Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
You are What you Eat
(or Wear, Or Drive, or Live in, or Do)

By Richard Eyre

Note: This column appears every two weeks . with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time.  Click here to read the full introductory column.  Go to the Clichs Archive for past columns.

The variations on this humble old clich are almost endless. We judge each other and we judge ourselves far too much by appearances, by “achievements,” and my symbols of status. “The clothes make the man.” “Your car says a lot about who you are.” “You can’t be better than your look.” “Yur job (or your title, or your address, or your rsum) is your identity.”

Nonsense. We know it’s not true, but we behave and respond and think as though it were.

We live in a world where we concern ourselves too much with the “outer” and not enough with the “inner.”

And the more judgmental and critical we become (both of others and of ourselves), the more we are led into other related and equally untrue clichs such as, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”


For decades, in connection with our writing, Linda and I have lectured and spoken on goal setting. Our whole approach took a dramatic turn as a result of one presentation we made on a winter weekend where we got some very interesting input and feedback from an audience.

It was a two-part, two-day presentation, and at the end of the day we asked everyone for a short list of three personal goals they had for the following year. That evening we sat in front of a fireplace and went through more than two hundred responses. As we did, something gradually became apparent:  All of the goals had to do with things and with accomplishing. None of them (with the exception of a few diet or weight-loss objectives) had to do with becoming or with feeling. They were goals about achievements, not about relationships. They were about doing and getting, and not about being.

The next day we asked the audience to indicate, by a show of hands, which was more important to them – achievements or relationships. The vote was unanimous in favor of relationships. Then we asked which mattered most, outer appearances or who a person really was inside – his character, his true nature. Everyone of course voted for the latter.

Then we pointed out that the goals they had listed had more to do with achievements that with relationships, more to do with getting and doing than with being.

There were rebuttals that day. People said, “Well, setting goals is better suited to achievements than to relationships,” and, “What you do and what you have is what makes you who you are.” But everyone (including us) left that day thinking about how we could focus more of our effort and more of our goals on the things we all know matter most.


It is possible to set goals that deal more with relationship and with character. It’s possible, but it is difficult. A goal is “seeing” something the way you want it to be. When someone wants to make $100,000.00 a year, he sees himself in that circumstance and plots what he has to do to get there. When someone has a goal to lose weight, he sees himself thin and plans how to diet.

The same definition (and the same process) can apply to relationship and character goals, although it may be more qualitative and less quantitative. You can write a private description of a relationship as you want it to be, and that clear, written description can help you, even cause you to say and do things that bring it about. You can also write a description of the character and even the personality traits you want to have within yourself and let that mental picture become both a conscious and a sub-conscious guide for what you do and how you act.

So what is the new maxim that will remind us to judge and compete less, to think and work on relationships at least as much as achievements and on substance at least as hard as appearances?

Several useful and familiar sayings work in that direction. “Live and let live,” “Win-win,” “Substance over style.”

But in this case the best maxim is the oldest – the scriptural maxim that in slightly varying forms is a part of virtually every religion and enduring philosophy. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

For our new maxim let’s adopt that ancient wisdom and add to it the naturally linked priority on relationships:


We are not what we wear, or drive, or do, or eat. We are what we think. It is our most inner part – our thoughts – that we have the most opportunity to alter, and that is the part that will make the most difference.

2005 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.