Be Careful What You Think©

You may already be thinking that I’m off course. You may be thinking that, rather than worrying about what you think, you should be more careful about what you do. After all, aren’t your actions more important than your thoughts? I would say yes, BUT … I’ve learned the hard way (in myself and with others) that your thoughts will almost always drive your actions. And these types of thought-driven actions are often unconscious and therefore difficult to change – unless you purposefully change your thinking.

I was recently reminded of this concept – being careful about what you think – when I received an email from a woman I’d never met (we’ll call her Mary). As many of you know, for the past five years I’ve been sending out a monthly list of job openings that I’ve become aware of. It’s not part of my business – it just sort of happened five years ago, and I’ve continued to share the list because people continue to share job openings with me. I consider it a small way to pay it forward for the community.

When I first began sending out the jobs list, I only sent it to people that I knew were looking for a job. I soon realized that everyone knew someone that was looking for a job, so I started sending it out to everyone I knew. Even if they didn’t know someone that was looking, someone they knew was looking for a job or someone they knew also knew someone that was looking for a job.

You get the point. Because of this, the list always asked the recipient to Pass It On (the list that is) on the premise that you never know who is looking for a job or who knows someone that is looking. As a result, I’ve heard amazing stories over the last five years of people that were 4 or 5 steps removed from me finding jobs on the list. In other words, people kept passing the jobs list along and someone far distant from me found something that they were looking for. The power of paying it forward is amazing.

Last week, I received this email from Mary:

“Jeff. I got a job. Thank you for sending me these notices. But I will no longer need them.”

Okay, please tell me that you see the problem with this email in regards to thinking. Mary mistakenly believes that the jobs list is only for people that are looking for a job, and apparently she has missed the point about sharing the list with others. More important, there’s a not-so-subtle message in Mary’s note: I got my job, and I don’t care about anyone else that is looking for a job. I’d love to tell you that Mary’s email (and her request to be removed from the list because she got a job) is the first, but it’s not. I get an email like this every couple of weeks.

My initial internal response is usually the same: “Are you kidding me?” It would be easy to only take away the message that Mary and others are simply self-focused, but the bigger message is the subject of this blog. Mary thinks that the jobs list is only valuable to and for her, yet her actions based upon that thinking send a big message (and not a favorable one). I’m confident that Mary is totally unaware of her thinking or the impact that her thinking (put into action) has on other people’s perceptions of her. For example, would you want to hire Mary to work for your business? Personally, I would not. Mary is concerned only about Mary and may not be willing to help others succeed.

I know what you’re thinking – how can I make this conclusion about Mary from a single email? You’re right (in part) because it may not be fair to assess Mary on one quick email. However, this is precisely how the world often works. What you think becomes what you do, and everyone around you forms conclusions (aka judgments) about you based upon those actions. In fact, the conclusions of others are actually based upon your thinking since your thinking is the driver for your actions.

Most people seek to change their actions, and some succeed, but many (or most) fail. The problem usually is not a lack of commitment to the change (although this can be part of the issue) but the failure to approach the change from the inside out – with your thinking. Albert Einstein famously opined:

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Albert nails it – if you wish to change things in your business, your relationships or your life, you must change your thinking. To do that, you first must be aware of your thinking and the ways that it is driving your actions and your outcomes.

Too often, I see and hear people talking about or working on making dramatic changes in their thinking, but change in this area usually happens in small steps and with small shifts, starting with being aware of your thinking and thoughts. One of the first quotes that ever really resonated with me came from Henry Ford: “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” When I first heard it on a cassette tape (yes, that was a few years ago) I had to play it back 5 or 6 times to “get it.” Once I got it, it stuck. Not only do I need to be aware of whether I think I can or cannot accomplish something, but on an even more basic level I must be aware of what I think.

We could easily limit the takeaway from Mary’s email to the reminder not to be selfish, but that would miss the bigger lesson. Your thoughts drive your actions and those actions (driven by your thinking) will be the basis for how you are perceived and what you create (or do not create). Make no mistake – I am NOT suggesting that you need to worry about what others think of you (that’s a whole other topic), but I am suggesting that others will most definitely make conclusions about you. It’s up to you to decide if they are making those conclusions based upon what you have consciously thought (and therefore done) or based upon your unconscious thoughts (and unconscious actions). Thus, you should always be very careful about what you think because it WILL define who you are!


  1. Raine Austen says:

    Thank you, Jeff. Your words are, as always, inspiring. Lately I’ve been studying with a group of friends about the value of what comes of what we think. It’s more of a biblical study called “Think About What You Think About.” It combines scripture with selfless thinking, just as you are referring to. Paying it forward is a reward – not to us, but to those who need us to do such a simple thing as forwarding the list of job postings. I feel bad Mary doesn’t realize that paying it forward can put others in a new career. This is a difficult time and a difficult town to find work where so many need help. Unfortunately, someone out there is going to work with and/or for Mary. Her selfless thinking can possibly cause the adverse reaction – of costing someone else their job. Do you think she will realize what she’s done? Something to ponder.

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