“I think, therefore I am,” is one well-known quote from Rene Descartes, a 17th-century French philosopher. This famous phrase is from the Discourse on Method, and Descartes wrote it following a self-inquiry into his own existence. After much thought, he realized that he was the one doing the doubting, so therefore, he could decide to no longer doubt.
The Discourse on Method is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise. In a text that often accompanies it, Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes states:
I have convinced myself that there is nothing in the world—no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Doesn’t it follow that I don’t exist? No, surely I must exist if it’s me who is convinced of something. But there is a deceiver, supremely powerful and cunning whose aim is to see that I am always deceived. But surely I exist, if I am deceived. Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something. Thus having fully weighed every consideration, I must finally conclude that the statement ‘I am, I exist’ must be true whenever I state it or mentally consider it.
His line, “Let him deceive me all he can, he will never make it the case that I am nothing while I think that I am something,” pinpoints the power we have over our thoughts. Yes, we are what we think we are, but also, we can change what we think we can change.
How to transform negative and fear-based thoughts
As a Transformational Thought Coach, I’ve developed a method for transforming negative and fear-based thoughts. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the practice of us actively deciding what thoughts we think. If we have no use for a particular thought because it serves no purpose for our well-being, we can change it. Taking Descartes’ quote one step further, my interpretation is, “I think, therefore I’m the thinker—and can change my thoughts.”
Isn’t it better to think that we’re something, rather than give in and accept that we’re nothing, whether we tell ourselves that or someone else tells us so? I don’t know who “him” is in the line, “Let him deceive me all he can,” but whether the deceiver is another person or ourselves, we can take what’s said (or what we tell ourselves) and change it.
Perhaps Descartes was the one deceiving himself through his self-talk, and if that was the case, how wonderful it is that he could change his self-doubt and turn it around to say, “I am, I exist.”
I call this process Release and Replace, which is my technique for letting go of a negative, fear-based or limiting thought. Instead, we have the ability to replace any of these thoughts with positive ones.
Maybe we don’t have such existential thoughts as Descartes did, but we certainly tell ourselves things that cause us to doubt who or what we are and question our overall worth. These come from our inner critic. We all have one, but if we don’t question and challenge the negative thoughts that come from that source, each of us will accept these thoughts readily and succumb to the worst deceiver of all: our own mind.
Healthy minds: Reining in the “monkey mind”
Succumbing to this “monkey mind” can happen often. But if we question the thoughts we tell ourselves to uncover whether they’re actually true or not—and replace them if they’re not—we can change them and instead choose thoughts that best suit who we really are and who we aspire to be.
If we don’t take control of our own minds, the “deceiver” that Descartes speaks of, who is “supremely powerful and cunning,” will be able to succeed in its deception and leave us questioning our own existence as Descartes did.
We must question the thoughts that we tell ourselves, or we’ll not only be deceiving ourselves, we’ll also be left questioning our own worth. Do we have control over that? Absolutely!
Yes, we are what we think, but each of us is also the creator and master of our inner dialogue, which creates our reality. We’re not only what we think, but what we think becomes our very existence. Isn’t that what Descartes discovered in his own epiphany?