Many years ago, a baby named George was born in Portland, Oregon in the United States. George grew up like a typical boy of his time. He wasn’t any smarter or than his peers.
George’s dad was a maths teacher – and so, he would ask George to solve maths problems in his free time. George wasn’t super enthusiastic about this but complied with his dad’s wish.
By the time he was ready to graduate high school, George was reasonably well-versed in Mathematics and got accepted to study at the University of Maryland.
George was an average student, but for one thing: he would often skip class, and get punished with extra homework.
Despite this, the young man graduated from the University of Maryland and went on to start a Ph.D. at the University of California in Berkeley.
However, his habit of showing up late or not turning up all for classes continued to haunt him. One day, George was running along the hallways of his university, because he was late for his professor’s statistics class.
A whole 20 minutes late, the young man caught his breath, before sneaking into the room and sitting down quietly at his desk.
By the time he entered, George saw two problems written on the blackboard and thought they were the homework assignment for the next class. He copied down the problems while listening to the professor.
George deeply regretted being late. The problems were very difficult, and when George looked at them later that day, he thought he had missed something important in class. He struggled for several days to solve the problems and complete the assignment – but eventually, he managed to solve them.
A few days later, the student went to the professor to hand in his notebook. The professor took his notebook absentmindedly, without turning away from the blackboard, where he was scribbling formulas for his next class.
He did not remember immediately that he didn’t assign any homework to George’s class.
In the following lesson, the professor went up to George and said that his assignment was still being checked. This made the young man incredibly nervous.
After some time, George was asked into the Dean’s office. When he knocked on the Dean’s door, he saw that his statistics professor and several other men were standing next to the Dean. It is difficult to say what George would’ve felt at that point, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that he seemed anxious.
Yet, his worries were completely unfounded.
“Congratulations, George”, said his statistics professor Jerzy Neyman. The problems George had solved weren’t a homework assignment – they were two famous problems that even the most outstanding statisticians couldn’t solve.
But because of a stupid turn of events, George didn’t know the problems were unsolvable. And so, George Bernard Danzig did what no one else could do – simply because he believed he needed to finish a ‘homework assignment’.
This incredible story shows just how POWERFUL our thoughts can be. Simply thinking that something is possible like George Bernard Danzig did, can open doors that everyone believes to be firmly shut. And believing in unsolvable mysteries like the statistics community did, can close our mind to exciting opportunities.
But what can you can take away from this story? And how can you use these lessons to make powerful changes in your life?
How Thoughts Can Shape Your Life
While the accomplishments of George Bernard Danzig inspire people around the globe, the real value of this beautiful story lies in its simplicity.
It shows how our thoughts shape reality and thereby proves one of the fundamental ideas of quantum physics.
Let’s think of something you and I use every day: a chair. Now, a chair might seem like a solid, brown object with four legs and a seat.
But according to quantum physics, the hardwood that you perceive is simply a cluster of energy. This energy comes in many shapes and forms and brings together the smallest particles to create larger objects like a chair, a bed, or a house.
Now, we don’t see the atoms moving in our chair – and instead of a cluster of energy, the objects around us seem static, even though they are always in motion. This might seem counterintuitive, but it can be explained by the fact that we perceive only the information that is most useful to our brains.
Let’s stick with the example of our chair: we wouldn’t really benefit from seeing all the atoms floating inside – it’s much more helpful for us to see the ‘whole chair’ and realise that we can sit on it.
Basically, a key task of our brain is to come up with these useful interpretations of the world around us, and filter out any irrelevant information.
But what does our brain consider to be irrelevant?
Well, this is where it gets interesting … all our interpretations of the world are based on an internal map of reality.
Suppose I told you to think of a Bengali nut and describe it to me. What would you say?
If you’re like most people, you’d probably say: “What on Earth are you talking about?” – and rightly so. Bengali nuts do not exist (as far as I’m concerned), and so your mind didn’t have any information to describe what they would look, taste and smell like.
But what if I asked you to describe a lemon instead? You’d probably tell me it’s a yellow piece of fruit, that tastes sour and is found in tropical areas.
For a lemon, you have a clear reference point. You’ve seen and tasted a lemon before, so you can tell me what it’s like.
Now, imagine you chop up the lemon, and take a piece of the ripe fruit into your hand. You take a bite of the lemon and as you chew, the sour flavour spreads in your mouth.
What do you think just happened?
When you imagined how you ate that piece of lemon, your body started producing saliva, maybe you even shuddered at the thought of chewing this source fruit, or pulled a face in disgust.
As you can see from the experiment with the lemon, our body reacts almost instantly to our thoughts. This is an effect that we can leverage to change our view of reality.
But before we explore how to do just that, it’s important to understand more about different types of thoughts and where our thoughts fit in an action-driven world.
The misunderstanding around positive thoughts
In spiritual and self-help guides, a common practice is to distinguish between ‘positive thoughts’ and ‘negative thoughts’. Positive thoughts are those that create feelings of happiness, joy and optimism, while negative thoughts can lead to anger, fear and guilt.
Now, much of modern self-help advice tells you to ‘think positively’ – meaning to focus our awareness on a world view that prioritises happiness and joy and sees the good in every experience.
This is helpful advice if we consider that energy will attract more of its type. Following the law of attraction, positive energy will make us more optimistic and satisfied with our life – and reinforce happy patterns of thought.
However, many people seem to misunderstand ‘thinking positively’, and they end up focussing only on the positive areas of their life. They banish any hint of negativity by pushing problems to the wayside and ignoring them until they become so pressing that they require an immediate response.
One example of this is the classic college student. Rather than admitting to himself that he hates his accounting degree, the student prefers to down several pints of beer in the campus pub every night. For him, drinking alcohol is a coping mechanism that silences his inner voice and allows him to continue on the same path without a second thought.
Similarly, many people simply try to ignore relationship problems by focussing only on their shiny new job, and celebrating everything else that goes well in life. While this can work in the short run, running away from problems by banishing all negative thoughts usually makes these problems a whole lot worse in the long run.
Therefore, the solution is not to ignore any negative thoughts we have but to change them into a more positive perception of the situation.
Why your thoughts can fail you
Maybe you’ve noticed that even when you firmly believed you could run a marathon, get a promotion or win a scholarship to study abroad – you didn’t.
I’ve had similar experiences, where I thought I could get a certain grade in college, but then I didn’t. Despite believing in my abilities, I still didn’t accomplish what I felt was reasonable.
And I wondered, if thoughts are so powerful that they can change reality, then why I am still not getting the results I want?
It took me a while to realise this … but our thoughts are merely on the middle rung when it comes to the art of manifestation, or creating what we want.
There is another layer, that sits much deeper and has a stronger grip over our lives. This layer consists in our sense of purpose, our higher life goals, our self-image, and the vows and promises we made.
This top layer can overrule the middle layer, broadly consisting in our thoughts and thought patterns. No matter how firmly you believe you can become the next Albert Einstein, if your conflict with vows and promises you made to yourself, you will not become a great mathematician.
Similarly, the middle layer in the hierarchy of manifestation, our thoughts, can overrule any actions we take and any external influences. A clear example of this is Oprah Winfrey. The fact that she was raised in challenging circumstances, marked by sexual abuse and teen pregnancy, did not stop her from becoming one of the most popular US talk show hosts of all time.
Of course, this also works in the reverse way. Suppose you’re cutting out all processed foods from your diet in an attempt to lose weight. But you don’t believe in the success of the diet. So no matter how hard you try and how well you stick to this ‘proven technique’, you’re not going to lose an ounce of weight. Only once you change your thoughts to believe that weight loss is possible, is when you’ll start seeing results.
The complex relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions
It is often misunderstood and interpreted that our feelings are a reaction of our body to external influences.
In reality, external influences may trigger certain thought patterns in our brain – which then become so strong that feelings arise.
This can be an almost instant process. For example, if you have a fear of flying, and you are entering a plane, your mind might be racing: “What if we crash? I don’t want to die. This is so crowded. I need to get out. I’m having a panic attack. People will notice I’m scared. It’s embarrassing …” and so on.
This then triggers a fearful response in you, causing you to shake and tremble and feel really anxious.
Of course, very few people have so strong reactions to flying that they get a full-blown panic attack. For most of us, if we start to worry about our plane crashing as we board, we tell ourselves we’re having irrational thoughts and move on with our life as normal.
This shows us that different people react to the same stimuli in different ways. In fact, much of our reaction will depend on our expectations and values – that deepest layer of being that I talked about earlier.
This why one person will smile at you when you serve them spaghetti Bolognese, and appreciate that you cooked for them, even if they are vegetarian. On the other side of the spectrum, a person who also doesn’t eat meat might be disappointed or even lash out at you in anger, because you didn’t prepare something they wanted to eat.
Based on their values (appreciation shown through cooking vs. a tasty meal), these two people interpreted the same situation in completely different ways. As a result, their thoughts led to diametrically opposite feelings, which was quite evident when you saw their reaction.
The takeaway from this is simple: if you feel bad, look at the thoughts and beliefs that led to that feeling. Then change your thoughts to see the situation in a more positive light.
Our brain’s filtering mechanism
I just want to briefly revisit the idea that we have a limited perception of the world around us. Basically, we always focus on a subset of all available information and base our thoughts and decisions on this ‘narrow’ perception.
This is useful because our brain’s inbuilt filtering mechanism stops us from getting overwhelmed and serves us only the details that we need.
For example, if you’re in the supermarket you don’t focus on all 10,000 items there, but instead, pick the 100-200 or so that are most important to you.
Similarly, you don’t spend time thinking about all areas of your life equally, but usually have certain areas that are most important to you. For example, work, friendships, family or a special hobby.
Your brain directs your attention to everything that fits your perception and thought patterns. For instance, if you buy a new car, (or so I’ve been told), you become much more attentive to any other model of the brand.
If you drive a Toyota Prius, you are probably going to spot every single Toyota Prius in your town, whereas before you got that model, you probably never paid attention to the Toyota Prius of a guy five streets away from where you live.
This focussed perception can lead to biases in your life – where you attract more of what you already have or see. For example, when you watch the news, you often only take in the beliefs that you already hold – which is what researchers call confirmation bias.
Here’s an interesting example of this action. If you think all people are happier than you, you will only notice the images of people having fun on your Instagram, you’ll think everyone around you is smiling and cheery all the time. Over time, this can make you feel even more unhappy than everyone else and reinforce the thoughts that you already had.
It’s important to be aware of biases like these, especially, when you look at how our thoughts translate into actions. What we choose to focus our thoughts, also determine what action we take.
For example, one of the most common reasons why diets fail is that people think about what they can’t eat all the time. People who just start a diet often say to themselves that they won’t eat cupcakes, chocolate, bread or whatever.
And because they focus on ‘not eating’ these foods all the time, their thoughts constantly revolve around these foods, and they start craving them until they eventually give in.
By refocussing their dietary efforts and concentrating on other foods that they do want to eat, people would they have much better odds of success. Because if not, there comes a point where they the temptation of eating whatever food was on their ‘banned list’ is to big, and despite their best intentions, they simply end up giving in.
As you can see, where we focus our on attention changes the way we think, which in turn affects the choices we make and actions we take.
- Our thoughts so POWERFUL that they can determine what’s possible and what isn’t.
- If we feel bad, we can uncover the invisible scripts and thought patterns that have shaped our emotions.
- Positive thinking alone is not enough – if we face a problem, we need to find a way to resolve it, rather than focussing on the other, more positive sides of our life. Give room to difficult thoughts, instead of suppressing them.
- Focus your attention on the things you want more of. The law of attraction will help you get them.