Be the Change You Want to Live
My take on “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen
This book was on my list for a long time and somehow I just found the chance to read it. I believe that there are reasons why you run into something at exactly that time and I guess it was the same for me for this book. I usually decide deliberately what I will read based on my needs but this time it was just random. I had recently bought many books following the suggestions of people I respect. They were waiting for me in the Kindle to decide which one to read first but I was reading already another book: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
One morning I woke up at 5:30 by myself without an alarm clock, went to my desk and turned on my kindle. I chose this book. I feel blessed when I wake up at this time naturally and feel like it is a call for meditation, for feeding my soul, for being close to God and feeling connected. For me, reading is a way of doing that. I adore reading first thing in the morning before everything else. The words just flow through my soul and it is a great (I will dare to say) unworldly joy. I feel in flow, my heart softens and I feel my body melting down and liquidize as if I will dissolve in the universe, the matter of earth.
As a Man Thinketh is a less-than-2-hour read. (I checked it on Amazon it is 38 pages, it felt longer on the Kindle)
It felt like reading the bible as the tone of the voice is from a higher self and there are references to the Bible (I did not read the bible).
I can summarize the book with one sentence:
Master your thoughts and master your life.
“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.”
Whatever your circumstances are, they are caused by your thoughts.
“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself. No such conditions can exist as descending into vice and its attendant sufferings apart from vicious inclinations, or ascending into virtue and its pure happiness without the continued cultivation of virtuous aspirations; and man, therefore, as the lord and master of thought, is the maker of himself the shaper and author of environment.”
Cultivate/ keep bad thoughts, they will manifest as bad fortune. Cultivate good thoughts, they will manifest as good fortune, success, health and wealth.
“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results.”
Becoming the person who is aware
Sometimes we are not aware of the bad thoughts we have. They are subconscious. But because they are there, they manifest one way or the other. It is a continuous process to be aware of the thoughts we have and to change them.
“The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires,—and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.”
We should work on ourselves to become the people who are aware, who are clear on their values, the meanings they give to these values and can shape the thoughts aligned with living these values.
“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
You can only change your circumstances once you change your thoughts
First, there is a thought, then habit and then circumstances.
The book suggests that the circumstances we live in are actually the result of our habits, which root in our thoughts. Many people complain about their circumstances and try to change them but it is not possible or it is not sustainable unless the habits and thoughts that cause them change. Once you change your thoughts, then you can change the circumstances.
James Allen gives examples of how each negative circumstance is related to a negative habit and thought.
I created the following table from his examples:
Instead of starting from the circumstances, I could easily notice some of my habits and I could associate with the thoughts that caused them.
After having a second look at the table, I thought some of the words are too vague. What is a measure of pureness in a thought? How do we know that a thought is beautiful? I felt the book lacked to explain these concepts and the norms. I was telling my learnings from the book to my husband and I also mentioned this critique of mine and he said “I guess the book did it right. You have to define it yourself. You have the right definition in you.” That made sense. That is actually what is essential in coaching too. We, coaches, cannot work with our own definition of words as there is a very personal meaning to every word and every adjective. We always ask “What does it mean for you? How do you know something is (you are)___ (adjective)? Any adjective is subjective. However you define it for yourself, it is correct for you. We all have a meaning for what is beautiful, what is ugly, what is pure…. You can only measure your thoughts according to this meaning of yours.
Changing your thoughts requires sacrifice
Self-control is the key here. You should use self-control to abstain from bad thoughts and to cultivate good thoughts. You should sacrifice from some of your “needing / desiring self” to achieve your purpose.
“There can be no progress, no achievement without sacrifice, and a man’s worldly success will be in the measure that he sacrifices his confused animal thoughts, and fixes his mind on the development of his plans, and the strengthening of his resolution and self-reliance. And the higher he lifts his thoughts, the more manly, upright, and righteous he becomes, the greater will be his success, the more blessed and enduring will be his achievements.”
The bigger your purpose is, the more you have to sacrifice.
“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”
You have to sacrifice from thinking and acting from the “negative thoughts”, especially from fear and doubt, as they are the blocking stones of action and success.
“Thoughts of doubt and fear never accomplished anything, and never can. They always lead to failure. Purpose, energy, power to do, and all strong thoughts cease when doubt and fear creep in.”
I, personally don’t believe that we can get rid of fear. But we can “conquer” our fear by not letting it get control of our thoughts and not letting it stop us from doing something that is important for us or for our purpose. Only so we can take big steps and make big changes that grow ourselves and influence others. So I loved this quote:
“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”
I interpret this quote as such that once I take charge of my fear and doubt, there is nothing called failure. Because any step forward is a success. Actually, Allen puts it like that
“….the strength of character gained will be the measure of his true success”
By taking control of my fear and doubt and acting towards my goal in spite of them, I grow, I become stronger. I can dare greatly and even more greatly. (Sending respect to Brené Brown here)
Use Your Purpose to Lead Your Thoughts
Once you master the thoughts, you should act on them and only act on those. Here you should use self-control not to indulge in animal habits or divert from the actions that are in line with your thoughts. To keep your thoughts in action and be able to use self-control to focus, you need a purpose. The purpose will be your center. From your purpose, you will create your thoughts and then your actions.
“They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pityings, all of which are indications of weakness, which lead, just as surely as deliberately planned sins (though by a different route), to failure, unhappiness, and loss, for weakness cannot persist in a power evolving universe.”
Allen says once we start thinking with a purpose, we change, we rise to a higher level. A level where nothing stand against us and our purpose, not even the fear of failure.
“…to begin to think with purpose, is to enter the ranks of those strong ones who only recognize failure as one of the pathways to attainment; who make all conditions serve them, and who think strongly, attempt fearlessly, and accomplish masterfully.”
But it might be difficult to find your purpose and to start thinking with the purpose. Allen suggests, if a purpose is too much, use the activity you are involved in to direct your focus. Be it your job, taking care of your kids, a hobby that you love and focus your thoughts around it. It helps you practice self-control till you find your purpose.
“Those who are not prepared for the apprehension of a great purpose should fix the thoughts upon the faultless performance of their duty, no matter how insignificant their task may appear.”
Rising to Serenity
Allen sees the highest level of self as “serenity”. When you mastered self-control, you can rise above the worries and daily fuss, you experience calmness, you can see the causes and effects very clearly, you have a deep knowledge of the relationship of things. With such calmness, comes success, happiness, prosperity, joy.
Any of us can rise to this level. It is within our reach. It is visible. Even if it is far. Till we get to this highest level we can experience moments, seconds, minutes of this power, we feel this when we are still:
“Tempest-tossed souls, wherever ye may be, under whatsoever conditions ye may live, know this in the ocean of life the isles of Blessedness are smiling, and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding Master; He does but sleep: wake Him. Self-control is strength; Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, “Peace, be still!”
The change we want to experience in our lives will start with changing our thoughts.
“A man can only rise, conquer, and achieve by lifting up his thoughts.”
- When you look at the table above, what does take your attention? Can you relate to any of the negative circumstances that you would like to change? Which habits do you think you have that end in that circumstance? And which thoughts do you think are causing these habits? How can you influence those thoughts? What would be a positive version?
- Look at the table again. What positive circumstances of those you have in your life? What habits and thoughts do you have that create these circumstances? How can you give those thoughts and habits a bit more power to create a positive change on your circumstances?
- Do you have a purpose? What do you feel you are born for? What will be uncovered, done, seen, felt by your doing and being in this world and by who?
- If question two felt a bit too much, what action, goal is important to you right now that you can set as your current purpose?
- If you find the purpose, think about it. Let the excitement, love, meaning fill your body however those feel for you. What thoughts are coming? Are there any of the “negative” thoughts in between? There can be and that’s ok. Is there a possibility to shift your focus to your purpose and cultivate the positive thoughts again? Experiment whenever you have time.