Leaders, if you’re looking to lead powerful, positive change in yourself or your organization, it can be hard to know where to start. John Maxwell says that everything begins with a thought, which is why leaders need to examine their thinking. What you think determines what you do and who you are.
In this episode, John Maxwell teaches how changing your thinking can change your life. After John’s lesson, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow discuss how they implement John’s principles into their own life, and they also offer you some real-world application.
Our BONUS resource for this episode is the “Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life Worksheet,” which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.
Mark Cole: Hey, podcast listeners, podcast viewers. Welcome, you are leaders. Welcome to the Maxwell Leadership Podcast, the podcast that adds value to leaders who multiply value to others. My name is Mark Cole. I'm the CEO of Maxwell Leadership, and today we have a challenge for you. We're asking you to take a hard look at the way you think, because the way you think determines what you do and who you are.
In just a moment, John Maxwell will teach on how changing your thinking can change your life. After John's lesson, I will be joined by my co-host, Traci Morrow. We will discuss how we, you and I, us, we can implement John's principles into our life. We'll also offer you some real world application to your business, to your leadership. Every week we provide a bonus resource, which is really a fill in the blank PDF that accompanies John's lesson. You would like to download your copy, just go to maxwellpodcast.com/think and click the bonus resource button. Now here is John Maxwell.
John Maxwell: When you change your thinking, you change your beliefs. That's an absolute fact. When you change your thinking, you change your beliefs. You see, beliefs are nothing more than a byproduct of what you have thought long enough about that you have bought you into. Always remember that. So what you believe is something that has been previously continual thoughts that formed themselves to one day became a believer, it became a conviction.
The book, Thinking for a Change, I open the book with the five thoughts that are in your notes right here, because I believe these five thoughts, absolutely with all of my heart. The first thought is this one, everything begins with a thought. It's where it all starts. The thought is the originator of anything that happens to us. That's why Emerson said, "Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day." The second thought about thinking is this one, what we think determines who we are, and who we are, determines what we do. That's a fact. That's why John Locke said, "The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts." The process is very simple. Thinking, becoming, doing. That's always the process, thinking, becoming, doing.
Third thought that I want to talk to you about in thinking or share with you this day is this, our thoughts determine our destiny, and our destiny determines our legacy. That's why James Allen would say, "You are today where your thoughts have brought you, and you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you." Your thoughts are like a taxi. You get in and it takes you to where you want to go. Number four, people who go to the top think differently than others. William Arthur Ward said, "Nothing limits achievement like small thinking. Nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking." And there are basically two kinds of people in the world, those who think in limitations or in smallness, and those who think in creativity and unleash great thoughts within themselves.
When I was going to write the book, Thinking for a Change, I sat down with a Time Warner people, as you always do, when you get the eye idea or the concept, and you sit around a table and you bounce it around for a while. Usually, I'll give them three to five pages, a form of how the book is going to be conceived in the concept, the thesis, that whole process. Basically, all we're doing at that time is forming it and kind of getting started the best way we can by getting other people's ideas. When I wanted to write the book in the initial of time, I didn't think of the title, Thinking for a Change. In fact, that was one of the Time Warner people came up with.
I wanted to call a book Thinking Your Way to the Top, because what I have done is I've identified that there are certain types of thinking that people that go to the top think so differently than people who never get to the top. And by the way, that's why we want, we want to get to the top. This isn't part of the lesson, I want to stop here for a moment and just say, you really want to get to the top. You really want to get to the top because I can tell you right now, it's not crowded up there. It really is and it's a wonderful place to be. You got room to stretch, you can run a little bit. You can buy a ranch at the top.
At the bottom, it's really crowded. I'm telling you it is [inaudible 00:05:43] to [inaudible 00:05:43] at the bottom. Everybody's at the bottom. I mean, the mass, but the higher you go, it just gets less crowded. You get on top, and there's just a lot of room. People that go to the top, they think differently. Because your thinking is the seed of what you're going to become and what you're going to do. All I'm saying here is all change begins with thinking. If you change your thinking, you'll change your beliefs. If you don't change your thinking, you won't change your beliefs. So I want to believe something differently, it starts there. Now, one more thought about thinking, and that is we can change the way we think.
Paul said it better than anybody. What did he say? He said, "Whatsoever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or good report. If there's any virtue, if there's anything praiseworthy," he said, "think on these things." Now, that verse is a great verse to me, because what basically it says, you can think on what you want to think on. If you want to think on things are pure, lovely, wonderful, virtue, of good report. He said you can think on those things. He said, basically, you choose what you think upon. The first book I ever wrote, I wrote back in 1979. And I called the book, Think on These Things. It came right out of this verse, because I truly believe that if you think on the right things, you'll be successful. You think on the wrong things, you won't be successful.
You can go to the success or the unsuccessfulness of a person, you can literally trace it back to how they think. Let me give you an example in your notes, the number one challenge to make personal changes. Do you know what the number one challenge to make personal changes? First of all, let me stop here for a moment. How many of you are in favor of making good personal changes in your life, huh? Sure. That's unanimous. How many of you are in favor of making a lot of personal changes in the people's lives that you lead? Yeah, that's really good. Yeah, let me give you a whole list on that one. Okay. We're really into that. You talk about passion now, we're passionate about that one. Okay.
You know what the number one challenge to make personal changes is? Are you ready? Feelings, how you feel. If you do not make personal changes in your life, can I tell you right now, it is because you have some feeling that dominates you. Maybe it's a feeling of insecurity. I mean, I can give you 27 types of feelings, but feelings is what keeps us from making personal changes in our life. So let me talk to you about that. Let me give you a major premise, let me give you a minor premise, let me give you a conclusion. The major premise is this, I can control my thoughts. That's a fact. Anybody that's ever studied thinking basically will tell you, "Yes, you can control your thoughts." Now, if that's true, the minor premise is that my feelings come from my thoughts.
Feelings, again, are birthed out of what you think. So the conclusion is I can control my feelings by controlling my thoughts. Because few people control their thinking, they fail to control their lives. Gordon McDonald is a wonderful writer, I've read about everything he's written. He has something called mental flabbiness, and there's a paragraph in there. Let me just give it to you. "In our pressurized society, people who are out of shape mentally." I love that phrase, don't you? They're out of shape mentally. We talk about, "Man, look at him. He's out of shape physically. Oh, look at that body. They're out of shape physically." You know what I run to? I run people out of shape mentally all the time.
They're just stay out of shape mentally. Now McDonald says, "People who are out of shape mentally, usually fall victim to ideas and systems that are destructive to the human spirit and to human relationships. They are victimized because they have not taught themselves how to think, or have they set themselves to the lifelong pursuit of the growth of the mind. Not having the facility of a strong mind, they grow dependent upon the thoughts and opinions of others. Rather than deal with ideas and issues, they reduce them to lives full of rules, regulations, and program." Boy, that's a tremendous statement.
So I would encourage you to think the following, just giving you an outline in my book now, okay? You still have to buy it, you understand this? It's just an outline. Think big picture, this allows you to see beyond yourself. Think focused, this allows you to remove distractions. Thank creatively, this allows you to get out of your box of limitations. Think realistically, this allows you to have a foundation for change. Think strategically, this allows you to have a plan for change. That's what this lesson's all about. Think possibilities, this allows you to look for and receive the best, and think reflectively. This allows you to gain a true perspective of yourself. In your notes, although not all changed the same, there is one common element to change, and that is thinking. That is a great truth. That's not mine, it's out of a book called The Seven Levels of Change. The one common element to change is thinking.
Mark Cole: Hey, welcome back. I tell you, of all the lessons John does, there's so many of them where I feel the same way I feel today. He practices what he teaches. He is a practitioner. I have sat on planes, I been in probably more hotels, been in more cities around the world with John, in every kind of setting, every kind of environment, and I can tell you this. He believes in the power of sustained thinking. He believes that thinking has changed his life, and we believe thinking will change your life.
I'm so glad, Traci, that you're back. I'm reminded today coming out of John's lesson of Voltaire's quote. It says, "No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking." I love that statement. I don't know if it's the word assault, which is like, "I want to go after accomplishing something big." But I love that truly with thinking, we can make a difference, and with sustained thinking, we can change many of the things in our life. So Traci, welcome back. Glad you're on the podcast. What a great lesson, right?
Traci Morrow: This is a great lesson, and I think it is going to detangle a lot of people from negative thinking, patterns of thinking. I know it did for me. The first time I heard John talk about this, it was like, [inaudible 00:12:28]. If you can't see me, if you're just listening, I'm showing my head exploding. This was mind boggling because I thought there were either positive thinkers, and positive thoughts, and positive beliefs. And then there were negative thinkers, and negative thoughts, and negative beliefs.
I guess I just had to learn that I really could control what I thought about based on what I nurtured. When John talked about our thoughts really inform our beliefs. What we believe is what we spend time thinking about. So if we have spent time thinking something for a long time about ourselves, maybe we've come into agreement with something that someone told us when we were young, over, and over, and over again. And we are just in the habit of saying, "I'm this. I do this. This is how I am." And that we actually, we've come into agreement with that, so we believe it now.
We can actually go back and say, "Well, we are that way because that's how we thought about ourselves, and so now we believe it. But if we now think a different way, we can believe something else about ourselves and then we'll act differently." That really was my blowing for me because in my twenties, even in my thirties, and even now in my fifties, there are still things that I am assessing. What do I think about that that informs my belief? And so Mark, I'm curious about you. Kind of looking back at your twenties, and then honestly now in your fifties. A very, very young, young fifties.
Mark Cole: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.
Traci Morrow: You're welcome. So in your twenties, clearly, were you somebody who had to detangle from what you thought about yourself in your twenties that you had to change the way you thought about yourself to change your beliefs about yourself? And now in your fifties, even in this role now, are you still having to practice exercises of what you think about yourself in this new position, in this new, huge role that you are carrying now in Maxwell Leadership of carrying John's, his life work, into the next generation of leaders? It is so awesome, but it's also a huge responsibility. Are you still, 50-something year old you, having to work on your thoughts to inform a new belief about you?
Mark Cole: Yeah. The answer's absolutely. It's interesting, and I hope this part of our podcast will be helpful to many. I wish I knew a little bit more of the science behind the paradigms that we have and the impressions that we receive. When we're up to five, six, seven, eight, science tells us that most of our thinking, our personality is created in those formative years. And then the rest of our life, we spend building on those paradigms, or we spend trying to debunk them. It's probably yes and for both of those, that we really go back to... I know for me, I grew up in a very generous, very people servant environment. There are times that I need to be thinking about the future and leading, as John Maxwell talks about, and I go back to wanting to win a popularity contest rather than wanting to win a productivity contest.
Traci Morrow: Yeah.
Mark Cole: I go back to that people pleasing concept that I think was impressioned upon me early on. That's good and bad, it's neither one, to be honest with you, it's just it is what it is. To answer your question about leading in my twenties and leading in my fifties, yes, I am constantly trying to rework my thoughts for today's challenges. Isn't that true for us that are now leading past COVID? It was alarming, in late 2020, the number of CEOs and top executives that was leaving corporate communities around the world, specifically in America. I mean, I think I saw a stat one time that over 1700 of the Fortune 5,000 companies changed top senior leadership in the first six to 18 months of COVID. It's staggering, because it was causing us to have to rethink how we do business, how we motivate people.
Well, then there's others of us, many of you listening to the podcast now, to where you were leading before COVID, you led through COVID, you're leading after COVID. And I have to tell you, even today, just before coming into studio, I was having to rethink leadership post-pandemic, post-COVID, because we now are leading different. We now think different. The social interaction of people has been shaped by two years of a pandemic. So yes is your short answer, Traci, to say I am rethinking leadership. Between my twenties and fifties, I'm thinking differently. Between being the CEO, and now the owner/CEO, I'm thinking different.
By the way, I'm having to think different today than I did yesterday. I think this evolving of thinking is a reality, and I think we've got to evolve even faster than any of our predecessors had to evolve. Here is the biggest thing, Traci, that hit me. John's first point was everything begins with a thought. Everything begins with a thought. I wrote down all my notes as I'm listening to John teach, I hope all of you listening and watching the podcast do the same thing. I wrote down this question, "Do I spend consistent time, and do I spend enough time thinking?" If everything begins with a thought, everybody just stop what you're doing. If you're running on a treadmill, jump off real quick. If you're driving down the road, pull over real quick, because I got a question for you.
If everything begins with a thought, when's the last time you've had focus to think time in your schedule? We focus on health, I love it. We focus on relationship, I love it. We focus on the next meeting coming up, and thank you for preparing, we all appreciate it. But are you preparing your future? Are you preparing the envisioned and excitable future of yours by focused thought time? I'm going to tell you, as I asked myself that question while John was teaching, I was not really excited about some of my answer there, and determine after this podcast to do better about scheduling think time.
Traci Morrow: Hmm, hmm. I'm taking notes as you say that, because I'm thinking this is an action packed world.
Mark Cole: Yeah.
Traci Morrow: We even, in Maxwell Leadership, talk so much on this podcast about being action oriented. So many of us pause too long, and we wait too long to jump into the leadership game. But at the same time, that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that he gave, "Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day." There is a running narrative in all of our minds that is playing and that we are listening to without even really thinking about. Are we making thinking time a priority? And if we are, or aren't, are we thinking that's inactivity? Are we thinking... Are we just really taking the time to spend time thinking, because what we are thinking about determines his next line, "Who we are."
I just want to say to our listeners, if you are a parent, there is... Mark just said, and I wrote the note what he said, because it was powerful. He's said his thinking is constantly evolving, but there are some things that are timeless that don't evolve. There are very few things that don't evolve, principles and laws of leadership. But then a lot of the styles and the way that we operate in those principles and laws, those are moving all the time and how we apply them. But there are some things that don't change. But with social media, they're kind of playing with the laws. They play with the things that aren't supposed to kind of move in some spaces. And so as parents, it's really important that we don't keep so active in busy work that we don't forget to monitor who... Because our thinking determines what we believe, what our kids are listening to, because John said, "What we think determines who we are, and who we are determines what we do."
So if our kids are listening to all this crazy wild array of different people, it means who we listen to matters. Because if what we listen to determines what we think, and what we think determines who we are and what we believe, we need to be really careful about who our kids, and who we, are listening to. And so I just want to say hats off to you for those of you, so many of you, who say, "My kids, we listen to this podcast together on our way to school. We listen to this podcast while we're commuting home from work, and school, and daycare, and whatever that's... This is playing in the car. This is playing in our home." I love that because it's starting so young.
Mark Cole: Yeah. As you were talking there, I went to that point that John made, what we think determines who we are. I was recently with John traveling and I ask him, he had a big speaking day the next day. They had changed a last minute request on what they wanted to communicate and it needed to be fresh. And we had this full day planned where we were very busy, and I watched John be fully in the moment. He was just in the moment. I said, "John, if I had your load tomorrow, and if I had a new idea in front of new people that I had to communicate tomorrow, it would be constantly on my mind now. I don't know how to get my thinking under control to be present in the moment, and yet be aware that tomorrow is a moment that people are depending on me to be prepared."
And I said, "How do you do it?" And we talked for a few minutes about it, and it was wonderful. That night at dinner, as he does often, he come loaded with bear to my question, and spoke into me in a way... I won't take this podcast time to talk about that conversation, but I will, because it will go down in one of the top five conversations I've ever had with John. Both of us in tears. He saw deep into my heart that night, because I was real vulnerable with him saying, I, my thinking is still like it used to be that I have to perform tomorrow for these people, rather than taking in the moment of today and sharing from today what tomorrow looks like. I wanted to share from preparation rather than experience. And John said, "Do you not know that you will connect with people greater when you are in the moment of your experience more than you are in the moment of your preparation?"
And Traci, I sit there and I just went, "Man, I want to be synonymous with my thoughts." And then as soon as that word comes out of my mouth guys, I go, "Oh! No, I don't." I like some of the negative thinking that I have to get control of to then live my life. And yet John is saying whether you know it or not, Leadership podcast listeners. Whether you know it or not, viewers, you are the sum of your thoughts. Your thoughts are showing up in your behaviors, and most of us don't even know it. And then John began to communicate what he saw in me. And he said, "Mark, what I see in you very rarely comes out in what you see in yourself." And he said, "It's not because it's not true. It's because you are thinking incorrectly and that's what's coming out of your mouth rather than what is." Traci, it was brilliant. The need for us to get our thoughts in line with who we want to be, because whether we like it or not, we're going to be affected by our thinking.
Traci Morrow: And that shows... Boy, that really spoke to me too, because it shows that we are always that narrative that's talking inside. Sometimes it's negative, and we're having to fight against it. And so when John said getting lost in the experience, rather than in your preparation, the more preparation we do, spending time in our thoughts, and that preparation will show up when you're present in that experience. Whereas if you hadn't done the preparation, the experience might have been a little more tainted by because you hadn't processed through your natural thoughts that you don't want to live in. So I love that. I hope that comes up again, and that you can dive a little bit more deeper in. John always talks about layered learning. I hope that you can bring that up again and dive in a little bit more for us because I know for me, that's a great lesson.
Mark Cole: Let me do that at your invitation right now, because on point number four, John says, "People who go to the top think differently than others."
Traci Morrow: Right.
Mark Cole: Now, I know that my ascent to promotion in John Maxwell's organization... I know I was constantly going, "I can get that done. I can do that." I would look at the people around me and I would go, "I can do that. I feel like I can do that a little better." Not to be better than them, but I can learn from them, and produce better because I'm in a state of learning. That was this constant assessment that I would do about production, discipline, work ethic that on the journey to the summit, caused me to think more positively than being on the summit and either deserving it or staying on the summit.
Traci Morrow: Yes.
Mark Cole: So leaders here is the point. We absolutely need to think differently as we move through life. It goes back to Traci's first point. Do we need to be different in our thinkers? Do we think different as a 50 year old than a 20 year old? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Do I think differently today rather than I did two years ago? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But if the difference is an outlook, if you get to the top of your game and then start looking over your shoulder or behind your back in fear, when all you did in the ascent was look forward in positivity and absolute belief that you could do it, you've changed the perspective, and you're not a negative person, but you've become negative because your thinking has changed based on your position of success.
Traci Morrow: Yes.
Mark Cole: And what John is saying before he goes to the last point that we can change our thinking is this, people who get to the top, think differently than others. Here's what that means. Do you believe you can get to the top? I hope your answer is yes. We're put in a lot of podcasts. We're over 19 million downloads now. We're getting ready to get close to our 200th episode. I hope we have helped you believe you can get to the top.
Here's my other question. Do you believe when you get to the top, you'll see the next summit, or do you think that's the finish line? That's a thought. Do you think when you get to the top, now all everybody wants to do is to pull you down to the bottom? That's a way of thinking. It's incredibly important that we do adapt our thoughts, but it's just as important that we don't shape our attitude to be different just because we have arrived or we believe we can never arrive. That attitude with which our thoughts are formed on is so important, the leaders, and if we don't believe we'll ever get to the top, there's a 99% chance you'll never get to the top, because your thoughts shape who you are.
But if we get to the top and all of a sudden, we now change our attitude from a one of gratitude or hunger, and now one of entitlement and satisfaction, we've changed the whole foundation of our thought process. And we don't even understand that we've lost our effectiveness because our best days are behind us. And so Traci, I want to go back and I do want to wrap it up, although I don't want to wrap it up. I never want to wrap it up.
Traci Morrow: I know.
Mark Cole: I want to go back to this concept that we can change the way we think. First, I want to hear you just give a little thoughts on what you took away from John in that, because he taught a lot more after he made that point. And then maybe a way or two that you change your thinking, because I'm trying to learn right here. Because there's some areas in full candor, which I'll always try to do that with these podcasts, as full candor. I need to change my thinking in some areas. And so how do we do this? How do we do this change your thinking commitment John says?
Traci Morrow: Well, two things I'll say quickly. The first thing that he said really connected with me. If you are somebody who is an empathetic person and an emotional person that's dealing with your emotions and your thinking, he said the number one challenge to thinking is going to be your feelings.
Mark Cole: Yeah.
Traci Morrow: So if that really connected for you, then he... John is also an emotional person. I know Mark also has an emotional person that we're also trying to combat as we are trying to think our way through this. So John has given a tool that I think is so powerful. When you are dealing with this situation, he will say, you want to separate all the parts of you. And you do that by asking yourself, "What do I think? What do I feel? What do I know? And then what do I do?" Your brain kind of categorizes it all in a mush of you as what you know. So what you feel, you categorize as what you know. That's kind of sorting out all of those things into different categories, really does help you identify, "What do I think about this? What do I feel about this?"
So that's two different things. What do I know is true? And you find that what you know is really a lot less, because you feel a lot of more things than what you actually know in the situation. And then what should I do? Because he said, "Thoughts are a taxi." You get in, and they take where you want to go. And guess what, friends? If you are sitting in a taxi, and you are stewing and brewing and having bad thoughts and you are believing things that you don't really know, and you're identifying your feelings and your thoughts with beliefs as was what you know, but you know, "Oh my goodness. This is actually just a feeling, and I don't really know." Get out of that taxi, and hail yourself another taxi. Bring in a new thought and bring in a new belief. And so that's kind of what I have taken John's advice to really try to work through that so that I can put on healthy thinking.
Mark Cole: Well, and it's interesting that John said his first book, he said this in his teaching today, his first book that in 1989 was Think on These Things. You think about a life's work of 86 unique books, 119 derivatives of those 86 books. You think of 36 million hands have held a John Maxwell book, and you go, "Wow, all that started with the concept that you need to think differently to be successful." You need to think differently to make it about others. Think about that. Life's work began with this idea, think on these things. And so this podcast is absolutely incredible. You think about John's life work, all those books. We've really distilled it down to what we believe is every one of those books, rest on a foundation we call CLEAR. Communication, leadership, equipping, attitude, and relationship. CLEAR.
Soon, we're going to be releasing a clear product that is the foundation of everything Jon has done. It's going to be with you shortly. In fact, you can just go ahead and write this URL down. Not quite ready, but Maxwellleadership.com/clear is going to house a personal growth, a clear leadership journey, to help you better your leadership, and to clarify how you want to grow. Tracy and I get to be a part of that program and it will impact you significantly. What an incredible day that we've had, Traci. As always, thanks for joining me. Thanks for being on this journey with me. Thanks for helping me change my thinking, and you really have done that. John Maxwell, you have done that for us too.
Hey, I like to close our podcast because the community means so much to us. I always like to close with a comment or a question. Today, I'm pulling out a question from David. David says, "This podcast is so wonderful. God bless you." Thank you, David. We want God's blessing.
Traci Morrow: Yes, yes.
Mark Cole: He said, "I need this podcast in Spanish to share with my family and friends. How can I do this?" Well, David, I have an answer to this question. We have the Maxwell Leadership Podcast Español by Juan Vereecken. It's in Spanish. Juan's been on John Maxwell's team as long as I have been. He has led many organizations, and he is speaking on John Maxwell's foundation, his principles, with a podcast specifically for people that want to grow and people that want to lead in Español.
So Maxwell leadership Podcast in Español, you can find that on your favorite podcast player and enjoy Juan Vereecken perspective on leading better. Hey, for all of you, please leave us a comment. Give us your questions. We'll do our best in each podcast to honor you, our podcast community. Thanks for joining. Subscribe if you haven't. Pass it along to somebody, if you haven't done that. Give us a five star. Or a four star, a three star, a two star if that's where you are. But a five star, because that helps us get the word of Maxwell Leadership Podcast out better. Hey, thanks. See you next week. Until then, let's listen, let's learn, let's love, let's lead.