“A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.” — Louisa May Alcott, My Kingdom
A wise old sage hosted a dinner. Toward the end of the meal, everyone was given fortune cookies and told that they’re holding their future in their hands. The guests eagerly opened them to read the words of wisdom they contained. The paper slips inside each cookie were blank.
“Is this a joke?” they asked. “Is our fortune so bleak or so full of emptiness?” “That’s up to each of you. The choice is yours,” the sage replied. “Many people are eager to have soothsayers predict their future. Fewer are willing to take responsibility for writing their own fortune. Your future is a blank sheet of paper waiting for you to create what is to come.”
In her eighth grade project “Getting to Know Me,” our daughter Jenn was asked to outline her personal philosophy. Here’s how she described the process of choosing our thoughts and choosing our future, “If you believe you have a good future you probably do if you stick to your beliefs and try your best. If you believe you are going to be a failure well then you probably will be one. See it all works in a cycle you believe you succeed or you bail you fail.”
The theme of choosing our thoughts and choosing our future is a timeless leadership principle that echoes through the ages. Marcus Aurelius, the second century philosopher and Roman emperor who wrote the classicMeditations, said simply, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” In the 16th century, William Shakespeare observed, “There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In his 19th century Journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life consists of what a man is thinking of all day.” In 1871 Charles Darwin wrote, “The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.” Core truths are regularly rediscovered and restated for their time. At the dawn of the 20th century, William James, the American philosopher and “father of modern psychology” declared, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
In computer programming, “source codes” are human-readable statements which are translated into a machine code that computers can read. Computers then execute or act upon these instructions. The beginning point of all our choices is our own thoughts. This is our personal source code that we execute or translate into action. Our thoughts set our programming instructions.
If we continue to think like we’ve always thought, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always got. Our daily thought choices translate into our daily actions. Our actions accumulate into our habits. Our habits form our character. Our character attracts our circumstances. Our circumstances determine our future…Taking responsibility for our choices starts with choosing our thoughts.