We live our identity. We live our musts, our standards. Through our identity, we define our non-negotiable standards, the things that we absolutely must do. Everyone has things that they want to do: We want to learn more Torah, have a deeper connection with Hashem, develop better midos, build better relationships, create financial success, and have healthier bodies. However, we don’t get what we want, we get what we need. We need to eat, we need to breathe, and until we need all these things that we want, they’re going to remain on our wish list forever. The only way to change something from a want to a need is to change our identity. Only by raising our standards, and creating a growth-oriented identity, can we shift our life towards greatness.

An athlete looks at himself in the mirror and sees an athlete. Being an athlete means living a certain lifestyle – having a specific exercise regimen, a unique diet, and a required amount of sleep every night. A talmid chacham looks in the mirror and sees a talmid chacham. This requires consistent Torah learning, growth in avodas Hashem, and helping others. We all have an identity, but not all of us chose it. Many were given our identities by our parents, friends, or teachers. The key to life is becoming self-aware enough to choose and create (or discover) our own identity. Finding and choosing an empowering identity will push us to maximize our potential and become the greatest version of ourselves imaginable.

The most important principle to embrace when developing our identity and self-perception is the following: We are in this world to achieve our greatness. As the Gemara in Nidah 30b teaches, we have infinite potential and were created with the ability, and responsibility, to come into this world and achieve our unique greatness. With this message at the core of our identity, shaping how we approach every single thing in our lives, we can begin the journey towards achieving our unique purpose in life.

The Way You Think Determines How You Experience Your Life

To take full advantage of an empowering identity, we need to understand the three-step process of human experience:

1 – Our thoughts are the initial stage of our inner experience.

2 – The way we think determines how we feel and experience life.

3 – The way we feel affects how we act and live in the world.

This process can be immensely powerful and empowering: If you think Hashem loves you, you’ll feel really close to Him, and you’ll live a life of Torah and mitzvos. If you think you’re a spiritual being, you’ll feel holy, and you’ll live a spiritual life. If you think you’re destined for greatness, you’ll feel capable of greatness, and you’ll live a great life; you’ll take greater action and therefore achieve greater results.

However, this same process can be used in un-empowering, even destructive manner: If you think Hashem hates you, you’ll feel distant from Him, and you’ll live a life feeling depressed and unworthy. If you think you’re a physical and lowly being, you’ll feel unholy, and you’ll live an unspiritual life. If you think you’re destined for nothing, you’ll feel insignificant, and you’ll live a meaningless life: You won’t try anything new and you won’t grow or achieve anything worthwhile.

The Key to Living the Extraordinary: Change the Way You Think

We’ve just developed a powerful three-step process: How you think affects how you feel, which then affects how you live. The key, then, to living a great life is changing and rewiring how you think. If you can change the way you think, the way you perceive reality, and your place within it, you can change your life. As the saying goes, “If you think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll do what you’ve always done, and you’ll be who you’ve always been.” The battleground is in your mind. If you can change your perceptions and mindset, you can change your entire life.

This is the goal of learning. By feeding our minds and expanding our horizons, we can shape how we see ourselves and the world we live in. By aligning our perceptions with the truth of Torah, we gain the ability to live our greatest life and become our greatest selves.

Examining Our Paradigms

Let us take a look at our own inner paradigms and think about the type of life we are creating for ourselves.

When things happen in your life, are they happening to you or for you?

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason, or is your life a collection of random coincidences?

Are your challenges and ordeals an opportunity to grow, or a reason to quit?

How do you perceive Hashem? Do you view Him as someone you can have a relationship with, or someone distant, perfect, and transcendent?

Regarding the relationships you are in: Do you view relationships as a means to take and receive pleasure, or an opportunity to give youself completely to someone else; to expand beyond the limited borders of your individual self?

Perhaps most importantly, how do you perceive yourself? Do you view yourself as unique, special, and destined for greatness? Or are you just average, normal, trying to get by and survive? Do you believe that greatness is something elusive, reserved only for the few gifted among us? Or is it in fact something real, within reach, and something that each of us can achieve?

This is the power of perception: We get to choose how we see the world, how we experience our life. Our paradigms can empower us or cripple us. Our worldview can inspire or paralyze. The choice is solely up to us. That is the beauty and tragedy of perception. We need to develop the skillset of developing positive and empowering perceptions, building deeper and more meaningful ways of seeing the world.

The Goal of Learning Torah

This is one the fundamental goals of learning Torah. Torah is the ultimate tool for building a deeper, true lens through which to perceive the world. Torah is a gateway into the wisdom and will of Hashem. At the heart of learning Torah lies the ability to shape your mindset and outlook and see the world through a spiritual lens – to live Torah. As I once heard so eloquently put: Learning Torah is about learning what Hashem wants, t’filah is about wanting what Hashem wants, and performing mitzvos is about living what Hashem wants. The first step in this process is developing deeper perceptions of reality and learning how to see the world through a Torah lens, through spiritual glasses. The way you think will then affect the way you feel, which will shape your growth, and help you live a greater life.

Tips on How to Change the Way We Think

Here are a few tips for controlling your thoughts and making better choices:

1- Self-Awareness

Write down a list of your current paradigms and perceptions. Think about how you perceive the world, your personal philosophy, and how you experience the various aspects of your life. Then, think about the paradigms and perceptions you would like to develop and make a list of those, as well. Include in this second list the core ideas, thoughts, and principles that you would like to think about, experience, and live by. Compare the two lists and think about what adjustments and changes you need to initiate to make the first list match the second more closely.

2- Immersion

Immerse yourself in the ideas that you want to think about. Surround yourself with books, videos, audios, people, and environments that will reinforce your ideals and help you consistently focus on positive and encouraging thoughts.

3- Daily Reminders

Set daily reminders for yourself to think about certain ideas, concepts, or beliefs. You can set up a reminder on your phone or develop a routine to remind yourself first thing in the morning or right before you go to sleep.

4- Make it Social

Find people who share your values and vision and build relationships with them. Share these ideas together, discuss what they mean to you, and build the relationship with these values always center and present. The more you talk about something, the more you come to experience it. You should also find ways to engage in activities surrounding these values, thus reinforcing them. You can find (or create) groups that engage in productive activities together, such as a study group, a volunteer group, or a support network.

The Choice Is Up to Us

We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to our circumstances. You didn’t choose your DNA, your family, and many of the circumstances you find yourself in, but you do get to choose what you do with them. This is the meaning behind the famous Gemara, “Ha’kol biydei Shamayim chutz mi’yir’as Shamayim–All is determined (in heaven) except for awe of heaven” (B’rachos 33b). The Ramchal and many others explain this as follows: Everything that happens to us is determined by Hashem, but our free will – our choices and actions in response to our circumstances – is within our control. The quality of our life depends on the choices we make and the meaning we give to our experiences. Let’s start taking ownership of our experience and consistently choose to take the steps necessary to become our greatest selves.

If you enjoyed this article and want more, then visit my website (ShmuelReichman.com) and learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, my online course. Join our vibrant community of hundreds of people striving to become their greatest selves.

Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.