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It’s the thought that counts.

Is there another blatantly more misleading phrase in the English language? The phrase embodies the difference between saying and doing.


If I want to help someone out, is it actually as important, or more important, to them that I am thinking about helping them than actually helping them? Should I get an award or some kind of acknowledgement for having the thought of wanting to do something?

On the flip side of the coin, everyone has negative thoughts about themselves, their situation, or others they may come into contact with. These may include violent, disturbing, or sexual fantasies. There are those thoughts that are so dark that most sane, non-sociopathic thinkers are embarrassed for even having them. Just as quickly as they come, they are pushed out of the mind; hopefully never to return.

I think about the guy who cuts me off in traffic. Briefly I imagine running his car or truck off the road. Then there’s the loud-mouth person complaining and talking too much. They won’t ever shut up. They go on and on and on, incessantly. They are so awful that I just want to punch them in the face.

But, I don’t. I never do these horrible things. I just imagine it for a brief second and move on.

Does having these negative thoughts count as much as acting on them?

The answer is obvious. It doesn’t. Yet, countless times in life the phrase is uttered, “It’s the thought that counts.” It’s obviously bullshit!


I have been carrying around the proverbial baggage with me from dealing with a person who consistently thinks about doing things and doesn’t. They talk and promise and commit countless times throughout my life, and in only rare instances does this person actually follow-through on their commitments.

I can recall many Christmases and birthdays where this said relation states that they are going to, or already have a gift out to me. The holiday comes and then passes and nothing arrives.

It is always nice to receive a thoughtful gift, but it’s never necessary to define or maintain a place in my life. I have a lot of love, affection, presence, and time for those I care about. It’s never, ever going to be about what the person physically gives me.


Like many people, I do love to receive a humorous card, a thoughtful gift, or some money via post or in person. Yet, I have plenty of family and friends who don’t send cards or gifts to me for my birthday or during the holidays. This doesn’t make me love or care for them any less.

Inversely, when the aforementioned person makes these commitments and fails to follow-through on them it creates a deep sense of disappointment. The feeling is not about not having the material item or the money that is promised. It is rooted in the let-down of thinking and believing I would receive something and then not getting it.

The negative feelings aren’t at my lack of having the gift, they are directed toward the person who failed to meet their own self-created expectation. Their miss cause pain within me. After decades of dealing with these emotions, I feel I have come to grips with the depressing fact that I cannot count on this person, even though I love them. I no longer have faith in the commitments they make. I cannot trust them or the words they tell me.

My constant disappointment affects more than just me though. It punishes others in my life as well. Loved ones I care about tremendously feel the poisonous after-effects.


When I speak about this thoughtful person with my other loved ones it brings unnecessary negativity into my relationships with them.

I carry the sadness like a cloud into my interactions with them. Sometimes conversations devolve into arguments. Worse yet, I may treat them with the rage I sometimes feel toward the offender.

My sadness and anger take time and energy. The same time and energy that I should be using to create positivity and the love I truly want to share with others. After all, they are the relationships I know I can always count on—or least count on significantly more consistently😉.

The person who treats me this way is very close to me. Throughout my childhood, my adolescent years, and well into my adult life, they have continued these thought-crimes. Countless times our interactions end in my disappointment and disbelief. I become frustrated and confused. I feel the emotions of anger and sadness.

For so long I didn’t know how to process all that was happening. Even now, as I write this, I cannot help but recall the negative feelings. I know the trauma is very real and deep-rooted. Still, I feel dumb and lesser because of it.

negative emotion

It’s the first world problem of a middle-aged millennial.

I should be tougher. I should be more of a man about it. Yet, it affects me so deeply even though I know I shouldn’t let it.

It’s been a couple years since I began determining to stop fooling myself into trusting this person. Since then, when this guilty family-member communicates their inevitable promises, I deflect. I no longer imbue their commitments into my memory and hopes. I do not commit their words into my heart or my mind.

I even confronted this person to inform them how they affect me. I disclosed how their actions, or inaction, makes me feel. I told them it wasn’t okay to treat me this way. After our conversation this one I speak of has gotten better. When they do contact me with their inevitable promises of a gift, my guard goes up. I cannot help it.

More often than not they come through on their promises now…and sometimes they don’t, but at least now they know how their empty promises hurt me. And I know they know.

It’s like mental scar tissue has grown, ready to protect my psyche from further damage. This relationship has served to define the fact that the thought is definitively not all that counts.


Actions are what count. Doing what one says they will do counts. Following through on promises and commitments counts.

The thought on its own is worthless.

I once heard the comedian Jay Mohr speaking of an instance very much in line with how I feel about the statement of the thought’s inherent worth. It has been transformative in how I deal with others.

Mohr speaks of how to be present for a friend who is dealing with the loss of an immediate family member. He tells of times when someone is dealing with this type of loss and someone inevitably asks What can I do to help? or Can I do anything for you?

He reveals that the person asking these questions is not actually doing anything helpful. In fact, the thought the person is trying to communicate can actually be harmful to the bereaved. At first glance, it might seem like it is coming from a kind and compassionate place inside of them. At a deeper glance the logic is full of all kinds of holes.

finger holes

The people dealing with the death of a loved one are hurting so badly. They cry, zone out, don’t eat, and especially, don’t take care of themselves. They are too busy being lost in grief, hoping for any momentary distraction that can ease the pain.

Their thoughts are clouded by so many things. Internally, they need to process their feelings towards the deceased. They have to unpack memories of love and hurt, as well as deep-seated scars from abandonment and abuse. In this vulnerable state, the loved ones will inevitably become overwhelmed by the requirements of dealing with their family member’s death.

Too many people don’t do enough to plan for their own passing.

While alive, people think about death. They consider getting their postmortem affairs in order. They may even talk about it from time to time. All to often, that’s all they do. This is another example of thought’s nominal worth.

Instead their survivors will be charged with the planning process for the funeral. They’ll need to find a venue, as well as procuring a final resting place. They’ll need to get out the appropriate notice to people in the deceased’s network, as well as notifying the newspapers and any other necessary media outlets. They’ll need food for guests, as well as speakers and flowers for the service. Finally, they’ll have to acquire the funds needed for all of these.


The survivor will also be charged with long lost family members and friends who will coming in from out of town for the funeral service. They will have to entertain these distant and casual relations. The necessary interactions will take time and emotional effort.

Additionally, they will be forced into reuniting with those they don’t like, or even care for. The bereaved will hear insensitive, unnecessary, and untimely comments, in addition to processing their own underlying feelings of why weren’t these people around while my loved one was still alive?

All types will come out of the wood-work to encumber the survivor’s grieving process. They will all say things like I’m here if there’s ever anything you need.

After all the many affairs of the funeral are taken care of the survivor will still need to deal with processing the will and the matters of the estate, or, the all-to-common lack of any. They’ll have to notify bill and debt collectors. They’ll have to cancel monthly services and utilities; such as TV, internet, cell phones, and life and health insurance.

Unfortunately, they’ll also have to defend themselves from the greedy vultures looking to profit from their loss—one way or another.


Next, they will have to go through all the deceased’s stuff. They’ll have to decide what to keep as mementos. They’ll have to sell and dispose of whatever remains. Whether or not anyone is aware of it while they are alive, too many have so much stuff. Someone will be responsible for it all when we pass on from this life.

There is so much chaos caused by death for the bereaved.

Many of these can offer useful distractions to aid in the grieving process, but usually this all becomes overwhelming. The stress can lead to deep depression. Crying, overeating, ignoring responsibilities, and the countless other after-effects can arise. All due to the sheer volume of what is required of those who are responsible for handling the death.

All this emotion and responsibility is why it’s hollow to ask What can I do?

Asking a question like this just enhances the burden the survivor has already been tasked with. Asking Is there anything you need? just creates additional work. The bereaved will have to dig deep to come up with something for the insensitive ask-hole to do This type of thinking may even force them to have to double-back into the emotional and thought baggage they have previously and precariously packed away.

Jay Mohr’s genius is in what he says he to do in these situations.  He simply just does.

If phone calls need to be made, he takes the list of phone numbers and makes them. If a meal needs to be prepared because the survivor is not eating, he orders or cooks food and serves it to them. If the house is getting dirty, or dishes are piling up, he cleans them.


While staying aware of the person not being able to think about what they need, he eases the burden without waiting for instructions or asking for permission. Sometimes it’s as simple as just being present, or listening. Other times it’s providing a needed distraction, or a smile and some laughs.

It’s such a simplistic and elegant way to show love. I was so impressed with his mindset. I decided I would make it my own.

Unfortunately, I have had the opportunity to put it this into action through the loss of an Uncle, as well as some close family friends, in recent years.

How I am there for those I care about and love in times of loss has shifted since gaining this new perspective. Engaging with action has provided me a fulfilling feeling that I am actually doing something effectual, instead of adding extra work for the others. It has also aided me in processing my own grief. Additionally, it strengthens my relationships with those who are dealing with the losses.

All I’m doing is performing action, in lieu of considering action.

I know I will never be able to replace the one who passed away, but still I remind the bereaved that they are loved. They are taken care of. They can count on me, and the others, who didn’t just let their thoughts count.

cared for

In conclusion, I know I am painting with a very broad brush. Deep inside, I know that the thought does count. Effectual and affectatious action is born from an initial thought.

One cannot start an innovative business or significantly improve their life without first thinking about doing it. The thinking leads to acting. The acting leads to execution and success.

Visualizing and planning are just fancy ways of saying thinking. They are essential and have immense return on the minimal investment they require.

Even though I understand the necessity of thinking and how much the thought can actually count, I’m reminded of how little the thoughts count if they are not followed up by resolute focus and action. People don’t want or need the thought. They need substance.

In the end, I know it’s not just the thought that counts.


Have you had a similar experience with someone telling you It’s the thought that counts?

Perhaps your experiences further enhance what I have layed out? Maybe you have encountered an experience that contradicts my arguement? In either case I’d love to hear about it. You are invited to leave a comment about your own personal take on the subject of whether or not the thought really counts.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who would benefit from reading it.

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