is a terrible mental illness that involves hearing and seeing things that aren’t actually there. People with schizophrenia believe that what they are seeing and hearing is real. Typically, these hallucinations are extremely negative ones that center on the person with the illness. Nash, for example, heard voices in his head that told him constantly that he was a failure. Even though the world saw him as a great success, Nash could not believe that this was true because of his schizophrenia. Not even distinguished positions at some of the world’s greatest universities or accolades as high as the Nobel Prize could convince him otherwise. Part of Nash’s hallucination was that he was a failure, even as he was admired throughout the world.
I once read a study about models. Some of the most beautiful people in the world are models, yet when asked if they consider themselves beautiful, this research revealed the surprising fact that most did not. Most models felt they were average, and most reported being dissatisfied with some noticeable flaw to their appearance. Gracing the covers of magazines and walking the world’s most elite runways didn’t shake these models’ views that they were ordinary, or even less than ordinary.
It’s possible that you’re reading these examples, and you’re wondering what these words have to do with you. You may be thinking, “I’m not a supermodel or a brilliant mathematician. I’m just an average Joe.” I won’t try to convince you otherwise, because the bottom line is that you’re absolutely right. We are always right, and whatever we think about ourselves is true and correct.
Whatever we are feeding our minds, that’s what we are. Our thoughts are so powerful that they actually do shape our reality. Never mind the fact that they may have nothing to do with what’s true or apparent to others. What we feed our minds is what we believe, and what we believe is our truth.
If we feel we do not have enough, we suffer. This is true, even if in the world’s eyes we have everything we could possibly need. The root cause of our suffering is not what we have or don’t have, or what we’ve accomplished or not accomplished. At the base of our suffering is our thoughts about our lives.
What we are feeding our minds throughout the day will be our reality. This is true even if our reality is madness. What we are feeding our minds matters.
The first thing we have to do is discover what it is that we are thinking about all day long. This involves a straightforward assessment without judgment. We must take a walk past the metaphorical mirror and take a look. Maybe we are saying, “I’m bad, “I’m ugly,” or “I’m stupid.” Do we like these feelings? Probably not. So let’s focus on something else.
John Nash could still see his hallucinations, but he made the remarkable choice to focus on what was real. If our thoughts are hurting us, we should focus on other things. If our thoughts about ourselves are negative, they will only lead to suffering. If we are to live happy lives—and obviously that is our goal, since we are meeting here in the space—we need to take control of the thoughts that hurt us.
The thoughts we experience have to do with all parts of our lives. Maybe we focus our attention on our looks, our success, our health, or even where we live. All of these things have the ability to cause us to suffer if we allow them to, or if we go on wishing our lives were different.
I live and work in Southern California. Public transportation here is not the best, and most of us get around by car. When we get a car, usually we love the feeling. We can get ourselves around from place to place and be productive while doing what we enjoy. But then we get on the road, and we can’t help but notice that others have nicer cars than we do. We might think, “My car is ugly” or “I hate it.” These are the sorts of thoughts we create all day long. But we have a choice in the thoughts we express or believe.
One final step we can take is a hard one, but so worthwhile. I talk about it often, so it may sound familiar, but it is this: Stop paying attention to your thoughts. Instead, just be. Instead of shifting your attention to positive things, just live in the now, and really savor each moment and each breath. We don’t need to label everything as good or bad. Rather, we can choose to experience each new breath with wonder as if we are experiencing it for the first time. If we think about the car analogy, perhaps we can stop thinking about whether our car is pretty or nice or fast, and instead we can experience it as if it is brand new and we are driving for the very first time. We can say, “Wow! I have a car!” And we can exhilarate in the feeling of the wind whipping through the windows and the speed with which we get from here to there.
Sometimes the world seems to think highly of us. Other times, it does not. But I’m making the choice just to suck the marrow out of life. When we need to shift our thoughts to something else, we can—or we can just enjoy the presence and stillness of living life one moment at a time.
This article is republished here from psychology today. Author of this article is Robert Puff.