“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are,” wrote Anaïs Nin, echoing some ancient wisdom. The idea that the world as we know it is merely a collection of our perspectives, biases, and stories can be a life changing thought.
For some, these thoughts and stories propel them forward. But for the majority of us, they do the opposite. They act like a fifty-pound weight we need to lug around everywhere we go.
Consider some of the stories and thoughts that run through our heads, holding sway over our actions each day:
- If someone criticizes my work, it means that I’m not good enough.
- If I fail, then I’m a failure.
- I’m not talented enough. There’s no point in trying.
- Following someone else’s path to success will guarantee my own.
- More money equals more success.
- More success equals more happiness.
- I care about what some stranger thinks of me.
- If I ask for help, I’ll be bothering someone.
- It’s not okay to say that I don’t understand.
- If I give people honest feedback, they might be angry with me.
- Changing my mind is a sign of weakness.
- If people see my flaws, they’ll think less of me.
We rarely say these thoughts aloud. Often, we don’t even acknowledge them inside of our own heads. But they’re there, just below the surface, running through our minds and influencing our decisions.
If you don’t think these thoughts affect you, consider the decisions you’ve made over the course of your career. How often do similar stories keep you from taking risks, standing out, or doing something you really want to do, for fear of what others might think?
I’m guessing it happens more often than you’d like.
The common trend is control. These stories push us to give away our control to others.
They take our self-worth and make it contingent on a number of things outside of our control.
They make it so that the safest path is always nothing.
Don’t push yourself. Don’t stand out. Don’t take control of your own life.
Yet the moment you write these thoughts down, something else becomes clear — they’re ridiculous. They lack substance. They’re hollow and superficial excuses.
They derive their power from a lack of attention. Sort of like gremlins, once you expose them to the light, they can’t survive.
Once you write them down, you realize that the only thing holding you back is yourself.
The Bhagavad Gita says, “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
Living your own destiny starts with addressing these negative thoughts. It starts with exposing them to the light and recognizing them for the shallow excuses that they are.
And most importantly, replacing them with some better ones. If the world is simply a reflection of our own thoughts, perspectives, and stories, all of it is in our control. Change your thoughts and the world changes with them.
- I am not my work. If someone criticizes it, good. The next version will be better. The one after that better still.
- Failure is feedback. Where I fall short, I’ll improve. Where I succeed, I’ll improve again.
- Maybe I’m not talented enough. Yet. And that’s changing fast.
- There’s a short list of people whose opinions I value. And none of them include random people on the street — or online.
- No one understands everything. It’s infinitely better to ask and learn than continue along in ignorance.
- There are few better signs of intelligence than someone who can evaluate new evidence and adjust their perspectives accordingly.
- People want to improve. If my feedback can help them do that, I owe it to them to offer it.
- People are often happy to help. If anything, they’re flattered that someone thinks that highly of them.
- Flaws make me human. Nothing standardized was ever remarkable.
- At the end of the day, excellence comes from self-expression and everyone has their own definition of happiness. As long as I know mine, everything else pales in comparison.
Change your thoughts. And the world changes with them.