It Happened to My Grandfather…
“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare: “Hamlet” Act 2, Scene 2
The idea that we create our own reality is not a new one. Philosophers were discussing, arguing about and dissecting this concept long before Plato first put forward his theory of reality — of universal forms.
Very Short Philosophy Lesson
A universal is an abstract term which ranges over particular things, such as the concepts large, tree, and green. We can sense objects which exhibit these universals. Plato referred to universals as forms and believed that the forms were the true reality.¹
In other words, we see an object (large, tree, green). We recognize it to be a tree and we say it is beautiful. But according to Plato, the abstract concept of beauty exists outside the form (tree, large, green) and may or may not be used to describe this and other forms.
Aristotle added to the debate by rejecting Plato’s theory of forms. Instead, he argued that forms are intrinsic to the objects and cannot exist apart from them. So forms must be studied in relation to objects.²
Does your head hurt yet? Mine does.
So, long story short, you have one Ancient Greek guy saying, “This is ‘reality’ — this is how we understand it and talk about it.”
And you have another equally smart and driven Ancient Greek guy saying, “Wait a minute — there’s a flaw in your reasoning. This is how we should define what reality is, and these are the terms we should use to talk about it.”
And this is important, why? Because all of us are constantly and often unconsciously revising our reality.
Change your mind about what you believe to be true or what you believe you can do, and you can achieve anything.
Isn’t that what all those self-help and productivity gurus teach? Change your thoughts, change your habits, change your life?
You acquire new information — for example, you learn how to drive — suddenly the thing that was holding you back, not being able to drive, is no longer a barrier. You can go where and when you want. Well, except maybe for wheedling the keys away from your parents or putting gas in the car.
You’ve just changed from being dependent on others for certain things to being independent. Your horizons are broader.
So, the way you look at the world, your reality, has changed.
Or, you’re trapped in a bad relationship. You know you need to leave the relationship. Your emotional health and psychological well-being are in peril, perhaps even your physical self. You’ve been taught this is just how it is and you are powerless to change it. You feel you have no way out.
Then suddenly, something happens inside you. Maybe your survival instinct takes over. Maybe it’s finally more terrifying to stay than to leave.
But whatever caused the shift, you’ve changed your core belief about the relationship or about yourself. And you do leave because, at long last, you believe you can. And when you’re ready to examine your life again, you’ll feel how it and you have changed.
Because you believed you could, you made your life take a new direction.
However, there’s a flag on the play, a caveat, a downside to this good news that we can change our lives by believing we can. Actually, there are a couple.
First, it does no good simply to change a long-held belief if you’re not willing to act on the new belief.
Your new belief is not a fixed state, solid like bedrock. If you want lasting change, you have to nurture your new belief, the same way you maintained the old one, where everything you did before upheld and reinforced your former belief.
If you want to create a more productive start to your day, you’ll adapt your morning routine. You change up the way you start your day. Find new ways to maximize your ability to get going — a smoother, better, faster start. Doesn’t this sound like a commercial for some time-saving, scheduling app?
And you’ll want to refine the changes to create a positive feedback loop. One that will reinforce the new behaviour.
You get a high from your new routine. Maybe you feel better physically. The changes make you more productive. You feel better about yourself. So, you’re more likely to continue the new behaviours.
The second caveat is two-fold, two prongs of the same toasting fork, or two horns on the same bull. Take your pick. Either one can poke you in the ass if you’re not paying attention.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you couldn’t make/maintain any lasting change because you didn’t believe hard enough. Or, because your belief was not pure enough, strong enough, or long enough, the universe did not deliver the winning lottery ticket or allow you to grab the brass ring.
There is some validity to this. If you don’t or can’t maintain the behaviours which promote and maintain your change — if you can’t stick to that damned morning routine, no matter how hard you try — you won’t be able to make a lasting change.
There’s a simple solution for that issue — adapt the morning routine to something you can maintain — right? It’s a no brainer, yes?
And yes, nothing attracts more negativity than a negative outlook. But pinning your hope for a new life on the quality of your belief is begging for trouble.
Accepting you didn’t achieve lasting change because you couldn’t stick to your new program is one thing. It’s beneficial to realize you didn’t achieve lasting change because your belief wasn’t strong enough to allow you to commit fully to the change.
But the idea the universe will reward you with untold riches because of your belief in your ability to think only positive, wealth-attracting thoughts is just setting yourself up for failure.
You have to actually do something. Not just sit on a lily pad and think. And blaming your lack of wealth on the notion your belief faltered, is a cop-out. You have to do something to make all the thinking come to fruition.
The second prong of the toasting fork — Oh, sorry. Did you pick the bull’s horns? — okay, the second horn of the dilemma, is our old friend, the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Anything negative we believe strongly and fully will eventually come to pass.
It’s no great mystery. No incredible miracle of the universe at work here. It’s your own doing. You’ve set up such a strong idea in your subconscious, it will do anything to make it happen for you.³
Even if it’s detrimental, or downright dangerous to your well-being.
The message has been so strongly sent and received by your internal matrix, that, even though you may consciously want to go in a different direction, it will take some very hard work to dig out those over-riding beliefs lurking in your subconscious.
Beliefs you aren’t even aware of. Beliefs governing your behaviour, from all the negative messages you’ve soaked up.
The bad relationship you escaped? It taught you things about yourself. Lessons you absorbed along with whatever abuse was being handed out. Lessons which became core values about yourself. “You’re worthless. You’re not worthy of love. You deserve to be ignored or treated badly.”
And unless you’ve done some of the heavy lifting on this already, your next relationship will contain issues similar to the ones you fought so hard to escape. Because your core beliefs haven’t yet changed yet or changed enough.
You still believe, deep down inside, at least in part, that you aren’t worthy of love, and you still deserve to be treated badly.
And until you do the work and change those core beliefs, you’ll continue to attract the same kinds of problems. You will only attract someone who’s as healthy as you are — your subconscious will make your beliefs happen for you.
It’s a funny thing, self-fulfilling prophecy. I wasn’t a believer in it until I saw it actually come to pass in my own family.
My grandfather told us a story about how, after a particularly brutal action during his time as a dispatch rider in the war, he and his buddies went looking to sample the diversions of a near-by and newly liberated town.
We weren’t old much about some of the diversions, and anyway, Grannie was listening to make sure the tale stayed family-rated.
But, Grampa told us how they visited a fortune teller, the village sooth-sayer, who lived behind the tavern. She told Grampa and his buddies they would survive the war and return home, except for one young friend whose fortune she refused to read.
Curious, Grampa returned the next evening and the woman told him his friend would die soon, in battle. But Grampa was forbidden to tell his friend. The woman went on to predict the dates of passing of Grampa and the rest of his squad.
And then she told Grampa he would live to be eighty-eight.
Turned out, the woman was a good fortune-teller because the young man died a little while later, at Vimy Ridge. And Grampa’s other friends also eventually died pretty much on their scheduled departure times, according to the soothsayer‘s reckoning.
I was worried about Grampa’s belief in this foreknowledge of his death, but he laughed and brushed it off. But it bothered me enough I checked in with Grannie about it a few times.
She, too, brushed off my concern, but I’m sure she did so just to make me feel better. I think they both believed. A prophecy delivered at such a time in their lives must have had a profound effect on both of them.
And sure enough, a few months after Grampa celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday, Grannie called with the sad news of his passing from a sudden, massive heart attack.
Do I believe the fortune-teller had a direct pipeline to God’s ear or her finger on the pulse of the universe? Not really. But it’s interesting to play with the idea we could know such things.
As Shakespeare wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 5)
So who knows what we may one day learn about what makes us tick?
But I do believe in the power of our subconscious to arrange our actions and our lives in ways which fit what we believe — what we really believe. Those unconscious truths which underlie what we say, and what we think — the deep-seated beliefs which govern what we actually do.
And for now, random as our life events may seem sometimes, I believe the idea which kicked off all this thinking and philosophizing:
“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare: “Hamlet” Act 2, Scene 2
Rest in peace, Grampa…
¹ Constance C. Meinwald. Encyclopedia Britannica. “Plato: Life, Philosophy and Works.”
² Steven Kreis ed. The History Guide. (2000) Lectures on Ancient and Medieval European History. “Greek Thought: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle”
³ Lauren Aaronson. Psychology Today. (2005). “Self-fulfilling Prophecies: Expectations of stereotypes will come to pass if people believe in them.”