The best way to improve ourselves is to improve the way we think.
I recently read a great book about culture called What You Do Is Who You Are (affiliate).
It drew from some amazing events and people that showed how actions are what actually form culture. Not thought, philosophies, ideas, values, but cold hard acts. If you fire someone for lying, you are creating a culture. If you let them lie, you are also creating a culture. The question is what kind of culture do you want to create.
And reading that book got me wondering about where mindset fits in. And that’s when I heard this phrase in my head.
“How you think is who you’re becoming.” And I think that perfectly compliments that author’s point about actions and is a true statement that I can stand by.
The way one thinks is always the precursor to action. But not just any thought, it’s how you think that changes actions, not just what you think. What you think are the conclusions you draw, which is important. But, I believe, how you think is more so because it is the process by which you reach those conclusions. In other words, it’s your operating system, your mind’s software. If the way you think is that you’ll do anything to win, even lie, then you’re going to do it because you’re programmed to. It’s just a matter of when. Or, if you see the world through a lens of fear, that’s going to determine the way you navigate through the world, whereas someone who considers the world to be good-natured will act very differently.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t change. Your software can get upgraded. It starts with having a realization that changes the way you think. Epiphanies don’t happen often, but when they do, your actions change because you now see the world differently. It causes your mind to think differently.
Early in my marriage, our culture was terrible. I always had this dreadful fear that my wife was going to leave me. To someone who knows very little about me, it would be easy to conclude that my fear was caused by insecurity, which I’m sure I was insecure; but, I don’t think that that was the real driver of my fear. I was afraid that my wife would leave me because I had been left before.
My wife and I got married when I was in my thirties. But I had been previously engaged in my early twenties. And that fiancé broke off our engagement, which broke me. I was devastated and wasn’t able to really get back into another relationship for almost five years. And even though I had healed much by the time I got married over a decade later, my thinking was still damaged, my OS was buggy.
Engagement and marriage are similar situations. And because of those similarities, I thought my wife could also leave me just like my ex-fiancé. In short, I thought the situation is what drove the results of these relationships. And that heightened my fear. But there was only one problem. I was wrong. How I thought was totally wrong. My OS wasn’t just buggy; it was bad.
Because my wife was a completely different person, I shouldn’t have thought the way I did. My marriage wasn’t a situational paradigm; it was a personal one, meaning that this is about a person, namely, my wife.
And one day, during a huge fight, I tried to use words to get my wife to leave me. (This was stupid since I tried to get her to do the very thing I was deathly afraid of, because, in a twisted way, I thought that it was inevitable that she would leave, so I tried to force her to when I could expect it, instead of unexpectedly like my ex-fiancé.) In all of that, I had an epiphany. My wife was never going to leave me, no matter how much of an idiot I was. She was staying.
Knowing that changed everything. I stopped getting so scared and pushing her away. Our fights lessened in quantity and intensity; I got less stupid. And we started to flourish. All because I stopped thinking situationally and realized that this was about a person. My wife wasn’t my ex-fiancé.
All of us have faulty software in our minds. It’s got bugs; we’re buggy. But we don’t want to stay that way. We want to and can become someone better. And that almost always happens by changing our software or how we think. But do we always need to fight with our loved ones in an epic battle to do that? I hope not.
There are a lot of ways to kill our mental bugs. Here are a few that I think work.
Being social creatures, we need to be around people to become the best versions of ourselves. But it’s not just any kind of people. They should be those to whom we aspire to be like or at least those whom we respect. Because if we surround ourselves with negative people or those who aren’t what we hope to become, we will most likely follow their lead.
So it’s essential to choose your tribe well. It doesn’t have to be a large group; it can be small, a couple of people, maybe even just one person. But dialoguing with others and hearing what they think about you and allowing them to speak into your life and how you think will only make you better, especially if they have your best interest at heart.
Read challenging books
Books aren’t as personal as friends: Books can be conversational, but you can’t have a conversation with them. But they can still change the way you think. Reading is one of the best ways to feed the mind, the soul. The trick is to read authors who may not believe what you do or study subjects that you find challenging, or may not be familiar with. Taking in ideas you are already comfortable with and espouse isn’t going to help you get better. That will only help you stay the same. So read outside of your comfort zone. Authors who push themselves or have reached great heights or tell stories of those who have, should enter into your library and fall beneath your gaze. And when that happens, lightning will strike. An epiphany will happen.
I’ve lumped all of these together—maybe—because I don’t meditate and may feel a little inadequate since all of the cool smart kids like Tim Ferriss, Ray Dalio, my wife, swear by it. But, when I do it, I just want to take a nap. The other four work like a charm for me, though.
The point of this point is to process your thoughts in a restful, meditative, reflective, and even spiritual, fashion. Letting the mind coalesce various thoughts, experiences, and feelings creates magic. You connect the dots and BAM! That epiphany hits you.
Running is one of the best ways for me to get epiphanies. I’m not exactly sure why, but I do know it’s impossible for me to feel like taking a nap while I’m running, that’s for sure. Another marriage-altering thought hit me while I was running (which I’ll save the details for a future post).
And the important thought I’m trying to make here is that you need to create the space to make those connections. Connecting the dots requires mental space. Whether it’s running outside, journaling at a desk, or closing your eyes and doing a body scan, give your mind the time to run.
Improving the way we think is critical to having better relationships, becoming healthier people, living better lives. Because how we think forms who we become.
Our actions are critical, and they do form culture; but, if you can think better, you can’t help but act better.
And your loved ones will thank you for it.
Ask my wife.