American novelist James Lane Allen had long been impressed by the ancient philosophy that a man becomes what he thinks; that a man's character is the outward expression of his inward thoughts.
He had traced it back to the Upanishads, sacred literature of the Hindus: “Man becomes that of which he thinks” -- as well as in the meditations of Marcus Aurelius: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Or another favorite from Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.”
The same fundamental ideas are found in the writings of Confucius, Muhammad, Aristotle, Socrates and scores of others.
These scholars understood that such a seemingly basic function as thinking was one of the most significant activities that controlled their being. Thinking about thinking is a pretty abstract concept. Do great minds really think alike? Where do our thoughts really originate?
But you don’t need to be a philosopher to appreciate the value of thinking.
When I speak to corporate audiences, my first lesson is about how some of the best people spend their most productive time looking out the window. Every organization has people who can see the big picture. They don’t get bogged down with a lot of meaningless meetings and paper shuffling. They’re thinking. It’s the hardest, most valuable task any person performs, without question.
Henry Ford once hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant. Ford directed him to find the nonproductive employees and, he said, “I will fire them!”
When the expert finished his evaluation, he reported to Ford that he was particularly concerned with one of his administrators. “Every time I walked by, he was sitting with his feet propped up on the desk. The man never does a thing. I definitely think you should consider getting rid of him!”
Ford was curious to know who was using company time that way. Then the expert identified him, and Ford shook his head. “I can't fire him. I pay that man to do nothing BUT think, and that's what he's doing.”
In other words, he was doing the thinking for others. When you think about it, that’s a pretty daunting task!
A quote often attributed to Thomas Edison has it: “Five percent of the people think; 10% of the people think they think; and the other 85% would rather die than think.”
That sounds extreme -- but I can detect an element of truth to it. Sometimes it’s just easier to let others do the thinking and follow their lead.
If you are starting to wonder which category you fall in, remember, it’s not too late to adjust your thinking. Now is a perfect time to do a little spring cleaning and sweep out the clutter in your mind. Try these ideas:
-- Turn off the television. Limit your TV-watching to better concentrate on what’s going on around you. Spend time with friends or just enjoy the quiet.
-- Immerse yourself in something new. Read a wide variety of books and magazines, learn new words and use them, practice listening and find ways to stimulate your creativity, whether it’s crafts or painting or writing.
-- Follow a regular routine. Just like any exercise program, you need to build mental exercises into your weekly or daily schedule to fully reap the benefits. Give yourself memorization challenges. Change your daily habits to get out of mental ruts (take a new route to work, for example). Learn new music.
-- Let go of anger. Complaining or venting anger to a sympathetic friend can sometimes make things worse. Don’t repress your emotions, but concentrate on constructive responses.
-- De-stress. Find a time every day to back away from stress. For example, use the time when brushing your teeth at night to acknowledge anything negative experienced that day. Then focus on relaxation and peace.
-- Check your attitude. We spend lots of time in the morning primping to look good for the day. But few of us take time to mentally prepare for the day. Ask yourself one question as you get ready to meet the world: What kind of employee, or parent, or friend, do I plan to be today?
-- Don’t neglect your body. The brain benefits from physical exercise -- improved blood flow, increased oxygen and endorphins that keep your spirits high. Jump rope, stretch and meditate.
Mackay’s Moral: You don’t have to be a genius to think great thoughts.