As a Man Thinketh

There is a familiar phrase in the scriptures that says ‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he’. (Proverbs 23:7) I am now wondering how literally to take this.

I am in the midst of taking a 12 week Dale Carnegie training course called ‘Effective Communication and Human Relations’. My company is sending me to this course to help develop some leadership skills. This course promises all kinds of things, and they are mainly based in self confidence. In the reading assignment after the first week, I came across an interesting suggestion. Mr. Carnegie suggests that if you need self confidence, and you don’t feel you have enough, act as if you have self confidence. He claims that this can be a very powerful way of gaining self confidence. I suppose that if you can convince yourself to act and behave in a certain way, and good results come from it, that this will reinforce the mindset and behavior.

I think I have seen this in some people. They think they are smart, they act smart, people perceive them as smart. Heck, they may as well be smart. And nobody knows their actual IQ. In many ways this will be every bit at good as being smart. And as long as your actual lack of intelligence is not so severe as to be obvious, you will pull it off.
I wonder if this can work for a testimony in the gospel, or some aspect of it. I have heard it said that if you want a testimony of a principle, then live it. So you act as if you have a testimony of something by being willing to change your behavior for a time. And if there are some favorable results, then this behavior and testimony are reinforced. This approach may work for things like the Word of Wisdom, Tithing, Sabbath observance, etc. Act as if you believe in these principles for a while, and you may eventually find that it is not an act.

Might we see this type of ‘act’ in the church at times in terms of perceived righteousness? I mean, someone could think of themselves as righteous, act righteous, speak of righteousness, and people might perceive them as being righteous. Heck, they may as well be righteous. And nobody really knows their actual level of righteousness (except God). And as long as your actual lack of righteousness is not to severe, you might pull it off.

This post might rub some people the wrong way. I am still trying to sort some of this out. Is the scriptural statement literally true? ‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he’.

8 Responses to “As a Man Thinketh”

  1. 1 John October 5, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Perhaps whether one actually has a testimony from the Holy Ghost or has only convinced himself that he has, doesn’t matter so long as the result is that one remains active and committed to the church. As long as one continues to act as if he has a testimony, who is to say that he does not?
    In the case of smart, however, it may be possible to tell, over time, that someone is only pretending. If that pretending person fails to come up with good ideas, year after year, then others may legitimately begin to question just how smart that person really is.

    Good story by the way.

  2. 2 Brother John October 5, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    I am living proof of what you suggest. I am not particularly righteous, nor have I ever been. And earlier in my life I completely lost all of my confidence that there was a God or that Jesus was the Christ. After joining the Church in 1963, I became so discouraged by my repeated failures to keep the long list of commandments required by Mormon teachings, that for several years I was an agnostic or even an atheist and lived a very worldly life with all that usually implies.

    But in 1968 after a five year string of personal disasters stemming from my worldly lifestyle, I decided to find out if there was a God and whether or not Joseph Smith was teaching the truth about the First Vision and the gold plates. I reasoned that if the priesthood claimed by the Church was really true, a person could put it to the test by living it to see if the promised blessings actually come forth as promised. And with very little faith that there was a God, or that the Mormon faith was the correct one, I set out to put it to the test. And from that day forth I pretended to believe the teachings, and I pretended to be righteous as one who keeps the commandments. It was my experiment to find out if the teachings and promises were true.

    And guess what? Today I really do keep the commandments or at least I keep them enormously better than I did when I embarked upon this adventure. I really am righteous, or at least I am not nearly as worldly and wicked as I was. And I really do have faith that there is a God and that Joseph Smith was everything he claimed to be. At least I have much greater faith of this than I did when I began. I am still a sinner in need of daily repentance, and I do not yet have a perfect knowledge of God, his Son, and the Plan of Salvation. But over the 38 years that I have been engaged in this experiment, I have grown enormously in that direction. I testify that every time I keep a commmandment or repent of a sin, God does immediately bless me in order to encourage me to continue doing these things. And I am actually becoming the person that I started out pretending to be.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson October 5, 2006 at 2:36 pm


    Thanks for your comments. I thought that the examples of intelligence and righteousness would be an interesting comparison. I sometimes wonder how objective we are, or can be, about such things.

    brother john:

    Thans for sharing your story. I have heard about this type of ‘coversion’ before. I do think there is a power in this type of approach. It seems that personal improvement can be made with just such an approach to many things.

  4. 4 Jacob October 5, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    C.S. Lewis famously suggested this approach in Mere Christianity. He said to act in the way a nice person would act and you will find that it makes you into a nice person, genuinely. So, it is an act at first, but it is not like being smart where acting like you are smart doesn’t generally make you smart.

    Not only have I found this advice useful, but I have also come to believe it explains a large portion of human behavior. People often act the way they do because they have an idea of what sort of chap they are, and the have an idea how that sort of chap behaves, so they behave that way. I call it my “sort of chap” theory of human behavior. You hear it all the time when people say things like “I am the sort of person who doesn’t ask questions”, or “I am the sort of person who won’t take no for an answer.” Once we come up with an idea of the kind of person we are, it is very self-reinforcing. If we want to change what kind of person we will be, we have to take control of the sort of chap we think we are, and it can make a huge difference. This is also the reason I constantly tell my young children what hard workers they are and how kind they are to other people. I am hoping it will lead to them thinking of themselves in those ways.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson October 6, 2006 at 8:30 am

    Wow Jacob:

    Great comments. I am beginning to believe there is something very powerful about this. Thanks you.

  6. 6 sean p. October 8, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    I believe that the key word here is in the “heart”. It is one thing to think with the mind. It is another thing entirely to think in the heart. The heart symbolizes one’s spirit. And in each of the examples posted by others there was exercising of at least a particle of faith. In these cases, no one suddenly and magically transformed into a different spiritual plane. But rather, they went through a process of conversion and spiritual change. The law of the harvest applies. There is no shortcut.

    When it comes to things such as knowledge, integrity, and most other Christ-like attributes, I believe that there simply can be no shortcut. These things can only come through paying the price and going through the requisite process.

    However, when it comes to our emotional states, I think that what we choose to think about can have an immediate and profound effect. Feelings such as confidence, peace of mind, patience and kindness can be directly and immediately controlled by our thoughts. Love of God is another. And in the end, I believe that we will be held accountable for the attitudes which we CHOOSE to create for ourselves.

    Granted, some feelings are harder to control than others, and the law of the harvest process may still be required for such things. Each person is different in what they can easily and genuinely manipulate within themselves, and what might take more of an effort. For me, feeling confident can come easily, but it still requires an active choice. Feeling patient takes a great deal more effort. Knowledge and intelligence is likely to take me a lifetime before I would ever dream of “acting” it.

  7. 7 Eric Nielson October 9, 2006 at 12:31 pm


    Thanks for checking in again.

    You give some good stuff here. There are certain things that can not be changed about us like a light switch. Some things perhaps can, but other things can not.

  8. 8 Jettboy November 4, 2006 at 10:17 am

    I think there is a huge difference between acting something out and doing something from the heart you want to do. I have met too many “actors” who aren’t really what they seem. It isn’t just about them acting for an audience, but lying to themselves. That is why I am not a big fan of self-help gurus.

    The gospel’s message, however, I think is different. We must change our hearts before we can change our selves. Faith and desire, rather than outward observance, leads to becoming someone we want to be. Brother john’s story is an example of what that difference can do. I would venture to say that the pretending was going on the first time and the real person happened the second try.

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