How to actually apply great thoughts to our lives – instead of just talking about them

There is this new great thought that we found in a book. It is so great that we want it to become part of our lives. How do we do that? I have tried a couple of ways, here I share what did and didn’t work for me.

What did not work

Obviously the first thing is that I caught a great thought somewhere that struck a chord in me, because it just seemed so helpful and meaningful. I thought that thought is great. It is so meaningful, I will remember it for the rest of my life. Wrong! All it takes sometimes is something else to come into my mind and the thought is gone.

I soon learned that the faintest ink is better than the best memory. And so I got a notebook that I could take with me everywhere. I wrote them down, so I could look at it again later. When I looked through my notes later I was amazed at the wisdom I could find there. But it did not change much about how I actually live.

So I thought, I need to put the thought somewhere to see it over and over again. I wrote it on a piece of paper, put it on my wall and on my screensaver. I was reminded of the task, but it did not really change a lot. After a while it bored me to look at the words.

But I do not give up so easily. One day I got the idea to put great thoughts on an index card that I can put in my pocket to look at when I want to remind myself of them. It quickly became quite a few index cards and that became too much.

What worked better

So I cut it down to just one important thought to take with me. Curating the most important is hard. I often want to add just one more thought. But that looses focus. So I made the promise to take just one thought and exchange it whenever something else becomes more relevant.

I put this thought on my mirror, in my journal and put it in my pocket. That reminded me of this important thing. And once something else got more relevant, I replaced it. This helped me to think of ways to actually implement it.

For example, for my work I employed the thought: “My job is to draw language out.” That helped me to transform my way of teaching.

That worked much better, but something was still missing.

What works consistently

Then I stumbled upon an exercise on the Fabulous-App called “Performance Statements”. And that really made it click for me. I have been testing it for some time now, and it really makes a difference. Here is how it works:

First you need to identify: What is the thought that is most helpful for your life right now?

Write it down somewhere where you can practice a visualizing ritual every morning. I put it on my mirror. For travelling, I have it on the first page of my journal.

Next you need to practice a visualisation ritual every morning:

  1. Take a deep breath: Inhale in, hold, exhale.
  2. Think of your performance statement: What is the thought that is most helpful for your life right now? Read it aloud.
  3. Visualize yourself in vivid detail going through some of the hurdles in your life right now and visualize yourself surmounting them by repeating your performance statement.
  4. Visualize your success: Visualize yourself in vivid details going through moments of your life where you’ve been successfully accomplishing your performance statement.
  5. Take a deep breath: Breathe in, hold, breathe out.
  6. Celebrate.

What it does for me

The exercise takes me about three minutes each morning. But the impact is profound. It anchors the thought in my brain.

  • The breathing in steps 1+5 are a frame to focus your mind on the visualizing exercise.
  • Step 2 gives you time to read the thought and focus on it.
  • Step 3 activates your problem-solving mode. And this makes a difference for me, instead of just having the thought floating around, it actually makes me think about how I can use this to work on the things I am struggling with.
  • Step 4 is also important. Because once I think about how the thought has already been part of my life somewhere, that shows me that I can do it, because I have already done it.
  • The last step gives me a smile on my face and lets me know that I am a winner.

The exercise is simple to do, but really profound. By focusing on just the single most important thought and then visualizing how I can use it and how I already used it, this prepares me for using it at other times in the day also. There is one more important thought.

Planting the seeds

Have you ever thought how cool it would be to just download some book onto your brain and be able to execute it. Unfortunately (or luckily??) that is not the way it works. But we can plant seeds intentionally.

In her wonderful book Self-Compassion Kristin Neff shares a story that illustrates this.

One time a disciple came to his rabbi to ask a question. The disciple asked: “Why does Thora say to place thoughts upon our hearts, not in our hearts?”

The rabbi answered: “Because as we are, our hearts are closed and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. And so we place the them on top of our hearts. And there they stay, until one day the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

When we do an exercise like visualizing a performance statements we are setting intentions. Setting intentions is like planting seeds. It takes time to take roots.

What is the thought that is most helpful for your life right now? Let me know in the comments below.

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