I was casting around for a topic to write about and came across regarding leadership and decision-making when two topics, combined into the same single strand, thought, came into focus. Addressing the question, “how does one change their mind?” From one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, author of “Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten, Uh-Oh, and several other books” comes a thought, “Hopelessly Confused.” This was a sign a woman was holding in Mr. Fulghum’s neighborhood witnessed by the author several times over a period of days/weeks and discussed the book referenced.
The other topic comes from the final phrase in James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh” (1903) treatise on the mind, how the mind matters, and philosophy of thinking. Mr. Allen discussed the “tempest-tossed souls,” “whose thoughts are controlled” by the winds and storms of life instead of the other way round where control of thinking improves the steadiness and serenity of the individual. The idea is that one’s thoughts influence outcomes and becomes reality.
For many months, I have had as a status on my student profile at the University of Phoenix, the following, “Thoughts become things. QED how we think determines success.” I taught a class where we discussed this exact topic. Thoughts leading to words, words becoming actions, actions producing a product, and that product in turn, generating more thinking, thus fulfilling the cycle and moving the soul further down a path, regardless of whether that path is valued as good.
James Allen adds another interesting aspect to this puzzle, “Serenity is the last lesson of culture; it is the flowering of life, the fruitage of the soul.” “Peace be still!” Bringing to point the idea, choices and thinking remain relevant to the one who would enjoy serenity. Peace is a choice; thoughts, properly controlled, are choices; developing that choice, protecting, harboring, and controlling the ability to choose drives the choice and the result is serenity.
If the thoughts driving action are based upon choice, then “hopelessly confused” was a choice. The woman holding the sign chose to be confused, and the endless running of that thought placed her in a position to become “hopeless.” Let us take a moment to explore these two words for a moment. “Hopeless” as defined by Webster includes the terms “inadequate; incompetent; feeling despair.” Confusion as defined by Webster, contains the following: “the state of being unclear in one’s mind, lacking understanding, and embodying uncertainty.” Hence, the reader is left with a state of mind regarding personal inadequacies or incompetence leading to despair.
Since confusion is a state of mind, correcting thinking on the individual’s part remains a concrete action to be personally undertaken to end the current state of mind and discover a new state of thinking and acting. Yet, what would be the impetus for beginning this process of mental change, choice. Some religions would call this agency or the individual’s personal ability to choose. Many choices remain transactional in nature; we as individuals see value in a different track or course of action, and from that desire for increased value comes the motivation to exercise agency and choose.
At this moment in the choice cycle, the individual does not know that value will come and improve the current situation. The individual has simply completed a mathematical formula and discovered potential for a higher value in a different course of action. The next step moves from inaction to action, from thinking to doing, taking the information gleaned and applying it in a fundamentally different way to realize the desired, but still elusive, potential. By taking action, the individual has shifted slightly and this shift, while ever so slight, over time has energy to achieve greatness.
A religious leader, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (2008), himself a pilot, described the change as “a matter of a few degrees.” Using an airplane analogy, the young pilot is only off a minor tenth of a degree, then corrects the course, then drifts ever so slightly to a new heading. Over time, the plane is now several hundred miles off course and the young pilot in serious trouble. The same can be said for the confused person, the slight change in position, over time, brings innumerable changes in thinking, understanding, and action into a life. While failure to change, drives the same individual further and further down the path of “hopelessly confused.”
Regarding highways, the degrees needed to change from one highway to another without a cloverleaf is generally 10-15 degrees. Starting small, tenths of a degree, time and distance become the variables of great change. Provided proper planning for the lane changes are made, the movement from one highway to another can be done quickly, easily, and safely, without undue wear and tear on the vehicle at highway speeds, which places the next step firmly into the thinking process, planning. Proper prior planning of thoughts takes understanding the variables, naming the problems, and plotting change.
Planning new thinking entails knowing what the end goal should look like. For example, if the starting point is “hopelessly confused” and serenity is desired, then serenity is the end goal or state of mind. This holds true for all desired end states; to plot and plan effectively, one must first know where to go. The second step in planning is knowing that which motivates the change. For example, what condition is driving a desired change in thinking; name the variables or individual desires feeding the change. Planning requires understanding these motivators on a level deeper than intimacy. Finally, the best plans remain flexible but fixed. While this might sound like a paradox, it is not.
Fixed but flexible speaks to the desired end state, not the journey to that end state. While the desired end goal remains serenity, understanding that the journey will involve and necessarily require setbacks, reroutes, and difficulties. The end desired goal thus remains fixed, and the journey to that end desire will fluctuate. This is the same thinking military commanders use when attempting to overcome obstacles. Fluidity in planning and flexibility in application provides for making mistakes, for opposition, and is a learned thinking trait that must be trained into operational thinking.
Finally, James Allen provides the concluding actions in changing mental states. “Self-control is strength; right thought is mastery [of self]; calmness is power [to break the mental chains which bind]. Say unto your heart, “Peace be still.” The mental change does not happen overnight, rarely occurs with the first attempt, and will always resemble the pattern of an hourglass, but like the hourglass, moving between areas is possible, requiring both effort and time. As the narrow neck that limits change becomes closer, understand this constriction, sometimes experienced as restriction of choice, and lack of growth is only temporary. Change is coming and with change comes freedom. This hope for additional freedom is required to maintain that effort to change. Agency starts the adventure of change, hope sustains the journey, motivation and desire feed the fires of hope, and the power generated by hope’s fuel propels the change. To thy heart, “Peace be still.”
© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
Allen, J. (1903). As a man thinketh. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.
Fulghum, R. (2007). What on earth have I done? Stories, observations, and affirmations. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Uchtdorf, D. F. (2008, April). A Matter of a Few Degrees. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/a-matter-of-a-few-degrees?lang=eng&_r=1