How to Change Reality

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass. Reality is but his looking-glass.
— James Allen, "As a Man Thinketh"

“Are you sitting down?”

It was our new regional salesman, Frank, talking to a customer on the phone.

“I’ve got pricing for you, and I just want to be sure you’re sitting down when I tell you.”

I was in Georgia to find out why Frank was struggling, and it was apparent. The quote was for a small commercial job, but Frank thought $10,000 was a lot of money.  It showed.

“Are you sitting down?”

He planted the idea that our bid was too high, and we lost the sale.

Frank also lost his job.

We and the people who drove to work next to us this morning all experience the same day. The same weather, traffic, scenery, political rancor.  Yet every one of us experiences a different reality. Optimism, depression, abundance, scarcity, enthusiasm, indifference – you get the idea.

How is it that people at the same place, at the same time, experience different realities?

Personal reality is determined by our thoughts and decisions, which dictate our attitudes and behaviors, which become our realities. Frank’s beliefs about money led to behaviors - which led to the reality of his unemployment.  

Our realities are the accumulated results of our decisions and actions up to now.  For those who prefer a different reality, it is not sufficient to “wish” or “hope” for change.  Changing reality requires changing the factors that affect our thinking, attitudes and behaviors.

The factors are:

  1. Purpose

  2. Skills

  3. Beliefs

  4. Self-talk

  5. Values

  6. Environment




Purpose is why we want to change our realities.  

We don’t change for the sake of change. Very few of us will put in the effort or subject ourselves to the unease of change without compelling reasons. My experience as a coach has shown people simply will not do it without a clear picture of the benefits.   

The benefits of change come in one of two forms.

Reduced pain or increased pleasure.

We will change when we have incentive to avoid discomfort, to move toward pleasure, or both. The benefits have to compensate for the effort.

To create a clear picture of the benefits, it’s not enough to say “Things will be better if....”

We need specifics, and we need them in writing.  If you don’t like your reality, why not?  What specifically is causing what pain? What specifically will bring what pleasure? Writing down the answers to these questions forces a clarity of purpose that thinking and speaking alone cannot.

The likelihood of meaningful change is in direct proportion to the power and clarity of our written purpose.



A skill is the ability to do a task well.

For example, a salesman who understands the customer’s perspective and focuses on benefits rather than cost, will live a different reality than a salesman who doesn’t. Selling is a skill that can be learned.

Skills affect more than ability. Skills affect confidence, earning power, and opportunity; all of which affect thinking, attitude and behavior. Acquiring new skills is the easiest factor to change because skills are defined and because someone knows how to teach them to us. We still have to do the work, but we don’t have to invent the process.



Beliefs are what we hold to be true based on the evidence we’ve gathered so far.  

Beliefs begin when we accept a circumstance, event or comment as true and representative without challenging our assumption. A boy who grows up in the rural south and hears everyday “it's too expensive” and “we can’t afford it” starts to believe money is precious, scarce and a source of pain. He begins, consciously or not, to accumulate evidence to support the belief.

This is what happened to Frank.  His beliefs about money led to comments like, “Are you sitting down?”, which led to lost sales which led to his unemployment which reinforced his belief that money is the cause of his troubles.

Beliefs are harder to change than skills because they most often reside in our subconscious.  We are not even aware of them. However, once identified, a belief can be undone by reversing the process through which it was formed. Once aware, we can look for and gather contrary evidence to challenge the old and reinforce a new belief.

A mentor or coach is invaluable for helping identify and challenge damaging beliefs.



Self-talk is a special form of belief.

Positive or negative, it is a reflection of what we believe about ourselves.

We all set our own limits. High or low, our limits may have originated in a past comment made by a teacher, coach or parent, or from a painful or inspiring experience.  Positive or negative, the encounters leave us confident or doubting, and we begin to accumulate evidence to support our self-perception. Others generally accept our assessment of ourselves, which further reinforces our beliefs.

Think you can, or think you can’t.
Either way you’ll be right.
— Henry Ford

My experience has shown that there are far more people burdened by doubt and negative self-talk than those buoyed by confidence and positive self-perception. That means a majority of us deselect ourselves from opportunities before we even try, which reinforces our negative beliefs.

The solution to negative self-talk is to just stop doing it. Catch yourself, challenge the negative and say something positive instead. Over time, positive self-talk will have an effect, even if at first we don't believe it.



Brian Tracy, the prolific business author, defines values as the principles we accept as right, good and worthwhile. Values are deeper than beliefs. They are internal and not easily changed.  As Tracy says in his book Self-Confidence: “Values define what we stand for and what we won’t stand for.” They are apparent in words people use to describe us, words such as honest, loving, humorous, ambitious, resourceful, stingy, self-centered, and competitive.

We violate our values at our own peril.

We’ve all done something we have regretted, something that made us feel deeply uncomfortable. Those feelings resulted from violating our values. We have also done things that leave us feeling fulfilled or accomplished or at peace.  Those feelings result from living within our values.

Although they are not easily changed, values are especially important to business owners because organizations work best when people share compatible values.

Extensive research* done by the Gallup organization concludes that “people don’t change much.” The research further tells us “don’t waste your time…” trying to change people’s values.  It won’t work. For business owners this means people with compatible values are gathered, not made.  

There is an old saying that owners “hire for skill and fire for attitude,” in other words, they fire for incompatible values. Sound familiar? To gather people with compatible values, we have to understand ourselves first, then intentionally pursue people with similar values.



Environment consists of the information we are exposed to and the people we associate with.

A self-evaluation will show that most of us earn within 10% of the five people we associate with most.  It is not hard to envision why. We tend to read what they read, watch what they watch, talk like they talk, think like they think, and do what they do.  If “they” are successful, we begin to think and act successfully. If “they” are not, we begin to think and act like failures.

We can all benefit from examining our environments.  Not only the environment of our close associates, but also that of radio, television, podcasts, videos, co-workers, and all of the other forms of influence that bombard us every day.

We should especially watch for the steady stream of subtle influences that gently push us off track. As Jim Rohn, the business philosopher, said: “We wouldn’t allow someone to shove us off course, but we often allow an elbow in our backs to nudge us in the wrong direction.”

In order to acquire new skills, change our beliefs, and live in harmony with our values, we have to change our environments, which means changing the information we expose ourselves to and, often, the people we associate with.

Pay attention to the elbows.  


Putting it into Practice

To illustrate change process, consider a simple example of a conversation I’ve had many times with business owners concerning a particular belief:

Owner: “You can’t hire good people these days.”

Me: “Okay, but has anyone hired a good person today?”

Owner: “Well, yeah, I’m sure someone has.”

Me: “So it is possible!”

And there you go. The first step in unravelling a belief. The conversations usually continue with the owner explaining why he is different, and we have to address each belief as it arises.

However, once it is accepted that it is the owner having trouble hiring, we can take action and make changes -- but it starts with examining and changing a belief.  


It may not be easy, but it is simple

We all live distinct realities based on our thinking, attitudes, and behaviors for which each of us alone is responsible.  If we don’t like our realities, we can change them by:

  • clarifying, in writing, the benefits of change
  • learning new skills
  • examining our beliefs
  • thinking and speaking positively about ourselves
  • understanding our values, and
  • changing our environments


What do you think?

Do you believe that reality is a looking-glass?  Can you change yours?  Do you have powerful reasons to change? Is there a skill that could affect your life quickly and dramatically? Are you clinging to unexamined assumptions? Are you at peace with your behavior? Are there people you should associate with less - or more? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments section below.