You Can’t Think Yourself into New Ways of Living

There is a wonderful quote by Richard Rohr about the way we have to approach changes to our thinking and living:

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”


You Can't Think Yourself into New Ways of Living

I like to read books. I mainly read non-fiction authors that offer profound insights into living and looking at the world. I love to read stuff that stirs within me a potential for changing my habits and behaviours. Books about creativity, motivation, and becoming a better person.

Trying to Think Change into Being

But with this love for these books and blogs comes a sticky side effect. I attempt, as Richard Rohr says, to think myself into new ways of living. And this often leads to no change whatsoever. I read and I think. I know what I want to be and do. But then I read something else, and then something else. And reading ABOUT how I want to live my life becomes a more important task than actually living it.


Mental Picture vs Reality

Have you ever noticed how things are very different when they happen to you than when you hear someone telling the story of when it happened to THEM? You build a picture of things that you are yet to experience, and your mind likes to make it feel slightly unattainable, like it would be impossible to deal with if it ever happened to you.

“You’ve Got to Meet Dave”

People like to paint a picture in the gap between someone yet to meet a person/experience a situation, and the person/experience itself. This often builds up an image that can be impossibly far from reality.

‘Oh yeah, Dave. He’s so funny, you’ve just got to meet him. Don’t worry if he says something about your hair, it’s just what he’s like. He’s harmless really. You’ll love him. He’s a scream! There was this one time when…’

And stories will be told about why he’s funny, mental, but ultimately harmless.

Your expectations about meeting this guy make your head slightly explosive. What is this going to be like? You prepare yourself for this magical onslaught. He’s going to be like no one you’ve ever seen before…Then you meet him… he’s fairly quiet, pretty polite, and nothing ridiculous or extraordinary happens.

When All of History Comes to a Head

A picture is built over time.

Experiences don’t happen all at once, and the funny stories that occur are rarely anything more than spontaneous events that make sense within their context.

When a picture is painted of someone it can be the events from many years of growing up, even stories of stories that get blown out of proportion and exaggerated. And they all come to a head in an expectation that is created in the head of someone who is yet to meet this unsuspecting person.

Film Reviews

I love Mark and Simon’s film review show on BBC 5 Live. It’s my favourite bit of radio programming each week. I have found that film reviews have a similar effect in the way they can create a mental picture/expectation far from what you experience when you actually see the film. When Mark Kermode focusses on certain aspects, scenes, or themes of a film and analyses or criticises them, my expectations around the impact of those small things are increased massively.

He might draw out a moment or a line in a film, which creates in my head a completely different expectation of the film than what is delivered within the context of the entire two hours.

You can’t truly analyse something of which you don’t have the full picture. And you can’t truly comprehend something you haven’t done or seen, or someone you haven’t met. In this respect we can’t talk about a film without having watched it though many people have tried.

Life Can’t Be Lived Hypothetically

Life can’t be lived by thinking about living it. Life can’t be lived by reading about living it. Life can’t be lived by knowing the best way to live but never doing them. Anyone can be an expert of something they’ve never tried.

When we act, experience, and live the world around us, our thinking is changed. When our thinking is changed our living in turn is changed. These two things thrive in conjunction with learning, and the acceptance that we can never fully comprehend the world or our place in it. The moment that our thinking becomes stagnant is the moment we lose our life because we have already stopped living in a way that is open to new possibilities and the only certainty that we can be sure of; that we can never be certain.

    1. Good question, Luke. i can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I shall ponder it today and have a search around. Is there a specific aspect that you would like to read deeper into?

  1. Oh I love this post! I found it when searching for that Richard Rohr quote (although I didn’t know it was Richard Rohr- now that I do, I like it even better). I am using it as part of my summary of a recent internship as a kindergarten teacher. I have spent eight years at uni leading up to this point. I have read all the literature and theories, I know child psychology and sociology and have strong values and beliefs about the need for change in education and the best way forward…but I stepped into that classroom and acted like every other average early years educator around. I talked incessantly for years about the importance of following children’s interests and helping children find their spark and using the environment in magical ways to be a “third teacher”. I knew it all, but living it…that doesn’t come so easily. After 8 long weeks in this centre I still don’t feel like I really am living what I believe, but I hope that the longer I spend practicing living these ideals, the more naturally they will come. Thanks for sharing your insights here, was very timely 🙂

    1. Hello Hannah! Thanks for stopping by, I’m so glad you stumbled upon the post. That sounds like quite the experience. I can imagine that is the perfect example of how theory can only lead you so far in knowing how to cope. I think you’re totally right; it’s great to know what we believe and what we hope for down the line, but sometimes there are seasons in life where we just have to step into the shoes of being a novice, go through it and feel our way through – then as we become confident and get to know ourselves and the system better we can apply those beliefs and ideals in real ways. It sounds like you have some GREAT ideas for early years education – keep doing it, hang in there, persevere! The world needs you 🙂

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