Last week, I put up an article on the difference between thought and action "thinking" that not much would come of it in terms of reader responses. It's safe to say I miscalculated! The basic idea that "the universe rewards action, not thought" seems to have provoked a wide range of responses. With hindsight, I can understand why this piece engaged so many people and generated so many comments.
One of the more refreshing aspects to the comments was the range of thoughtful comments engaged on both sides of the agreement spectrum. Some agreed with various thoughtful additions, some disagreed thoughtfully, while others were more disagreeable than thoughtful. Some found value in the ideas and some, although in violent agreement, seemed to have missed the boat anyway.
My use of the term "the universe" engaged many, and enraged others. Some went on about the laws of the universe, attraction and the like while others railed against whatever they chose to mean by the use of the term.
The distinctions between action and thought are not binary, either/or points of view, much less polemics, which may be difficult to grasp for those who prefer argument to dialogue. Positive thinking doesn't work without accompanying positive action. Rarely does positive action occur without first having engaged in some kind of positive thought. (Positive in this use of the word means focused on a positive outcome).
It's kind of like looking for a new job: it will be hard for you to even look if your first thoughts are "it's impossible out there." It will be even harder to get hired if you enter the interview with the thought "they won't want me." It should also be clear that simply holding the positive thought that there's a good job out there for you won't be enough to land it either -- you still have to get off your "buts" and do something (but it won't work, but they won't want me, but there are already too many people looking for the same job, but, but, but).
If you combine the message from my positive thinking article with the one from last week about "the universe" rewarding action, you might come up with something akin to thinking about that new job, preparing for it, applying for it, going for the interview and then getting rejected anyway. What then? I know I've been through that one before and I had the good sense to ask the prospective employer if they had any feedback about why I didn't get the job.
In this particular and very real instance, I learned something about my resume, how I portrayed my skill set and even more about the fact that I spent my time "selling" myself and almost no time asking anything about the company. That turned out to be great feedback which I put to good use on my next interview, using the feedback to learn more about the prospective employer before even applying.
Indeed, the universe does reward action, and sometimes that reward may show up in the form of "negative feedback." The universe could be anyone, anywhere, ranging from that prospective employer to your husband or wife. The point, which I hope is obvious to those readers who are actually thinking about this, not just preparing to fire off another salvo, is that thinking first is good, acting on your thoughts is good, and listening to the feedback may just be critical to your success.
Some readers commented on a different aspect of thinking, one that comes from a more spiritual perspective on the mind and mindfulness. Several commented on the power of meditation and how the act of meditating can open channels of awareness and instruction.
Indeed, having meditated for nearly 40 years now, I have some idea how this works. Meditation can be a great way of attuning yourself to higher thoughts and preparing for life out in the world. However, meditation can also be a great way to avoid taking responsibility for your own life.
Years ago, I was teaching a seminar about awareness, accountability and responsibility (the ability to respond). The participants were all students of the same spiritual practice and the spiritual leader himself was one of the participants. Midway through the seminar, one of the participants stood up and said something close to this: "I spend six to eight hours a day, every day, meditating, inviting the presence of spirit, and still my life is rocky. Why?" I responded simply: "You meditate six to eight hours a day? What a great way to avoid your life!" All the heads in the room spun in unison, looking toward the spiritual teacher, who simply nodded in the affirmative.
Now, had this person said that meditating six to eight hours a day had transformed his life, and that he was enjoying the result, or anything of the kind, my response would have been quite different. However, in this case, he was saying that things were still rocky.
For many, the act of meditating may serve to bring greater awareness and perhaps greater peace while they are meditating. For many, one value of meditation is to bring that awareness and peace into that which they will be doing during the day. Most of us still need to go out into the world and act in accordance with those thoughts and inspirations that we have developed, whether through simple thought or practiced meditation.
One reader, Emmanuel Goldstein, put it rather elegantly, assuming you don't mind a wine analogy:
An idea not acted upon is like a delightful wine left corked. You may know it will be good, but you're never gonna catch a buzz 'til you pop the cork and drink the contents.
What do you think about this approach to life? Where do thought and action intersect? What is the role of feedback from your "universe?" Let me know how this strikes you and if you would like to explore this rough idea in more depth.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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