Many people mistakenly believe that what they think, imagine or feel is as important as what they do. The truth is that, as the old familiar saying goes, "actions speak louder than words." Deeds truly are more important than thoughts.
While we may empathize with other people, we can never really know another person's thoughts, motivations, imagination, or emotional experiences. All we have to go by when forming opinions or making judgments about other people is the track record of their behavior, what they do or don't do.
Likewise, you know your own inner thoughts, imaginings, feelings and motives, but the only information other people have to go on when forming opinions about you is your behavior. And unlike thoughts and most other mental events, what you choose to do, or decide against doing, is almost entirely within your voluntary control.
That is, a person really does not have much control over the emergence of thoughts, mental images, and other conscious phenomena - they often simply happen or even intrude into one's mind (an especially important matter when considering OCD). But action, movement, and behavior are almost always under voluntary control (unless, of course, one is suffering from certain seizure disorders or problems like Tourette's) so it's a good thing that they are what matter the most.
Thus, when taking a personal inventory, try not to overemphasize the importance of thoughts, feelings or motives at the expense of actions, deeds, or behaviors.
• Remember our actions define us as individuals; people can't read our minds but they can see what we do.
Still, many people needlessly "beat themselves up" emotionally because they believe their motives weren't pure or benevolent even though what they did was helpful or kind. But the truth is that even if you have uncharitable thoughts while doing charitable deeds, the deeds are nevertheless good!
Ultimately, what we do and don't do steers the course of our present lives and future experiences. What we do or don't do matters much more than what we think, feel, or imagine. To repeat:
• What you think matters less than what you do.
• What is important is how you act.
Remember that the thought is not equivalent to the act. Someone who thinks evil thoughts but only performs good deeds is still a good person. As I often discuss with my clients, especially those suffering from OCD: "It doesn't matter what you think all that counts is how you act. Above all else you must believe the thought is not the fact!"
Remember: Think well (or at least try to), act well (this is almost always doable), feel well, be well!
Copyright by: Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.