There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Henry Ford:

“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

In my former life (or profession), I used to do sales and run outside sales teams running all over the San Francisco Bay Area talking to executives in companies and trying to find the best solutions with the products we had. It was an exciting time and one where I was often searching for phrases would make sense to my team to motivate them in the right direction.

When I came upon this one by Henry Ford I thought it was powerful. I saw a tremendous amount of negativity and self judgment among the employees in these companies with many of them believing they could not succeed. I saw how this sapped their energy, motivation, and ability to go the extra mile to make the sale.

Applying a mindful lens to this phrase, we can begin to see how we identify with our thoughts and how that then forms our actions, which then lead to consequences often confirming our beliefs.

In other words, if you don’t believe or identify with the thought that y cannot do something, you’re really not going to have the motivation to do it and you will likely not accomplish it.

On a deeper level, we’re talking about our attachment or identification with our thoughts in our mind, mistaking them as who we actually are. We might say “I am a person who never succeeds at being assertive.” Or maybe we think “I simply cannot tolerate this feeling of sadness,” or “I’m just an angry person, I’ll never change” or “I am a person who will always be alone.” There are plenty of thoughts to choose from.

When we begin to practice becoming more present in our daily lives, we start to see the impermanence of these thoughts. One moment we might be thinking that we could never call up the girl or guy we just met, while after receiving a compliment and being in a better mood, we actually believe we can.” In which moment were we right? As Henry says, the answer is both, whatever we believe, that is the case.

However, it’s important to really understand that our thoughts do not define us. They are not facts.

They are these sparks of electrical-chemical firings that move in directions based on our experiences and practices in life. So if we practice the thought, “I can’t do something,” that inevitable ends up being the case.

Think about if Barack Obama practiced the thought that he could never be President of the United States. He surely never would have been.

Next time you have a thought telling you that you cannot do something that is in the interest of your health and well-being, apply a mindful lens:

See if you can dis-identify from it for a moment, noticing it as just a thought in the mind, maybe an old story or record playing. Try not to judge it as a good or bad thought, but get curious about it and figure out where that condemning thought came from. Maybe you were told by your parents that you can’t do something, or maybe you have been oppressed in the culture in some way sending you that same message. It may be that you don’t want to do whatever it is based on fear, anger, or maybe lack of interest. But, the case may not be that you actually cannot do it.

Try applying this mindful lens to these thoughts in the workplace and home and see what happens.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.