This is something I heard in a lecture recently.
Thought drives action.
Action forms habit.
Habit creates character.
Character becomes destiny.
~ Swami Dhanurdhara
So the notion “Change your thoughts, change your destiny” is actually correct, because thought becomes action, action becomes habit, habit becomes character, and character determines destiny. The key here is the process in between thought and destiny: action, habit, and character.
Thoughts are the basic building blocks. Thoughts are always there – it’s as inseparable from the functioning living brain as heartbeats is inseparable from of a living heart. Can we control thoughts? Yes – it is actually one of the few things that we are in control. How to control it? This takes training and practice.
Untrained mind go all over the place and the resulting thoughts are very random. One of the mind’s main function is survival, and thus the untrained mind will go to the default survival mode, where it operates based on external stimuli, and react accordingly to the stimuli. Good stimuli – come closer. Bad stimuli – avoid. Example: apple pie (good) – come closer and eat it. Snake (bad) – avoid (fight or flight). This basic process is key to survival, and our ancestors who could come up with timely appropriate reaction were the ones who survived. This opportunistic and paranoid tendencies were present again in their offsprings (us) – and the ones who weren’t opportunistic nor paranoid didn’t survive. So we all inherited this attributes. The untrained mind, operating on survival mode, works wonderfully when we were living out there in the wilderness where scarcity of food or becoming food to other animals were live or dead situation. In this modern world, this untrained mind doesn’t work so well.
Thoughts produced by the untrained mind revolves around pseudo-survival situation… and usually it’s in the form of worrying about the future, or evaluating and thinking about the past. Instead of being fully in the present moment, the untrained mind was busy with “What ifs” scenario and keep producing thoughts that are a few steps a head of the current situation.
Can we change how the mind works? Yes. How? We can train it, and we can make sure the mind only take in good stuff.
Just like the body can be trained by exercise, the mind can also be trained. One of the most effective way I know to train the mind is meditation. In meditation, the mind is trained to focus on one thing. The mind is like a projector – and thoughts are frame by frame pictures projected. Meditation is keeping the projected pictures stays the same. It is not about eliminating the picture – as long as the projector is on, there will be pictures; but we train it to project the same pictures again and again.
The projected picture itself is affected by what the mind consumes. If we let bad things come into the ears (eg gossip, negativity) – then the projected pictures could be affected by it. If we selectively only put positive things in, then the projected pictures tend to be more positive as well. So if we want good thoughts, surround ourself with good things. Good music, good books, good people, good art etc.
These two things – training the mind and making sure mind only consume good stuff, is absolutely within our control. We can’t control what happen outside, but we can control our mind, and thus we can control our action towards what happen outside.