Disclaimer: this is probably going to be a more abstract/less concrete thought piece that I attempt to discuss and put into a logical coherent structure.
The Uncontrollable Mind
Much of our waking hours are spent thinking. Whether we know it or not, to some extent our mind controls us, we don’t really control it. Meditation is the art of trying to control or regulate your mind so that it can be used as a tool selectively, not on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However for most of us reaching such a level of control takes extreme discipline and practice. I’ve attempted to make meditation part of my daily routine for the past 1.5 years but it’s extremely hard to do. Much harder than waking up at 5:30am to the gym 3x a week. So where does that lead us? A dominant thought process.
As a Man Thinketh
The core premise of the short 19–21 page book is simple, you are your thoughts and your thoughts are you. Sounds pretty simple yet catchy but it’s a lot more nuanced than I’ve presented at a superficial level. The book or memo is divided into the following sections:
Thought and Character
Your character is quite literally derived from your thoughts and your perspective on the events that occur in your life. The key point about this is that your character is forged by your thoughts in the situations that challenge you the most. This concept also ties really well into to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book ‘Anti-fragility’, the concept of something that gains strength by adapting to situations that might try to destroy or damage it.
Effect on Thought and Circumstances
Your thoughts build your character, and your character ultimately decides your circumstances. A man is only bound by his circumstances to the point that he believes that he can change them. Quite simply put, if you don’t believe (or think) that you can change your circumstances due to your character, you really won’t. When life presents you with a difficult situation, it is only up to us to decide how we want to react to it. This may sound like a bit of a pattern, but Ryan Holiday’s book ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ demonstrates this extremely well. In one example, he mentions a man who’s factory burns down and is left with nothing. Rather than dwelling on it, he decides to get to work and restart to build what he had before. His response further inspires those around him which leads to a much more profitable factory down the line.
“Let a man radically alter his thoughts, and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life.”
Effect of Thought on Health and the Body
“The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed”. I can speak from personal experience that this is extremely accurate. Sickness is usually an infection of the mind, not necessarily the body. Am I suggesting that you can think your way out of sickness? Absolutely not. However, our response and time taken to respond dictate a large part of our recovery. In my opinion, life has three stages: growth (ages 0–21), maintenance (21–55) and decline (56+). What I find interesting, is that all of the old & healthy people I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with, they all have one thing in common: an active mind. You can see it through their acceptance of new ideas and desire to cherish each moment of life.
Thought and Purpose
Purpose is a tricky topic to define. James Allen describes a lack of purpose as the path to no intelligent action. It sounds harsh on the surface but I actually think it captures a lot of truth. I think the most dominant form of this is shown through people’s attitude towards money. Do you work to make money, or do you work towards fulfilling your purpose, which makes you commit to creating value which then leads to money? The difference is quite easy to detect. You can tell it through the quality of craftsmanship and the end product. I personally look up to Steve Jobs, not because “he created the iPhone”, but because of his commitment to a purpose and an ideal of an amazing product and culture. The fact that every iPhone screenshot or commercial has the time 9:41am with a 100% battery charge still amazes me to this date. For context, 9:41am is the time that Steve released the iPhone in 2007.
The Thought-Factor in Achievement
“A man’s weakness and strength, purity and impurity, are his own, and not another man’s”. This is one of those concepts that really does take time, action and experience to own. In the book “Extreme Ownership”, it talks about how the best leaders are known to own their mistakes, and in doing so instil a culture throughout an organisation. It’s so much more easier to blame others than accepting you messed up, it truly is. However, the strength and ability to go higher is much greater when you grasp the fact that you are you are the determinant of your own strengths and weaknesses. The double edged sword to this rule is that the higher you go, the more vigilant you have to be of your own self. Success can rapidly fall back into failure or despair.
Visions and Ideals
One’s standards should always be set at an extremely high level. Think about it, your maximum potential is capped off by how much you dream. If you think the pinnacle of your life is to work at company X for $Y then that’s most likely going to be the maximum your standards are set to (for the time being). Until they change, any opportunities which could let you go higher are foregone as your focus is now on this limited, narrow goal. Sometimes you feel like your vision is going out of your reach, however that very feeling instinctively drives you to chase it even harder. You may be criticised for your ideals being “impractical” or “too theoretical”. That’s ok. Because it’s about being on a journey to those ideals and ensuring your potential is never capped off due to an artificial limit.
I didn’t exactly plan for this to be a full-circle, however the final pages of As a Man Thinketh are about how serenity is the goal we should all strive to. With serenity, we have the ability to carefully analyse and act on our hard-wired impulses and reactions. The ability to be strong, yet calm, should be the ultimate end goal.