Our thoughts shape us. They affect how we interact with the world and other people.
It’s reasonable to conclude, then, that if we consciously alter our internal world, we can interact with the external world in a more considerate way.
Here are 11 thoughts that everyone could benefit from contemplating on a regular basis.
1. I wonder what experiences shaped this person’s perspective.
We often come across people whose perspectives and opinions differ greatly from our own.
This can cause a tremendous amount of tension because we often can’t conceive of someone thinking differently about a subject than we do—especially if it’s a topic we feel strongly about due to personal ethics or firsthand experience.
In situations like these, it’s a good idea to pause and consider that the person you’re interacting with may have had experiences that differ greatly from your own.
It’s possible that they haven’t gone through the same trials and tribulations that you have, and thus are incapable of perceiving things as you do.
Their story may be so different from your own that only by inquiring about them could you ever understand why their views are so opposite to yours.
People believe and behave the way they do for a reason, and learning those reasons goes a long way toward greater understanding.
2. The world doesn’t revolve around my wants or needs.
Children can’t help but make their needs and wants the priority in their little lives because they don’t understand that people are separate, sovereign individuals.
As we mature, we learn to recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around us.
Although we may want things to happen a certain way, that doesn’t mean the people around us are players on our personal stage, ready to mobilize to get our needs and wants met.
If you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed because events don’t unfold the way you want them to, pull back and observe the entire picture.
You may have wanted to meet up with that person on that night, but what did they want to do? What’s going on in their life?
Have you asked how you can be supportive of them and their needs? Or have you been so focused on yourself that you’ve forgotten that they’re an individual who may have a lot of their own stuff going on?
It’s easy to forget about someone else’s autonomy when you’re focused on getting your needs met, but this can cause a lot of harm if it becomes a habit.
3. Am I projecting my assumptions onto someone else’s actions?
A lot of people make assumptions about what another person is thinking or feeling, and they project those assumptions onto their actions.
For example, someone who often acts out of jealousy may assume that others act in the same way for the same reasons.
Alternatively, a person who has been abused may be triggered by someone who displays similar behavior to their abuser but whose actions are entirely benevolent. They may feel sure they know what this other person is thinking or what kind of person they are, even if the reality is very different.
It’s always important to establish someone’s intentions before reacting because their intent may be completely different from what you’re assuming.
For example, if you’re feeling jealous or insecure, you may assume someone else’s actions stem from jealousy as well. That’s the only frame of reference you have to draw from at the moment, but that doesn’t mean jealousy is their motivating factor at all.
You can’t ever put yourself in anyone else’s head, so you can’t know what they think or feel unless you ask them.
4. Do I know all the details of the situation I’m judging?
If you’ve ever leapt to a judgment in a situation, you’re not alone. Many of us make snap judgments in various situations, especially when we’ve been in similar circumstances before.
There’s a feeling of “this isn’t my first rodeo,” followed by either firm condemnation or absolution.
When this happens, ask yourself whether you have all the details to be able to judge accordingly, or if you’re making a judgment based on personal experience and assumption.
If this were a court case, would the evidence before you be “beyond reasonable doubt”? Or is it all hearsay, gossip, and supposition?
Aim to have as much reliable information as possible so that you can determine the truth of the situation before you even consider making a judgment call about it.
5. The difficulties I have been through were also vital learning experiences.
Hopefully, the difficulties most of us have endured have also taught us some invaluable lessons.
Those situations were terrible at the time, but we got through them and learned what was and wasn’t effective in dealing with them, even if we ended up with some scars along the way.
Now that we’ve recovered (or are recovering) from these trials and have some distance from them, we can see them as the teachers they were—opportunities for us to learn things (often the hard way) that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
At this point, we can decide what it is we want to do with this knowledge.
For instance, we can take the opportunity to use these lessons to do some good in the world, rather than dwelling upon them or telling our sob stories to anyone within earshot.
Do you want to be that depressing person at the bar who tells everyone about how crap it was to barely survive a forest fire? Or the inspiring person who draws upon personal experience to run survival programs and teach others how to survive those forest fires if they need to?
6. This challenge may lead to an opportunity I have not yet considered.
Drawing upon the previous example, it may not occur to someone to be thankful for squatting in a canyon while flames leap above them because that experience may give them great opportunities in the future, if they survive.
That said, some of the most challenging situations you experience may be the keys you need to open doors of opportunity.
Let’s say you’re upset after being laid off from your job. While sending out resumes, you put time and effort into a side hobby, and start selling the items you create.
It turns out that people really like what you’re making, and the next thing you know, you’re self-employed, doing what you love, and making more money than you did at the job you lost.
This may seem outlandish, but it happens more often than you realize.
Additionally, countless people have ended up doing remarkable things or meeting amazing friends and partners specifically due to challenging circumstances or setbacks they endured.
7. Who might I have become without the difficulties I’ve experienced?
Recently, my partner and I were discussing what we were like in our youth versus how we have evolved as adults after experiencing some rather intense hardships.
Although we’ve both been through traumatic events and difficult living circumstances, we both concluded that we’re much more patient and compassionate people than we would have been had we not experienced those hardships.
When you look back at the difficulties you’ve been through, consider how they changed your perspectives on various situations.
People who have never known hunger or thirst often can’t have real empathy for those experiencing these issues. It’s only through firsthand experience with hardship that we can truly understand.
As such, we can try to develop an appreciation for our own trials instead of resentment, and we can use the lessons to grow as individuals.
“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.”
8. With practice, I can improve my skills in this area.
It’s easy to feel frustrated and defeated if you’re not immediately amazing at a pursuit.
When you really want to do something well but have no prior experience, you’re going to be rubbish at it to begin with.
Are you familiar with the artist Lucas van Leyden? He was a gifted 16th-century painter and engraver whose early works were absolutely terrifying. If he hadn’t kept trying after painting his atrocious Virgin and Child (with her monstrous left arm and a baby who looked like he just took on a second mortgage), he wouldn’t have gone on to create some of the most beautiful pieces in Dutch Renaissance art.
Whatever it is you’re interested in doing, know that although your first attempts will be frustrating and less-than-ideal, you will improve with time and practice.
The key is to remain disciplined and dedicated in your pursuit, and you’ll notice marked improvement before you know it.
Practice that language, instrument, or art technique as often as you can, and watch both your skills and your self-confidence soar!
9. I am greater than my body.
Just about everyone who has ever lived has had some dissatisfaction with their physical form.
This may be due to other people’s criticisms of it, or their own unhappiness with various traits or aspects.
Some of these may be changeable with enough time, effort, and money, but others may be impossible to alter.
Regardless of whether you can change aspects of your body or not, it’s important to remember that you are not your physical shell: this is merely a vehicle you’re operating temporarily while you’re spending some time on this weird blue planet.
You are not your height, your weight, your physical disability, or your chronic health issues.
Traits associated with the body don’t define you: you’re the spirit that dwells within it, and that spirit is perfect and beautiful.
You don’t need a fit, sexually desirable, or healthy body to be a kind person, nor do you need to be supermodel-gorgeous to create art, or help those in need, or enjoy the sensation of rain on your skin on a sweltering day.
Use your body to experience the world, and do some good while you’re here, but don’t let it limit or define you.
10. I am doing the best I can with what I have to work with.
If you struggle with the idea that you haven’t been doing enough, that what you’re outputting isn’t “good enough,” or that you should be capable of doing things that you aren’t quite ready for yet, try to remember that you’re doing the best you can right now.
Try not to compare your own endeavors with those of others, as they may have resources that you don’t. Similarly, try not to hold yourself to someone else’s standards.
Everyone has their own level of capabilities in a wide range of different skills.
Your co-worker may be amazing at things you struggle with, and vice versa. They might envy your time management or social skills while you wish you had their aptitude for math or programming.
If you’re putting sincere effort into what you’re doing, then that is absolutely “enough.”
You are enough.
11. How could I be of service to others today?
No matter what we’re going through, we all have the capacity to do a bit of good in the world around us.
Every day that you draw breath is an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
Those who are of great means can perhaps do more good than those who struggle physically or financially, but as long as you’re still alive, you can do something in service to another.
Consider what your skillsets are and how much energy you have available, and go from there. Choose something that’s important to you and put some effort toward it.
Donate blood, do some volunteer work, buy some groceries and personal care items to give to your local food bank, or write letters on behalf of people in need of amnesty.
Even if you feel utterly depleted and have little to no money or energy, sharing a few crumbs from your lunch with the sparrows in a park nearby will make an enormous difference in their little lives, and they matter too.