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Thoughts, Actions, Habits, and Character

For some reason on my my most memorable Sunday School lessons as a teen ager was when we can into the classroom and the teacher had written on the board something like:

  • _____ become _____
  • ______ create _____
  • ______ build ______

Then the words: Thoughts, Actions, Habits, and Character. Now as I try to recall this I realize I don’t remember the specifics that well, but I think that is the general idea. The teachers started talking about the lesson, but my attention was on the board. In a few seconds I blurted out Thoughts become Actions, Actions create Habits, and Habits build Character,” again assuming I remember correctly, but it was definately something similar to that. It was obvious by the teacher’s reaction I had jumped ahead, but for some reason that was a very memorable concept to me.

Years later I read As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. It mirrored the same concept. A great book and I highly recommend reading it.

Recently I was reading Matt’s Blog on WordPress (my favorite blog platform) and he has the following quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Watch your thoughts; They become words. Watch your words; They become deeds. Watch your deeds; They become habits. Watch your habits; They become character. Character is everything.

(Slight punctuation editing on my part.)

This reminded me of when I was listening to an interview with Joe Vitale recently the comment was made that if we become what we think about, then why are there not more porn stars in the world? I thought that was a pretty good question. We have all heard the statistics (which I suspect are greatly exagerated) in reguards to how often men think about sex. So if there are so many thoughts focusing on sex then why do we not see more people who’s character is defined by sex? There is a gap between thoughts and actions.

The explanation for the gap, I believe, is that not all thoughts become actions. The important point is no action comes about without first being a thought. If you want to change your actions, first change your thoughts.  By starting with thoughts the above quotes show how small things become great. It is important to realize that “thougts are things“.

Practice shows that some of each level don’t make it to the next level. Not all actions become thoughs, and even some of your habits are not influential in determing your character (although the gap gets smaller at each level).

Maybe a better quote might be:

Character is built from habits. Habits are built by actions. Actions are created from thoughts.

You can quote me on that.

There is no break down or fall-off in that chain. All character is determined by habits, actions and thougts. All habits are determined by actions and thoughts and all actions are determined by thoughts alone.
Before anyone points it out, there is a gap between a person’s actual character, and their precieved character, but they are two different things. Your character is personal, but your precieved character has to do with your relationship and the characters of all those who precieve you.

Even thought this chain does not break, you are still in control. You determine your character by choosing your thoughts.


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  3. RV

    The “Watch your thoughts..” quote is widely attributed to Frank Outlaw, not Emerson. When looking it up, it’s actually on a quote site directly under some Emerson quotes. Perhaps that is where the mix up occured. Anyone have any other ideas on verifying the author?

  4. me

    I disagree. If you think on something enough you will act upon them. I have ruined two lives with my thoughts of self hatred, which were put into action, habits then became a part of my (being)character. I am trying to repair the damage.

  5. Ella Minnow

    I do not completely disagree or agree. I am absolutely, 100 percent positive that many thoughts never see action. I know this to be a fact. I am also about 85 percent positive that my character is not a representation of all of my actions. I have made many mistakes but am not a failure because of them.

    There are actions that occur without any thought whatsoever. My breathing is done completely without thought most of the time. My heartbeat, can be controlled somewhat by action, but, my heart will beat or stop beating no matter how much I think about it. My eyes blink without any conscious thought. And there are many, many more actions that occur without thought.

    In my humble opinion, humans give themselves way too much credit.

  6. Ken

    I have been looking for this quote for ages and ages. I first heard it in training class I had at Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan in 1981 and have not heard it since. It obviously made an impression on me to still be looking for it periodically since.

  7. michael

    I disagree with M.E because “if you think too much on something you’ll never get it done”’s something that Bruce Lee said and i agree with him. But it could be different for everyone because not everyone has the heart

  8. laine

    The quote is in at least some form belonging to Epicurious way before Outlaw or Emerson. Its also been attributed to Ghandi in another form.

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