“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Thoughts have more power than you might give them credit for. The way you think can significantly influence the world around you and your interactions and experiences within it. In today’s busy world, where we’re inundated with ads, messages, stereotypes, and fear-based rumors about what’s really going on in the world, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of how you think.
In this article, we’ll explore the nature of thoughts and how they influence all aspects of your life. Watching your thoughts includes looking at your perspective, behavior, relationships, and how you can bring your attention to your thoughts to change them for the better.
Understanding the power of thoughts
Some thoughts pass us by, barely making a ripple in our mental pond. Other thoughts create waves of emotional reactivity, influencing our actions and behavior, ultimately influencing the course of our lives. These strong thoughts can be difficult to let go of. They seem important, and you may feel that to ignore them would be done at your peril. It’s similar to superstition, where some people believe that our thoughts are real and that we must react to them, or something bad will happen.
For example, if you experience a wave of anxiety, your mind might flood with thoughts of fear, worry, and catastrophe. You might think that you have to worry or obsess because that’s how you believe you can gain control of the situation.
If you experience anger, you might think with resentment and injustice. Your anger will want you to engage in conflict or have angry outbursts because the related thoughts will convince you that your reputation or integrity is being stepped on.
If you experience regret, you might meet thoughts of self-criticism and unworthiness as a means of making up for the wrong you believe you have done.
Whatever your feeling, you’ll likely experience an array of relevant but not always rational thoughts. Some of these thoughts will have a strong emotional pull, but you don’t have to be swept away by them. It’s entirely possible to detach from your thoughts and watch them instead of reacting to them. You can let go of even the most emotionally charged thoughts as though there were any other thoughts you wouldn’t think twice about.
Watching vs. engaging with thoughts
If we’re not detached from our thoughts, watching them with non-judgment and acceptance, we’re likely engaging with them – listening, believing, interpreting them. We might try to change them or suppress them, but even suppression is engagement. On the other hand, when we stop engaging, we begin to watch. We become less reactive and more objective and accepting.
When we engage with thoughts, we feed them. We help them stay in our minds longer than they would if we were to accept them and let them go. The more we feed our thoughts, the more likely we are to worry and obsess over them.
Why you should watch your thoughts
There’s an old saying that goes:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
The origins of the above quote are unclear. Some online sources claim the quote comes from Lao Tzu. Others credit Mahatma Gandhi, while others claim the quote came from an American businessman named Frank Outlaw. In reality, it doesn’t matter where the quote came from. What’s important is to really consider what it’s saying.
Your thoughts influence your perspective, which influences all areas of your life. How happy you are, how motivated, disciplined, and willing to engage are all influenced by the way you think.
Of course, not every thought you have will manifest in the real world – believing as such is similar to superstition and may cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Still, the thoughts you entertain feed more of the same thoughts, which can shape your reality, so it’s important to be aware of what’s really on your mind.
“As a man thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” writes English philosopher James Allen.
Our thoughts create our perceptions, which create our stories and experiences. As such, the quality of our thoughts influences the quality of our lives.
What creates change?
When we find ourselves unhappy, we try to change things. We go to great lengths to change things in our external environment, believing that if we change the outside, we can change the inside. We buy new clothes, a new watch, or even a new car to make ourselves feel better or more ‘successful.’ We move to a new town, city, or country in an attempt to leave our problems behind. We use drugs or alcohol to numb our emotions or lift our mood and help us forget we’re unhappy.
Almost inevitably, we find ourselves back at square one. We have the new car, or we live in the new city, or we’ve managed to gain some substance-induced relief from our unhappiness, but we ultimately return to that deep discomfort of knowing that something’s just not right. The cycle goes on – keeping us in a loop of unhappiness, desire, seeking fulfillment, temporary relief, and then more desire.
If we always end up back at square one, then why do we keep trying to change things. Why do we keep trying to control how we feel by seeking the next source of gratification, then the next one, then the next one?
We do so because we falsely believe that change happens from the outside. However, while external circumstances do indeed influence how we feel, they don’t change the deeper layers of ourselves. It’s the way you think, perceive, and believe that elicits a real change in your personal life.
Change happens from within
The truth is that if you get the inside right, more often than not – the outside will also fall into place.
If you want your life to change, you need to begin from the inside. Therefore, it is important to watch your thoughts because the attention of your thinking will influence how you feel. How you feel influences how you physically react to the world around you (behavior). Watch your words and watch your actions because your language and behavior soon come to define your character and what you directly experience throughout your lifetime.
How to watch your thoughts
Life can be hectic at times. Demands at work, worries or issues in our relationships, and even occasional moments of existential anxiety can make us feel lost and disconnected from ourselves. When we disconnect from ourselves, we usually enter a state of blind reactivity to whatever thoughts arise in the mind.
It helps to bring awareness to our thoughts, no matter how busy or under pressure we are. In fact, the more active we are, the more helpful it is to pay attention to what we’re thinking.
Here’s how to watch your thoughts:
- Take a deep breath in, and let your breath fall out naturally, without pushing.
- Repeat five to ten times, or until you feel relaxed.
- Close your eyes.
- Imagine the space in front of your closed eyes to be a movie screen, and your thoughts are coming from the projector.
- Try not to judge anything you see. Let it be, without trying to change or adjust anything, or viewing anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
- Keep breathing. If your attention gets drawn into a thought, simply bring it back to your breath.
- Notice when thoughts change.
- Recognize that whenever a thought changes, you remain the same.
The above exercise is a great way to get started on watching your thoughts. Over time, and with consistent practice, you should begin to notice that you are separate from your thoughts. This is the basis of mindfulness practices.
As previously mentioned, when you watch your thoughts, you have the ability to control your actions, behaviors and who you As previously mentioned, when you watch your thoughts, you have the ability to control your actions, behaviors and who you ultimately want to be. Choose to think about things that are good and positive. Allow yourself mental freedom that doesn’t involve continually judging yourself but instead, work to become better and focus on having gratitude for each day and maintaining a positive outlook on life.
The Bottom Line
While, in a sense, it’s true that you are your thoughts, the opposite is also true. You are not your thoughts but the awareness behind them. When we say that ‘you are what you think,’ that only refers to the fact that you will react to them if you get drawn into your thoughts and believe them without a doubt.
This is what the quote mentioned earlier means when it says, ‘watch your actions.’ If you react to your thoughts, then they are what controls your life. If you can separate yourself from your thoughts, you take back that control and live the life you have always desired to live.