Look all you like, but the key to the jail is never kept in the cell.
This one sentence fully explains why so few people find true happiness in their lives. They don’t understand that no one can think their way to a happier life. They never realize that their thoughts themselves, build the mental prisons they willingly inhabit.
The secret of life is not to change the outer world, the secret of life is to change our inner world. As we tear down the walls of our own thoughts, we’re free to leave our own mental prisons. Beyond those illusionary walls, lies the real world – and real happiness.
So where does one start? With a simple equation that explains everything in our lives.
First thoughts, then feelings, then actions, then consequences.
The ancestor of every consequence in your life can be traced back through this equation. You lost your job (consequence) because you told off the boss (action) because you were enraged (feeling) because he didn’t appreciate your work (thought).
The negative thought led to a negative feeling which led to a negative action which caused a negative consequence. Like the unavoidable consequence of poorly designed blueprints creating a poorly built structure, poorly designed thoughts are just as sure to create poorly designed consequences.
The farther one advances in this equation, the more difficult making a change becomes. Discover an error after the structure is built and you’re sawing up rafters and tearing down walls. But make the change at the beginning – in the blueprints themselves – and the correction is as easy as erasing a line.
Similarly, in our example of losing the job, had we recognized our error at the beginning – failing to erase our negative thoughts of the boss – we would’ve avoided the painful consequences of rebuilding our career.
First a thought. Then a feeling. Then an action. Then a consequence.
Where you mentally “live” in this equation determines the quality of your life.
Those who know nothing of this equation are easy to spot. They constantly battle the consequences they’ve heaped upon themselves, blaming others for the mess they’ve made of their lives. These folks inhabit our underworlds. Our prisons. Our mental institutions.
Then there are those who mentally stand between action and consequence. These are the people desperately trying to hold things together. They tongue-lash their spouse, then beg for a second chance. They strike their children one moment, hug them close the next. They’re walking kegs of dynamite unable to find the strength to stop the explosive action, yet somehow always able to find the strength to try weaseling out of the consequence.
Then there are those who mentally stand between their feelings and actions. They hate the job but endure it. They smile “yes, dear” to their spouse but secretly despise him. They feel miserable but keep it inside – taking no outer action to release it. These are the people who suddenly snap without warning. They’ll unexplainably commit suicide. Come down with a serious illness. Or abandon their family without notice.
Those most balanced mentally stand between their thoughts and feelings. They realize that any thought dwelled upon creates feelings to match. The instant a thought appears, they decide whether to embrace it, or let it pass by. These are the people who refuse to argue. Stand calm in the midst of a crisis. Let criticism roll off their back. These folks have discovered that how they feel is determined by how they process the information that comes their way. Because they have no desire to feel bad, they remain constantly aware of just what thoughts they decide to embrace.
Best of all are the enlightened few who inhabit the free mind. These souls have discovered that refusing to embrace any thoughts, leaves a vacuum that’s soon filled with peace and clarity. Safely detached, everything is easily seen as helpful or harmful far before it ever reaches them. From this lofty level, they are actually invulnerable to any mental hurt by the outside world, yet wonderfully free to accept all the pleasures it offers. Adversity has become an illusion they no longer embrace. Like a beam of sunlight in a thunderstorm, rainy weather just can’t make them wet.
Thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions which lead to consequences. Discovering this equation is the first step toward changing your life. Discovering life’s wonderful secrets begins as soon as you step outside the prison of your own thoughts.
Mike Johnson is an accomplished entrepreneur and writer who has sold two million words. Semi-retired, Mike lives on a mountain near Yellowstone National Park and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.