icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-user Skip to content
Senior Correspondent

Pay regular attention to the thoughts that stream through your head. Thoughts affect behavior and behavior, consistently employed, becomes habit. If it goes on in your head, it just might, even subliminally, shape an outcome.

Thoughts are “tenants”; they occupy space. Sometimes we encourage their tenancy; at other times, they take up residence at the behest of others. So, here's the question: Who's renting space in your head? “No one?” You said. Well, let's look at that.

Thoughts in our head, I refer to those thoughts that power us through daily routines, that affect what we planned for that day and why; that influence who we see ourselves to be in any given situation; that motivate and inspire us or, constrain us, are generally conditioned by three sets of powerful influences:

a. Experience (interacting with others)
b. Content knowledge (self-published or published by others to include meaningful experience), family, friends, professional business and social relationships. There may be other influences but these three tend to predominate in most discussions I have had.

If your thoughts about the key elements of your life (family, career, business, relationships, your future) are positive, constructive, and reinforce your desire to succeed, keep those “tenants” renting space in your head.

For many of us, the challenge at times was to overcome the negative. It is the negative thoughts, occasionally fortified by negative behavior, that create inner conflict, divorce, dissolution of a career or a business. You combine any of these elements, or have to deal with any one of them in isolation and you have the kind of drama that is the stuff of life.

The question always is, I understand the problem; “What do I do about it?” Or, “I lead a complex and demanding life and I hardly have the time and energy to make it through my day. Trying to control what goes on in my head takes time I just don't have.” Inner conflict, when combined with a personal assessment can have a remarkable outcome. I tried that and it worked for me. There were moments during which I fought against the psychological effect of negative tenants (poverty, the absence of my father, economic and social discrimination, high school guidance counselors) willing to pay a premium to rent space in my head.

Later, while building my career, there were those few and persistent voices counseling me that I was doing well within the limits they prescribed for me; that I should relax. They would counsel “don't make enemies!” Their counsel was always contrary to my desire to be a lifelong learner, to look for ways to stretch myself, and to grow continuously.

Complacency should always be an unwelcome tenant. Never settle for the status quo. It is always available! When I felt the solicitations of others might gain a foothold, I would redouble my efforts to seek out new ideas, new supporters to cultivate. For example, I actively sought out those persons I knew were destined for success within the institutions that shaped my life: the military, academia, the Foreign Service and business. I tested my ideas with them; asked myriad questions, and tried to emulate their behavior. I challenged myself to live up to their expectations.

Moreover, I would listen to and/or read the writings of motivational speakers, successful corporate executives, government officials, and prominent figures from the world of academia. I read voraciously, took courses, attended seminars, and became active with select small groups. In addition, I wrote tips to myself on 3×5 cards and taped them to the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, and also inside my briefcase. Do what you have to! By giving new ideas and new, more supportive friends, space, I acquired new, more welcome tenants in my head.

I don't care how demanding or complex your life is. Try to keep this exercise simple. For me, I never wanted to ask myself, in retrospect, where would I have been, what should I have done differently, or, how would I have felt about myself if I had rented space to negative impulses that could have destroyed my dreams or altered the trajectory of my life and my career.

The proponents of those ideas, those impulses, are never friends. Each of us could readily identify someone that fills the bill. Get rid of their influence if you cannot excise them from your life. It could well be a spouse, a very good friend, or the colleague working in the cubicle adjacent yours. I have experienced each of them. Situations we create in life, or experiences we endure provide enough of those moments without consciously giving life to them.

Throughout my life, painfully at time, I have borne witness to the struggles of others to be positive, to evict the negative renters in their heads. The struggle was fruitless for some but I always felt the struggle to control the space in my head was a struggle worthy of my best effort. This is especially true if you aspire to a life, dreams, successes greater than negative forces suggest is possible for you.

You have to be aware of who, or what impulse, is renting space in your head before you can change it. This quote from a source I cannot recall makes my point: “The distance between where you are and where you want to go is dependent upon your ability to control the little voices in your head.” Each of us has one. I just call them “tenants.”

Therefore, be conscious of your thoughts if they acquire a pattern that affects your behavior. It is generally true when your feelings are not in harmony with your goals, ignore your feelings.

The best antidote to those who would rent negative space in your head is to be optimistic by choice, by design; to know your purpose in life; to know what it is you are about; to persevere; learn to laugh a lot — including at yourself; and, act as if it were impossible to fail at whatever you pursue.

Stay Up to Date

Sign up for articles by George Kennedy and other Senior Correspondents.

Latest Stories

Choosing Senior Living
Love Old Journalists

Our Mission

To amplify the voices of older adults for the good of society

Learn More