I love quotes. Perhaps my favourite is one I made up (humility always was my strong point). It goes as follows: ‘The most important person you will ever talk to is yourself.”
Talking to yourself (at least silently) is generally referred to as thinking (other phrases you may have heard are self-talk, inner-dialogue or your mindset, but ultimately whatever the language we use, we’re exploring the conversations that go on inside our head).
In this article, we are going to explore how we think. Thinking is a little like breathing – most of the time we are not aware we are doing it. People do not wake up in the morning and say ‘I think I will breathe today’, and likewise, neither do they pay much attention to how they think.
So why is it so important? What is the connection between my thinking and the results I am experiencing in my life? The answer lies in the fact that the way we think, i.e. talk to ourselves in our head, significantly impacts upon what we do in our actions, and it is our actions that determine the results we achieve in life.
The TEAR Model
Imagine you have been asked by a work colleague to make a presentation to their department about the work you do. Your immediate thought is, ‘I hate making presentations, I always go to pieces’. You feel intimidated by the prospect and decline the request by stating you have too many other commitments at present.
The result? You still fear presentations and you miss out on the opportunity of helping a colleague. You just went through the TEAR process:
Thinking → Emotions (or feelings) → Actions (or behaviour) → Results (or outcomes).
Another way to illustrate this is as follows:
Life can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Reflecting on how we think is one of the most powerful ways we can take more control over our lives.
William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology, said ‘You can change your life by changing your attitude’. Quite simply, when you think differently, you feel differently, behave differently and ultimately achieve different results.
Suppose when you were asked to do the presentation, you thought ‘I’ll give it a try … they wouldn’t have asked me if they didn’t feel I could do it’. You might not feel confident, but neither are you gripped by fear. You take action by preparing and then delivering your presentation. You get a different result and outcome because you changed how you thought about the situation.
What influences your thinking?
How you view your life, yourself and other people is influenced by many factors. Let us examine four of them.
1. Your background influences your thinking
A leading British entrepreneur records in his biography how, as a youngster, his mother would often tell him the following: ‘Dare to be different’; ‘Be prepared to rock the boat’; ‘It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them’; ‘Life is not a rehearsal’; ‘Never forget – no one is any better or worse than you’.
Brought up in that environment, it is not surprising that this person became a risk taker, a visionary leader and a person who, despite setbacks, always bounced back. Contrast that with a delegate on my course who told me recently that his father’s advice on how to succeed in life was ‘Always wear navy and keep a low profile’.
Be careful what you say to children.
If they hear it often enough,
they begin to believe it.
The most important message you receive as you grow up is the one that influences how you see yourself. Messages that affirm you for who you are, as opposed to for what you do, will help you develop a healthy sense of personal identity.
Equally, a bombardment of messages that remind you of your inadequacies and failings will help sow the seeds of low self-esteem.
2. Your previous experiences influence your thinking
Have you ever had to give a talk in public? Imagine (if you need to) that you have, and your input was such that most of the audience were cured of their insomnia. It would be understandable that you do not rush to do another one.
Or maybe when you took a risk or tried something different, you did not get the outcome you were expecting. It is likely that you will be more cautious in the future. Perhaps the last time you went to a restaurant you received excellent service and you are eager to return.
Whatever your previous experiences have been, they influence your attitude and your expectations. This also relates to when we meet people, and is why aiming to create a positive first impression is so important. Our brief encounters with people can create attitudes that last a lifetime.
3. The company you keep influences your thinking
Beware of BMWs. People who spend their lives Bitching, Moaning and Whinging.
The 1970s British comedy series Dad’s Army starred a Scottish character called Frazer. When not in the Home Guard, he worked in a funeral parlour. It suited his personality.
Whenever there was a set of circumstances or a situation that could be described as challenging, Frazer would cry ‘We’re doooooomed!’
Watching Frazer was amusing, but working with a ‘Frazer-type character’ is not. Someone who exaggerates problems and can always pinpoint the negative in a situation does not help cultivate a positive way of thinking in those around them.
4. The media influences your thinking
What have you read in the last week? A newspaper? A magazine? Which television programmes
have you watched, or radio shows have you listened to? Although we may watch a program or read a magazine purely for entertainment, or in order to ‘chill out’, continual exposure to the media subtly influences our outlook on life.
Without the media, where would fashion be? Where would celebrities be? Where would politics be? There is nothing inherently wrong with the media, but we need to be aware of how it shapes our thinking, particularly in relation to how we see ourselves.
The obsession in some parts of the media with the appearance of supermodels and celebrities can cause young people in particular to feel dissatisfied with their own appearance and can affect what they think of themselves.
So our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are influenced by several factors. They shape our lives whether we are aware of them or not. The key to all this is self-awareness.
However, whilst it is important to recognize the influence of various external factors, be careful you don’t start to slip on the Victim T-shirt, i.e. ‘I think negatively because of how my parents brought me up’, or ‘My wife insists we watch medical dramas where there’s never a happy ending’. We still need to take personal responsibility for our thinking despite those external influences.
This is an adapted excerpt from Paul’s best selling book “SUMO (Shut Up, Move On) – The Straight Talking Guide to Succeeding in Life”. Check out more SUMO resource here!