How often do you hear yourself thinking this?

Or does this kind of thought feel a bit out of place in your mind? Like it sort of doesn’t belong there. Doesn’t sit comfortably.

(Maybe you’re more used to being visited by its darker twin: “you can’t”…)

Either way, if Henry Ford (1863-1947) was right,

“Whether you think that you can,

or that you can’t,

you are usually right.”

What if that’s true? What if it really matters what you think? What if your mind’s not just some private, secret palace where your inner critic can run rampant, but a kind of place that helps sets the very tone of your life? The possibilities. The dreams. Maybe even the realities.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) thinks so. But it’s not alone. For the idea that maybe our thoughts influence our lives isn’t new (or just some new-age notion). In fact, it dates back hundreds of years, across many cultures.

So how can you draw upon all of these centuries of thought to enhance the life you’re living now? Lets wander back through time a bit and find out.

Starting with the most recent ideas, lets look at cognitive behaviour therapy a bit closer. CBT is based on the notion that,
“…our thoughts and beliefs…largely determine the way we feel,” as Dr Sarah Edelman puts it.

CBT sees these three qualities (your thoughts – your beliefs – your feelings) as being inextricably linked. That each influences the others. And that, ultimately, how you feel about the world impacts the quality of your very life (and the kinds of things you’re inspired to do – or avoid – in it).

Dr Edelman again: “Our thoughts are like an inner voice, reflecting our perceptions of what is happening in our world”

(And notice the word ‘perceptions’ there… for our thoughts might not reflect what’s actually out there. They may only reflect our beliefs about the world).

CBT wants to help us overcome our less helpful perceptions or so-called “negative beliefs” by first actually noticing them, then really seeing them, and finally questioning how real they are.

For though our thoughts and beliefs might seem very real – especially if they’ve been rehearsed over many decades in our mind – they might not capture the whole truth of a situation. We might have become biased towards seeing the ‘negative’ or painful or daunting things more easily in our lives. (And so we might have been learning how to live smaller; safer).

So that’s CBT in a nutshell – giving you a spotlight to shine on your thoughts and beliefs. To illuminate your life and how you live it. And it’s been shining that light since the 1960s and ‘70s.

But that light itself has shone much longer… And it doesn’t just belong to the domain of psychology. It seems to belong to all of us.

Going back a little further in time, the writer Anais Nin (1903-1977) noted that:

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

A couple of centuries earlier, the poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) sounded like a true CBT therapist when he advised:

“Make not your thoughts your prison.”

Travelling still further back, to Roman times now, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180) captured that link between thoughts, beliefs and feelings when he wrote:

“Your soul takes on the colour of your thoughts.”

And stretching back several more aeons, Buddha (who is said to have lived around 563-483 BC) said:

“We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts, we make the world.”

So what kind of world are you making?

What sort of thoughts do you tend to invite in?
The prison of “you can’t”?
Or the key of “you can”?

What ‘colour’ are your thoughts?
(And, so, what colour might your soul be?)

How long is it since you shone that light of inquiry – that collective wisdom of the ages – on your thought processes? How long since you’ve questioned them? Queried their actual validity? Really tested them out?

And what might it be like to try?…

For perhaps – if CBT and all our other ‘mind-mentors’ through the ages are right – by questioning your thoughts, you can shift your perceptions of the world.

Perhaps you can even shift your perception of yourself.

Perhaps you can hold beliefs that support and nourish you.

Perhaps “YOU CAN”…


(Do you know any other quotes that reflect this stuff? Please feel free to share them here, so we can all draw inspiration from them).


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (This photo captures part of another poetic billboard in Sydney)
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.