You are what you think

We each have a choice as to how we contribute to the thinking process of those around us, at home, at school, at play and at work. Ensuring that we contribute in a healthy and positive way, even as we ask for higher levels of performance, can only be good for each of us and those we impact.

You are what you think by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago I was attempting to recruit a salesperson to our fledgling team. I had known the individual (let’s call him Rob) for a number of years, and in all aspects of our work engagements he had been a stand-up guy. Rob loved to educate prospects about the benefits of a new technology approach to an old problem, and he was patient in the development of his sales opportunities. Given our stage of development in SMART Technologies at the time, Rob was a perfect fit for us.

Milestone birthday

I spent some time getting to know Rob on a personal level, because fit is doubly critical on a small team. I got to know a little about him and his family and could see the dedication that he had to his wife and teenaged son. At one of our dinners Rob mentioned that in the next week or so he was going to turn 50, something that had at one point seemed a long way off but now was right around the corner. Rob joked that he never thought that he would reach 50 because that seemed so old. We laughed about the thought and wrapped up our dinner with a commitment to speak very soon about the details of him joining our team.

I never did speak or meet with Rob again. On the morning of his 50th birthday he came down for breakfast, and his son joked with him about still being alive at 50. They enjoyed some good time together, and Rob went off to work. In the subway he developed some chest pains and slumped to the ground. Strangers called an ambulance, and he was taken to the hospital. To his wife’s great relief, Rob was sitting up drinking juice, seeming perfectly normal, when she arrived in emergency. They had a few words, and then Rob died right there in front of her eyes.

Mind over matter

When I heard this story of Rob’s death from his colleague, I was stunned. And then I wasn’t. When Rob had spoken about not believing that he would make it to 50, I was surprised about how certain he was of this. Imagine what had gone through his mind for many years, thoughts like “I won’t live to see my 50th birthday.” He was in great physical shape with no health issues or indicators, so I could only conclude that his thoughts about longevity influenced his early death.

This small story demonstrates what many of us know – the mind is a powerful thing. Not only does it learn and store information, it reasons, it feels, it makes choices, it senses. It is the very essence of our being as people.

If I think that I am stupid, I am. If I think that I can overcome a challenging problem, I most likely can. If I think of myself as being honest and having integrity, then I am and I do.

Mental image

The mental image that we have of ourselves suffers under the constant torture of bullies at school. Confident, happy children can quickly lose their self-esteem at the hands of tormenters with disastrous consequences. Think this is a local or North American issue? Think again. Tony Mullen captures the sad reality from a Japanese perspective in an article titled Bullies that he originally published when he was traveling in 2009 as U.S. National Teacher of the Year.

The mental image we have of ourselves suffers at the hands of unaware or cruel managers in the workplace. Unaware managers are the ones who just don’t give anything to their staff – no support, no encouragement, no real feedback – and they have no understanding that the lack of positive support or neglect is actually negative. Cruel managers take delight in being tough on their people for the sake of being tough. They criticize and take away energy and enthusiasm from their teams.

Rising to the challenge

Through the years I have heard the anecdotes about telling children and their parents that they (the children) are gifted when, in fact, they are not and the children rising to the gifted level. One research report, Treating Students as Gifted Yields Impressive Academic Results, Study Finds, indicated, “Its primary author calculates ‘on the safe side’ that 15–20 percent of students taught with techniques usually reserved for gifted classrooms are identified within three years by their districts as being academically and intellectually gifted.”

We each have a choice as to how we contribute to the thinking process of those around us, at home, at school, at play and at work. Ensuring that we contribute in a healthy and positive way, even as we ask for higher levels of performance, can only be good for each of us and those we impact.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.