“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change what I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Serenity Prayer
Are you the player? Or the pawn?
Just how much power do you actually have to change the circumstances of your life? To make it the way you want it?
You want to believe that you’re in control; that you are the captain of your own soul; that you have to power to choose your fate. But of all the myriad events and circumstances that impact upon your experience, what fraction of them do you consciously design?
If there is a science to getting what you want then it can only operate within the scope of things over which you have control. To look elsewhere is madness. Because if the direction of your life is dependent upon things over which you have no power then you are not the captain but a leaf blowing in the wind.
Regardless of where you stand philosophically, one thing is undeniable: All of your power is in the present moment. You can’t act in the past or in the future. You can only act now. And what is it, exactly that you can accomplish right now, in this instant? What exactly can you do?
Things You can’t control:
- The weather,
- The economy,
- The job market,
- The lotto numbers,
- The distribution of wealth in the world,
- The state of the rain forest,
- What happened yesterday,
- Who’s fault it is,
- Your government,
- Your boss,
- Your spouse,
- What anyone else says or does or thinks about you,
- The price of gasoline, or
- The price of tea in China.
All of that is completely out of your hands.
Now. Here’s what you get to decide:
“Which thought you’re going to focus on, right now.”
That’s it. That’s the sum total of your dominion as a human being. That’s all you ever get to choose. It’s what Viktor Frankl called “the last human freedom”: the one that remains after all others have been taken away (Viktor figured that out while being held prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. And yes, he survived).
Does that reality discourage you? Does it make you feel a little inadequate or insecure? You shouldn’t. Because that remarkable ability—to think—truly is the most magnificent and powerful force in the universe. That single faculty gives you the ability to reinvent yourself in every moment, and remake your entire world.
You’re about to see how.
Thought versus action
“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yeah, yeah. I hear the objections… The world’s not changed by thinking, but by doing.
Sure, you also have the power to do something: to take action. But your action is only the natural extension of your thinking. Every action that you take or fail to take is simply the result of the thoughts that you habitually focus on.
What allows one person to take decisive action while another remains paralyzed with fear? What allows one person to blaze a trail while others struggle to get out of the gate? It’s what they’re thinking. It has to be, because there’s no other variable.
Helen Keller became a widely celebrated author and won the Presidential Medal of Freedom despite being deaf, blind and mute from the age of two.
Mohandas Gandhi led a grassroots movement of poor farmers to free India from the most powerful empire on the planet—without the use of violent force.
Don’t tell me it’s your circumstances. Those folks I just mentioned totally discredited that theory.
The power of a thought
“With our thoughts we make our world.”
Every great thinker from Buddha to Einstein has arrived at the same conclusion: This world we live in is a product of our thinking. We cannot change the world without changing our thinking. Indeed it seems that throughout all human history no matter which luminary you turn to—philosopher, statesman, scientist or artist—the greater the impact of an individual, the greater that individual’s emphasis on the profound power of thought.
And if your thoughts are the only things that you really get to choose, how did all those revolutionary thinkers and doers of the past forge their extraordinary lives? How come you still know their names after millennia?
Were they just extremely lucky? Are those remarkable lives just the natural outliers in an essentially normal distribution of fortunes across the spectrum of humanity? Or did they figure out how to do it… *gasp* deliberately!?
What each of these luminaries came to know and teach is that what you experience of the world is not “reality”, but your personal interpretation of reality. You don’t see the world as it really is, but filtered through the lens of your personal beliefs and expectations. And when you learn to control that filter—to change it’s quality—you bring into the realms of possibility a vast array of choices and potentials which hitherto eluded you; and by doing so, you quite literally turn the impossible into the inevitable and the insurmountable into done.
“While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.”
By your ability to conceive of a desired result and set in motion the wheels of change, you are indeed the captain of your own soul.
But since all you can really do in life is think, the direction of your life must be set by the content and character of your thoughts.
So what’s that direction going to be?
You can look outside yourself for all the reasons why it can’t be done. Or you can look inside yourself for all the reasons why it will be done.
That’s the difference between dreams that become realities and dreams that wither on the vine. That’s the difference between those who are celebrated and all who are forgotten.
Once you realize that your first, last and only power in life is which thought you’re going to choose right now, in the present moment, then you have an important decision to make:
Either accept that you have little control over the circumstances of your life;
Or accept that everything you experience is the product of your thinking.