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)

A Man Wrapped Up in Himself Makes a Very Small Bundle

Benjamin Franklin? John Ruskin? Harry Emerson Fosdick? Mae A. Byrnes? Dan Crawford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who is self-absorbed typically experiences a diminished life and does not achieve great renown. Here are four versions of a figurative saying on this theme:

  • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
  • A person all wrapped up in herself makes a pretty small package.
  • When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a very small parcel.
  • People who are entirely wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.

This expression has been attributed to U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin, English art critic John Ruskin, and U.S. pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick.

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this expression was used by Benjamin Franklin or John Ruskin. It was employed by Harry Emerson Fosdick by 1942, but only after it had been circulating for decades.

This saying is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many different ways. The earliest instances located by QI were anonymous. A comical precursor evincing disdain for the self-absorbed appeared in a Nebraska newspaper in 1899. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

People who are all wrapped up in themselves ought to be bundled off together.

In 1904 a match occurred for the saying in a Clarksville, Tennessee. newspaper. The anonymous statement appeared together with miscellaneous items under the title “Bubbles”. The word “small” was absent: 2

People who are wrapped up in themselves are bound to be bundles of self conceit.

Five days later the same statement appeared in an Okolona, Mississippi newspaper under the title “Gathered Gems”. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Wrapped Up in Himself Makes a Very Small Bundle

Notes:

  1. 1899 April 3, The Nebraska State Journal, Bulletin Bubbles, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1904 May 06, Daily Leaf-Chronicle, Bubbles, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Clarksville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1904 May 11, Okolona Messenger, Gathered Gems, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Okolona, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank)