People Power: The destructive power of ‘stinking thinking’ - March 2023
By Sam Allman
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs). To me, this is one of the most powerful and valid quotes in the Bible, and all of literature, for that matter. I believe how we think is the foundation of whether we maximize our human capacity to flourish, to find joy, happiness and meaning, and to succeed at living our lives our own way. How we think, what we think about and what we focus and dwell upon are all choices. With awareness and exercise, we can become very skillful and effective at using and controlling our minds to strengthen our personal “people power.” As Horace said, “Control your mind or it will control you.”
THE POWER OF THE MIND
As a child, my parents taught me how to manage my emotional state by not going ballistic if I didn’t get what I wanted and by not hitting my younger siblings when they made me mad. We are supposed to learn these things as children in order to function effectively as adults. Feelings are a result of how we think about things: our circumstances, our relationships, our lives, our pasts, our futures, etc. We can change our feelings by changing our thoughts.
As a young adult, I heard Zig Ziglar speak for the very first time, and I learned about “stinking thinking”-thoughts that destroy motivation, sabotage achievement and creativity, and, most of all, destroy “personal power.” His message resonated with me. I have experienced its validity.
Stinking thinking, better described as destructive thinking, has been on my mind lately because of my experience traveling the last ten years. I have walked through the slums of Mumbai, experienced the jungles of the Amazon and southeast Asia, and rubbed shoulders with the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea and other islands of the South Pacific. I have met people from cultures different from mine, from all over the world, poor and rich, educated and illiterate, wise and foolish, intelligent and slow. I often marvel at how many of the people I meet have found ways to flourish, survive and find happiness in circumstances you and I might find harsh and inhospitable. I wonder how they can laugh, have fun and enjoy living in what I would consider a dirty and difficult environment. Am I spoiled by my circumstances and affluence?
My experiences in the Amazon jungle and the ghettos of Mumbai confirm we can be happy in any circumstance if our thinking is empowering instead of “stinking,” that all humans have the capacity to flourish and find happiness in circumstances that others may find depressing or self-defeating, conditions that may motivate many of us to quit trying and give up.
According to the wisdom of some of our greatest thinkers, our circumstances should have limited effect on our thinking. “The ideal man (one with personal power) bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances” (Aristotle). “Your circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start” (Nido Qubein). “You are not a product of your circumstances. You are a product of how you think and make choices” (Stephen R. Covey). “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them” (George Bernard Shaw). “Circumstances don’t make the man; they only reveal him to himself” (Epictetus). The truth is, stress does not come from your circumstances. Stress comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.
At times, we all face circumstances that are difficult, stressful and depressing. That’s life. We may want to give up or quit, especially when the circumstances cannot be changed or are uncontrollable. In order to thrive, we must move past undesirable circumstances. Sometimes we are true victims of living; at other times, we accept the role of the victim. The sympathy we may receive from others can be addictive, but it is not empowering. Choosing to react to life as a victim is personally sabotaging and self-defeating. We must accept, change or just move past bad circumstances.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR THINKING
To alleviate our suffering or get us out of a funk, we must do something, take some action that makes us take a step forward. To do that we must first change our focus and distract our minds from our suffering by identifying what can be done about it. Feeling happy or sad has little to do with our circumstances but everything to do with where our minds are centered and to what we are paying attention. When we feel joyful or happy, our minds are focused on things that create those feelings.
Whenever you are feeling sad, in a funk or out of sorts, pay attention to what you are thinking. Odds are your mind is ruminating on something negative about your life, a failure, an unmet expectation, what’s not working or what’s wrong. The probability is that you are blaming others, shaming yourself and justifying why you deserve your fate-typical victim thoughts. You can’t change your feelings unless you change your thinking.
Once you become aware of your “stinking thoughts,” replace them with empowering ones. My experience is that the simplest way to do that is to shift your mind from the negative to the positive. What parts of your circumstances are good? What’s working? In what ways are you fortunate or blessed? Though your circumstances appear bad, could there be new opportunities? This kind of thinking is empowering because it creates feelings of gratitude and motivates you to find solutions. Choosing to search for the positives in your life will trump most anything else you do to enhance happiness and inner peace. I can guarantee from personal experience that gratitude crushes stinking thinking.
I cannot end this column without mentioning three pervasive and destructive attitudes that are generated from stinking thinking.
• Entitlement: When I think of the word entitlement, I think of the “ugly American.” In my travels, I have seen them. They seem to believe they are entitled to special treatment and privileges because they are American. Do you treat people with patience, kindness and respect? If you want optimal results with others, that is the best way to do it.
I am afraid of affluence, ease and privilege because they generate entitlement. Entitlement is a delusion built on self-centeredness and laziness. Gratitude and entitlement can’t exist in the same brain. Beware, it is quick transition from a nourishing sense of gratitude to a destructive sense of entitlement.
One of the most important lessons to teach children is “Life is not fair.” It never has been and won’t ever be. When children fall into that entitlement trap, they feel and will act like victims. Giving them limited expectations is more effective. Children who live in anticipation of something rather than in a sense of entitlement are more connected to reality. It is those who live their lives with a sense of entitlement who struggle with inner peace and happiness.
• Envy: You can’t be happy and at peace if you have pain, and “envy is pain at the good fortune of others” (Aristotle). Envy is a feeling of discontentedness or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities or luck. The pain is not aroused by what others have but by how you think about what they have. It’s destructive because “envy blinds men and makes it impossible for them to think clearly” (Malcolm X). “He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind” (Buddha).
Envy is created by comparing oneself. “Where there is no comparison, no envy” (Francis Bacon). Making a comparison is a thought process. Once we are aware of our thinking, we can change our thoughts. Envy is insidious and makes us feel that life is unfair. To give us peace, we again need to count our blessings. But if you really want peace, celebrate others who succeed and be happy for their prosperity. It’s not always easy, but it is empowering and liberating.
• Resentment: Though it doesn’t have actual physical weight, resentment feels very heavy and can burden you for years. It’s the strong and painful bitterness or ill will you feel when someone does something wrong to you. It also can come from misperceived actions and misunderstandings. Again, it is not actually the wrong that caused the feelings, it’s how your mind perceived and thought about it. What if your perceptions were incorrect?
When you resent somebody, you become under his or her control. The more anger is connected to it, the more your mind is ruminating on it. This is a form of mental, emotional and spiritual bondage. Ultimately, the person holding the resentment is the one who suffers most because it reinforces the feelings of victimhood. “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” (Nelson Mandela).
Resentment is one of the most damaging attitudes of thought, because holding a grudge and harboring anger or resentment is poison to the soul. Forgiveness is one way to get rid of resentment. Forgiveness lifts such a great burden and is so liberating. Another is to question your thoughts and perceptions. Could you be wrong about the intentions behind the offending action?
Our natural tendency is to look for someone or something to blame. That’s the stinking thinking of a victim. People power is the refusal to think like a victim; to take control and do whatever is necessary to move forward, thrive and flourish. It all starts by being aware of what your brain is thinking and changing that if you have to.
Take control; refuse to let other people dictate how you comport yourself. Count your blessings. You will be amazed how it makes you feel and affects your thinking and personal power.
Copyright 2023 Floor Focus