Loving action improves thinking, loving thoughts lead to better actions

It works both ways2-way-heart

I learned an important lesson a long time ago, in one of those church basements I’ve grown to know and love in my 12-step career. It was a critical piece of learning for me, because without it I was very stuck. Here it is:

Right action will lead you to right thinking a whole lot faster than right thinking will lead you to right action.

This was the exact teaching I needed to get my transformation started.

I didn’t know I could be a loving person. I didn’t know I had it in me to transcend that baggage I was carrying around: the grief, the regret, the disappointment…

But I got it that I could pretend. I could kinda trick myself into being a better person by doing better things. I glommed onto this “Acting as if” tool right away, and it may have saved my life.

It was not a requirement for me to believe in my own loving heart in order for me to write a gratitude list. It was not a requirement for me to know that I am a good person in order for me to do something for someone else.

And I did. When I began writing 15-item gratitude lists every single day, when I pulled things for which I could be grateful out of me, despite my negativity, a space opened up inside me, a softening around the crust of my heart.

When I began to do things for others, asked and unasked, I could actually feel new pathways being formed, pathways to and from a loving space.

Try this, it can (it will!) change your life.

  • For the rest of this month, write a gratitude list. Yes, the big one, with 15 gratitudes. Start each line with “I am grateful for…” and write 15.
  • Also, for the rest of this month, do something for someone else Every.Single.Day. When someone cuts you off on the freeway, blow them a kiss. Bring some food or blankets to the homeless if you have any nearby. Smile at the person ahead of you in the express lane at the market who has more than 15 items in her basket. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Tip more than usual at a restaurant.

I want to hear how this experiment goes for you. Let me know in the comments how it feels to open your heart through your actions!

But that’s not all. Remember, I said it goes both ways.

I used to be very absolutist about this, and say to my clients and friends and loved ones that “You can’t think your way out of this.”

I was wrong.

same-thinking-same-resultsEven though it took me a long long time to see and feel this in my own psyche, I have learned that you can choose to change your thinking, and by doing so, you can change everything.

It’s a basic tenet of spiritual neuroscience and it’s huge.

In any and every given moment, just the fact that you can be aware of your thoughts gives you the power to change them. I have learned this powerful lesson, that in any moment, I can stop, put my hand on my heart, drop out of my head, and ask “Is there room for love, even here?” It’s a game changer.

  • When the phone rings and my first thought is that the call is going to be difficult, or disappointing, or some kind of bad news, I can let the ringing continue — I can even let the call go to voicemail! — while I take a breath and call in love.
  • When a call is actually difficult, or disappointing, I can, in an internal whisper, ask that powerful question — Is there room for love, even here? — which immediately allows me to drop any idea of being adversarial and instead allows me to stand shoulder to shoulder with whomever I’m talking to and look at the problem with them.
  • When I’m face-to-face with someone who is out of balance, and being some kind of difficult, I can call in love, wrap myself in its safety, and breathe into the next moment from my heart.

Try it! Try that momentary pause, with your hand on your heart (or mentally if you’re in a face-to-face situation), and ask “Is there room for love, even here?” This allows for so much opening, I can’t wait to hear from you how it goes. Talk to me in the comments.

Some simple things you can do to make your access to changing your thoughts easier.

This change-your-thinking, change-everything may not come easily to you.

If you have baggage (and who doesn’t?) it probably won’t. But you can improve your odds!

I have seen that when wholesome, towards-joy, loving actions are a part of your daily life, the ability to change your thinking comes easier. Here’s a list of my favorite ways to build that muscle.

  • Meditate daily
  • Express gratitude
  • Be generous, do things for others without being asked
  • Sing your favorite songs
  • Dance
  • Have an orgasm
  • Get in touch with someone and tell her or him how much they mean to you

Do you have these actions and practices in your daily life? Do they help you achieve the loving balance you crave? What else is in your bag of tricks? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Join the conversation!

  1. Sue, your thoughts are always so amazing and so pertinent!! I love the way  you express things I already know but need to be reminded of constantly! Thank you for being you and giving the gift of yourself all of us who read your words of wisdom!

    • Joy, you read this article before I even finished it! Hope you caught it all, it’s a good one, I think.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      Love and magic,

  2. Sue, it’s a wonderful article.  I love hearing about other people’s practices and the success they experience as a result.

    I love the idea of doing something for someone else every day.  I do this for and with my daughter, but working from home, I don’t get the chance to do it physically all of the time.  I have started writing anonymous love and encouragement letters to random strangers and leaving them around town for people to find – it thrills me to think of people finding little snippets of gratitude for them in unexpected places.

    I’m going to give some thought to how I can do something virtually for someone every day.  The rest I tend to do as part of my usual practices.

    Thank you for the inspiration.  With SO much love to you xxx

    • Shan, glad you like the article. I agree, sharing our practices and success makes for such a rich and supportive community.

      Love the anonymous letters. I’m planning a series of love/flower bombs myself for this coming Friday — Valentine’s Day…

      So much love right back at’cha.


  3. Hi Sue! Beautiful post (and web site by the way)! There are several things I really love here…

    First: “Right action will lead to right thinking faster than right thinking will lead to right action”–I’ve never heard this concept put quite this way, but love it! It makes me step back a moment and really think that through.

    Also, I love your technique of placing your hand on your heart and asking: “Is there room for love even here?” This could have helped me a few hours ago! I will be trying this one 🙂

    And last, I love that you used the phrase “spiritual neuroscience”–something I’ve never heard before, but I really resonate with the idea.

    Thank you for such a beautiful, inspiring post!


    • Christina, welcome! So glad you liked the post and find the website lovely too. My website is a year old this week, young enough that I still love it, old enough that I’m thinking about its next redesign… It never ends, does it?

      If you’re interested in spiritual neuroscience, I recommend Rick Hanson’s “Buddha’s Brain” and James Baraz’s “Awakening Joy.” A great starting place.

      So much gratitude, thanks for commenting.

      Love and light,

    • Kimba, welcome here. Gratitude lists are life changing in such a beautiful way. May you find a million blessings…

      Love and magic,

  4. What a lovely way to start my day–with your post in my in box!

    1. I am grateful for a computer and the internet to see the Magnolias West blog post.

    2. I am grateful for rain and snow.

    3. I am grateful for coffee. 

    4. I am grateful for singing.

    5. I am grateful to be part of Turning Earth Singers.

    6. I am grateful to have the skills and resources to make Turning Earth Singers’ first CD.

    7. I am grateful to have the resources to host the Goddess-singer I am currently hosting. 

    8. I am grateful for my brother and his family.

    9. I am grateful for my sister. 

    10. I am grateful for my waffle-making husband. 

    11. I am grateful to be able to live in such a beautiful place as Oakland. 

    12. I am grateful for like-minded people to associate and share with.

    13. I am grateful for good health.

    14. I am grateful for enough and some to share.

    15. I am grateful for the song Maxina Ventura wrote for me about “Enough and Some to Share.” 

    My early training would tell me that a gratitude list is bragging, or inciting envy, or making myself a target, or tempting fate. All kinds of reasons NOT to do it.

    But, in practice, I’m finding that I like the way it feels. I’m happier when I look on the bright side.

    • Vicki, Hi, so nice to see you here.

      Good for you for resisting the thoughts that try to convince you that there’s something negative about gratitude lists. Those thoughts, and I have them and similar ones as well, are not thoughts in service of your highest good. Hooray for being grateful anyway, and for sharing your lovely list with us.

      Love and magic, sister,

  5. Sue, this is such a powerful post, thank you! I love your words, “Is there room for love, even here?” There is always room for love, if we decide to love. You and I are on the same wavelength this week, I wrote about how love is a decision! 🙂

    • Yes, definitely on the same wavelength this week. Just read and commented on your lovely post. Am sharing it as well.

      So glad for our connection!

      Love and light,

  6. What a lovely post – I love the idea of asking the question, “is there room for love”? Brilliant! – I will be trying this out when next faced with a potentially negative situation. Thank you x

    • Heather, welcome! Let me know how you go as you ask for love, even here, even now.

      So grateful for your comment.

      Love and magic,

  7. I love this! I tend to get caught up in the thinking part, but sometimes I have to “trick” myself into doing before the thought part actually happens. Yes, we can choose our thoughts, but sometimes it’s so freaking hard! Actions dislodge some of the thought stuckness.

    • McKella, hi, welcome!

      I love the way you put it, that action dislodges the thought stuckness. That’s how it works for me, for sure. Until you can see your way to different, more positive, thoughts, all you need to do is to keep choosing more positive actions. Makes the positive thought paths brighter and more noticeable, and by contrast, kind of dims the habitual negative thought patterns.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

      Love and blessings,

    • Kelly, I love this, thanks for the comment.

      I see a bunch of loving faces of people stopping to take that breath. What an awesome image!

      Love and light,

  8. Hi Sue, This was a perfect message for me to receive right now. I have some serious negativity issues at work right now, centered around shame because so many new people have been hired and after two years, a better opportunity hasn’t been offered to me. And, I know that it’s largely circumstantial and I also know that the negativity isn’t working. I’m going to bring your tool with me to work. When I feel myself going to that place, I will ask “Is there room for love, even here?” Thank you, Crystal

    • Crystal, I know how hard that can be! Sending you blessings, ease and more ease as you move through this challenge.

      Love and gratitude,

  9. Sue, this is so wonderful, as usual. I do both of these things already, and love discovering every day what it is I’m goign to do for someone. It always comes up as a revelation and I know it’s right to take action on it.

    I had an experience with the love idea over Christmas, which I spent with my family for the first time in about seven years. I’ve always had a fraught relationship with my mother, and at one point I found myself seething over something in the kitchen, ready to bite my tongue again. Suddenly I became aware of the music that was playing, and it was a song that was talking about Love. In that moment something huge shifted, and I felt immediately calm, and realigned with Love. I was able to approach the situation from a completely new place. I love your question, because it’s not practical to have love songs playing 24 hours a day…

    Big Love to you <3

    • Maybe by asking to be connected to Love we’re tuning into our own radio station playing songs of love on demand. Nice! I like it…

      Love and blessings,

  10. Great post, Sue. I think so many people get stuck in the mindset-building part. It is ESSENTIAL, but definitely not the end of the story. The greatest leaps of understanding that we make are in times of action.

    I often say that we cannot act if we do not intellectualize something first, so thinking is an essential step, but never the final one.


    • Vironika, I love how you put it, that thinking is an essential stop, but not the final step. Exactly.

      So grateful for your comment!


  11. WOW WOW WOW!! I loved this (all of it!) so much! 🙂 And I love the action of putting your hand on your heart when asking is there room for love (even if it is just a mental action), something definitely opens up with that. Such a beautifully written post, Sue. Thank you! Sending you much love today 🙂

  12. A wonderful post, as always Sue,you’ve inspired me to act, not just think my way to a better way of being, I take your challenge on board, to do something for someone daily, I’ll even write a post on it, I think.

    Love the act of shifting to love by stopping and asking that question, I wish I had read this post over the weekend as I felt extremely difficult to allow love in when I felt quite unloving I know, I felt like escaping so much, it’s all i thought of .. its highlighted I’ve a bit to go in the unconditional love area.

    Thank you, I’ll create a shift by buyer an act of kindness daily, much love x

    • Hi Caroline, welcome!

      I find it takes practice, more practice, and then practice again.

      Some days I forget I ever heard that question. Some days (more often than not, thank the Goddess!) I can turn away from the painful challenge and drop into my heart.

      Stop, drop, and remember love is how I see it sometimes.

      Let me know how it goes with the generosity practice. I find it to be a lovely game changer.

      So much appreciation for you!


  13. Sue, I love the question ‘is there room for love, even here?’
    its similar to the question I ask myself in those situations ‘How much can I love?’
    these types of self inquiry can really make a huge difference to our life

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