One virtue shared by the people I admire most is this: they are deeply thoughtful.
We emulate those we admire. We model our lives after theirs. They’re called role models for a reason, after all. My desire to emulate my role models has made me strive for thoughtfulness. I don’t always make it. Rarely, perhaps. But I’ve been working at it. I continue to work at it.
Thoughtfulness is a verb1. It’s something we do. We practice it. Or we don’t. It doesn’t come easily to me. I doubt it comes easily to most of us.
A realization that I’ve had lately is that when I place my thoughts – deliberately – on someone or something, I become more useful. I have better advice. My attitude improves. I am more willing to help. I am more able to help. When I don’t place my thoughts on that someone or that something, I am none of these things.
Our thoughts must be placed. Otherwise they’ll run free like a wild beast, pursuing its carnal desires. Many people think we are subject to our minds2. I don’t believe that for a second. There’s a you in there. There’s a me. I get to decide where my mind wanders, and where it doesn’t. I can place my thoughts. So can you.
Place your thoughts on others
This is the hardest thing to do. And the most rewarding. Our thought life is a zero-sum game. Every minute I spend thinking about someone else is a minute I can’t spend thinking about me. It’s hard not to think about me. Every time I turn around, there I am.
Thinking of others is a principal that weaves its way through the Scriptures. One of my favorites is Hebrews 10:24, which states:
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works
The end goal here is to provoke one another to (a) love and to (b) good works3, but notice the prerequisite to doing so: let us consider one another.
It starts with consideration. You can’t do the provoking until you’ve sufficiently considered the one who needs it. Much of the Christian life4 starts with placing your thoughts on others. Philippians 2:3 says:
… but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
There it is again: esteem other. That word means to reckon or to think of. We ought to place others before us, but we cannot do that unless we first think of them.5
Place your thoughts on your work
Let’s face it, many of us can get by at work without putting much thought into it. The bar is so low, the competition so weak that you aren’t going to lose your job for being merely thoughtless.
But is there any satisfaction in getting by? I’ve challenged myself6 to put a lot of thought into my work. I believe I owe it to my customers. My company’s tag line is “Thoughtful, custom software” for a reason. In all things, but especially in software, thoughtfulness makes all the difference in the world.
It’s also a struggle to sustain. If I really give my thoughts to my work all day, I’m exhausted by the end of it. My brain hurts. That’s how I know I’ve had a solid day’s work.
Place your thoughts on right now
Mankind has never been as bombarded with external stimuli than we are today. Emails, texts, tweets, likes, snapchats, reminders, television hosts, radio DJs, newsman, and salesman play a never-ending game of tug-o-war for our attention.
Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!
It is paramount that we push these distractions away. We have to be present. Now. Or else we miss everything that matters.
- How many times has one of my kids done something amazing that I missed because I was answering an email?
- Why do I require Rachel to repeat herself so often because I’m tweeting or finding out who caught that touchdown from Manning?
- How can I be so stupid to let a text message take my eye off the road?
I lose the battle over my mind too often. I yield myself to these external forces. I hate that about me. If we don’t purpose to place our thoughts on right now, then we aren’t truly living. We’re just reacting.
A Secret Weapon
So why is thoughtfulness a secret weapon? Let’s take the terms in reverse order.
Thoughtfulness is a weapon because it is an effective tool to help achieve your goals.
Thinking about others helps you build substantial, long-lasting relationships that pay dividends over a lifetime. You can be a real blessing to people, which earns the trust and admiration of those whom you care about.
Thinking about your work makes you more useful in the marketplace and yields more satisfaction from your efforts. It will likely result in higher pay and more challenging and interesting work, as well.
Thinking about right now increases your quality of life because you won’t miss out on the little things that make it so sweet. You won’t offend others by ignoring them. And you won’t get hit by a bus while you’re crossing the street and texting at the same time.
Thoughtfulness is a secret because so few people seem to know how powerful it is. This ought not be, and I hope that this helps you think about your thought life7 and how you can put it to work for you.
OK fine, grammar freaks. It is not a verb. It’s a noun. But you know what I’m getting at here! ↩
Do they think that, or does their brain make them think that? ↩
Gut check time: how much have you thought of others this week? This month? Let’s trump up a hypothetical friend and think about her. Call her Suzie. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about Suzie:
- Does Suzie have any big events/problems that I can help with?
- What’s a small thing I can do for Suzie that would just make her day?
- How would Suzie feel if I did _____?
- How can I help Suzie achieve a goal that she’s told me about?
- When was the last time I told Suzie how much she means to me?
No rocket science here. Just good ole’ thoughtfulness. Try it on for size, I think you’ll like how it looks on you. ↩
And I challenge you as well ↩