It’s Easier To Act Your Way Into a New Way of Thinking Than To Think Your Way Into a New Way of Acting

John S. White? F. J. Finch? Glenn Franc? E. Stanley Jones? Orval Hobart Mowrer? Harry Emerson Fosdick? J. P. Allen? Zig Ziglar? Bruce Norman? Susan Glaser? John C. Maxwell? Jerry Sternin? Millard Fuller?

Dear Quote Investigator: In self-help and motivation books I’ve encountered the following saying:

It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.

This remark employs a rhetorical technique called chiasmus. The first phrase is repeated while some of its words are cleverly re-ordered. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This adage belongs to an evolving collection of expressions with changing vocabulary that each employ chiasmus. Here is a sampling with dates. The phrasing varies, and these assertions are not all logically equivalent:

1930: easier to act yourself into right thinking than to think yourself into right acting. (Spoken by John S. White or F. J. Finch)

1932: easier to live yourself into right thinking than it is to think yourself into right living. (Attributed to Glenn Franc)

1937: easier to act your way into right thinking than to think your way into right acting. (E. Stanley Jones)

1959: easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. (Anonymous)

1959: easier to act your way into a new way of feeling than to feel your way into a new way of acting. (O. Hobart Mowrer)

1961: easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting. (Attributed to E. Stanley Jones)

1965: easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel your way into a new way of acting. (Attributed to O. Hobart Mowrer)

1969: easier to act your way into new ways of thinking than to think your way into new ways of acting. (J. P. Allen)

1979: easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of behaving (Called “Kegley’s Principle of Change” by John Peers)

The first saying in this family was employed in 1930 during a Sunday School Convention held in Nebraska. The two main speakers were John S. White, general secretary of Nebraska, and F. J. Finch, educational director for the Methodists of Nebraska. The local newspaper reported that one of these gentlemen employed the saying, but the precise orator was unidentified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Much food for thought was left by these men in statements such as “It is easier to act yourself into right thinking than to think yourself into right acting.” “Stop preaching religion and live it, practice it in your everyday life.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Easier To Act Your Way Into a New Way of Thinking Than To Think Your Way Into a New Way of Acting

Notes:

  1. 1930 June 26, The Herman Record, S. S. Convention Very Successful, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Herman, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

The Greatest Discovery of My Generation Is That Human Beings Can Alter Their Lives By Altering Their Attitudes of Mind

William James? Harry Granison Hill? Joseph Fort Newton? Norman Vincent Peale? E. Stanley Jones? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One’s attitude toward life has an enormous effect on one’s experiences in life. Here are two statements on this theme:

(1) The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

(2) The greatest revolution in my generation was the discovery that human beings by changing their inner attitudes of mind can alter the outer aspects of their lives.

Both of these remarks have been attributed to the prominent U.S. philosopher and psychologist William James, but I have been unable to find any solid citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that William James wrote or said either of these sentences. QI conjectures that the statements evolved over time from ideas espoused in the New Thought movement and the Positive Thinking philosophy. The words were attributed to James many years after his death in 1910.

William James did contend that the beliefs of an individual were a crucial determinant of well-being. For example, in May 1895 he delivered a speech on the theme “Is Life Worth Living?” which he published in the “International Journal of Ethics” in October 1895. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

A separate article about the quotation immediately above is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Greatest Discovery of My Generation Is That Human Beings Can Alter Their Lives By Altering Their Attitudes of Mind

Notes:

  1. 1895 October, International Journal of Ethics, Volume 6, Number 1, Is Life Worth Living? by William James, Start Page 1, Quote Page 24, Published by International Journal of Ethics, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (JSTOR) link