The Transformative Power of Thought

The global shift to peace will come from within, says Mara Gleason Olsen, author of the bestseller One Thought Changes Everything.

By Leora Rosenberg

The co-founder of One Solution, an international nonprofit dedicated to solving large-scale global challenges by helping individuals, communities and systems to change from within, Mara Gleason Olsen helps people shift consciousness and thereby tap into new ways of thinking. Olsen, the author of the Amazon No. 1 bestselling book One Thought Changes Everything, has worked with MIT-trained physicists, U.N. directors, U.S. Marines, NHL players, troubled teens and Fortune 500 CEOs. 

Leora Rosenberg: Tell us about your mission. 

Mara Gleason Olsen: My goal is to teach people how to understand and shift their minds to create internal peace. We can only create on the outside what we feel on the inside. I truly believe that our world will heal and become a much nicer place to live when we evolve our understanding of what it means to be human, to have a soul, to coexist with all living things. Every human being is whole, and has a deeper purpose in the web of life. If we listen to our deeper knowing, the energy of life will work to create a better life and a better world. I help organizations shift consciousness and encounter new thoughts. This changes everything in their world, from relationships to outlook on life, thus creating a more peaceful existence.

LR: What inspired you to do this work?

MGO: Two opportunities came across my path that were pivotal in leading me to my life’s work. The first one happened when I was 11 years old. My father had gone away for a week to an immersion retreat focused on the then-new psycho-spiritual understanding called “Psychology of Mind,” later renamed the Three Principles. My dad didn’t want to attend the retreat, but he was mandated by his boss, who felt that my dad’s harshness and quick temper were negatively impacting the company. The boss hoped that it would teach my dad much-needed self awareness and stress management skills. The retreat propelled my father on a journey to understand and release deep-rooted anger that was making him not only a bully at work, but a terrifying father and husband. It taught him how to see life from the inside out, rather than always reacting. Witnessing my father’s transformation made me incredibly hopeful about the power of both mental health education and spiritual reflection to give people a new experience of life, and the ripple effect that has on those around them. It was the first time I saw how I might help make the world a better place. I regularly asked my dad questions about what he’d learned, and through my teen years read books that he shared with me. In my early 20s, I got an internship where my father had done his retreat, and that was the beginning of my journey to becoming a facilitator of change. 

LR: What was the second pivotal moment? 

MGO: I was studying abroad in Argentina, 20 years old, when I was held up at gunpoint by two men on a moped. They grabbed me while I was walking down the street one night. I wrote about this experience in the opening chapter of my book. It’s nearly impossible to put words around what transpired in that moment, but essentially I had what some would call a near-death experience. 

For a brief, but seemingly endless moment, my internal chatter went silent. From within that silence emerged an overwhelming sense of oneness and knowing. I felt the edges of my body dissolve and melt into the energy of the man who had grabbed me, to the tree growing out of the sidewalk, to the entire universe. There was no end and no beginning. I felt deeply OK, and so full of love, in a way I had never experienced before. The man tightly holding my arm was beginning to feel it too. “You’re scared, and that’s OK.” I still don’t know if I said those words, or if they were just experienced, but I know that the man with a gun at my head felt them at the same time, because we looked at each other, exchanged a mutual feeling of awe, and he gently let me go. When I reflect on that experience, the statement “You’re scared, and that’s OK” was almost like a universal message. Something not just for me, or my attacker, but the human race. 

LR: Were these experiences the springboard to your book, One Thought Changes Everything?

MGO: I wanted people to feel hopeful about the potential for humans to transform, and in turn transform their families, communities, companies…all because they’d had an insight. Or, as the title suggests, a change of thought. People often overlook how one new thought occurring in the mind, or one unhelpful thought leaving a person’s mind, can change their life. The book is a collection of stories about myself and people I worked with over the years who experienced that internal change, and then used it to positively transform their lives or the lives of others.

LR: What are the most important takeaways from your book?

MGO: The biggest one is the inside-out nature of life. The realization that life is not happening to me but rather coming through me, via my own state of mind in the moment. I don’t see a static, fact-based external world. I see a personalized version of the world that’s molded by the goings-on in my own thoughts and feelings. The second part of that is the realization that this phenomenon is happening for other people as well. They see a world from within their own mind, and that’s not bad or wrong, it’s just how humans work. It’s humbling to realize I’m not right. Others are not wrong. We’re all just doing the best we can with thoughts that look and feel real to us at any moment. The polarization of everyone into different camps is a very disturbing symptom of misunderstanding how humans work. It causes everything from political gridlock and inefficiency to violence and inequality. 

LR: How do you spread this message? 

MGO: We train guides, facilitators, “light-shiners,” whatever you want to call them, in the workplace and at schools or in organizations. They remind us in the most stressful situations that we don’t need to live in fear and reactivity. I often feel an overwhelming sense that we are so close to living in a level of understanding that allows us to feel whole, connected and at peace within ourselves and everyone around us.

LR: How does the shift in consciousness create inner peace?

MGO: Understanding the mind and how we create our own separate realities eliminates an enormous amount of personal stress and interpersonal conflict if we truly understand that we’re all living in our own versions of reality. You don’t need to get people to agree with you. You can find peace with our different versions of life. From that peace, you’re actually a lot more likely to influence things in a positive direction.

The other key piece of understanding that really helps decrease anxiety is realizing that I’m much more than just the noisy chatter of my personal mind. When people are willing to hold less tightly to their noise (not fan the flames of it by obsessing, or analyzing or complaining) then this beautiful thing happens—mental space emerges. And in that space, the life force, which is more powerful than our personal noise, can seep through and provide healing, insight and evolution. Also, that quiet beyond our personal noise is where we are one. Beyond my story of right and your story of wrong is just life. 

LR: One in four people around the world are suffering from mental disorders, including anxiety and depression. How can your work help? 

MGO: It seems that everyone has some kind of mental health challenge these days. I think there are a lot of reasons for that, ranging from the way we live and work, very disconnected from our own life force, our families, to the toxins in our air, water and food…to the pervasive thought system that dominates culture today that I just explained. It’s very outside-in, us versus them, and to put it bluntly, it’s just wrong. It’s not true. That misunderstanding causes enormous mental suffering.

The work we do helps people to see through the myth that somehow we are victims of the outside world, other people and their beliefs. Underneath all that noise, everyone is healthy, whole and connected to an enormous spiritual energy that weaves its way through everything and everyone in this world. Our work helps people to remember that energy. Because it’s always there. 

LR: How does this technique help on a global level? 

MGO: It’s so clear to me, after nearly 20 years in this field, that the state of the world is a reflection of our state of consciousness, or said another way, our well-being. Hurt people hurt people. When we are scared, and we don’t know that it’s OK to be scared, we attempt to control others. And this isn’t just someone with a gun in an impoverished neighborhood; this is also our political leaders, or the CEOs of fossil fuel companies that are acting out of fear and hurting those around them, as well as the planet. I know it can sound overly simplistic, but shifting consciousness is the only sustainable solution to our greatest global challenges.