When Mary and Colin first begin spending time together, Mary makes an important discovery: as far as she can tell, there's nothing wrong with Colin aside from his nasty temper and selfish attitude. She and Colin begin to suspect that he believes he's going to die or develop a hunchback simply because he's been told so by the adults around him for his entire life. Consequentially, when Colin takes control of his inner monologue and decides to think only that he's going to heal and live forever, he effectively makes this happen. In this way, The Secret Garden presents a world in which a person's successes or failures can be traced to the quality and content of their thoughts, and suggests that once someone focuses on thinking good thoughts, healing and positive change will abound.
When Mary first meets Colin, she learns that he believes that he's not going to live to adulthood and, more horrifyingly for him, that he believe he's suddenly going to start developing a hunch in his back. This is because, at the time of his birth, Colin supposedly appeared sickly and deformed. However, the novel implies that this likely was a matter of opinion, not fact, and specifically, one borne out of grief. Colin's mother, Mrs. Craven, died around the time of his birth when she fell out of a tree in the secret garden. Because Mr. Craven was so in love with his wife, and because Colin so perfectly resembles his mother, Mr. Craven resented Colin, even as an infant, for living at all when Mrs. Craven died. In light of this intense grief and resentment, it's very possible that there never was anything the matter with Colin; his various maladies could've easily been brought on by the unhappy thoughts of his father. However, the fact that Colin's apparent illness and frailty takes on such a powerful role in his life speaks to the power of thought and belief, as it suggests that hearing this sort of thing all the time leads a person to internalize it and believe it's true—which in turn manifests as physical ailments in Colin, given that he's constantly ill and thinks of himself as a sick person.
During Mary and Colin's first fight, in which he throws a tantrum because he believes he's going to die and develop a hunchback, Mary demands to inspect Colin's back. Her inspection reveals that there's absolutely nothing wrong with his back and she even threatens to laugh at him if he says there is ever again. Following this, the narrator reveals that Colin's illness is all in his head—the narrator notes that had Colin had friends or thought to ask questions, "he would have found out that most of his fright and illness was created by himself." Tellingly, once Colin makes up his mind to believe Mary that he isn't ill or at risk of dying, his health suddenly begins to improve. This reinforces the power of both positive and negative thoughts, as the negative thoughts were powerful enough to bring on Colin's tantrums and scare him into misery, while his positive thoughts give him the strength and the tenacity to exercise, go outside, and eventually, develop his belief in what he, Mary, and Dickon refer to as "Magic."
In a basic sense, Magic allows Colin to name his belief in the power of positive thinking and as a result, enables him to put together a program that transforms positive thinking into a series of rituals and specific actions and in turn, makes it easier to follow. This begins when Colin leads Mary, Dickon, and Ben Weatherstaff in a prayer circle of sorts, where they chant over and over again about the power of the natural world and of positive thinking. Later, the system of Magic expands to include basic strength training exercises that, when combined with Colin's newfound enthusiasm for positive thought, helps him grow stronger and more confident. As the weeks pass, part of the ritual comes to include Colin's regular speeches about the power of Magic and what good it's doing for him, suggesting that while the belief in Magic is something that starts in a private, secluded space, it's something that eventually will (and in the end, does) transcend the boundaries of the secret garden and help others.
Importantly, the transformation that Mr. Craven undergoes in the final chapter of the novel suggests that Magic and positive thought can influence others without their having to think the positive thoughts themselves. This final chapter tells of Mrs. Craven’s experiences abroad during the time that Colin is first developing his understanding of Magic at home. While traveling, Mr. Craven suddenly awakes to the beauty surrounding him, and as Colin grows stronger, Mr. Craven grows more introspective and more positive himself. The dramatic transformations that Colin, Mary, and Mr. Craven make as a result of Magic, and the implied restoration of happiness and health to all residents at Misselthwaite, suggests that positive thought has the power to right wrongs even on a larger scale than the individual. Taken together, all of this presents a world in which thoughts reign supreme and in which individuals can effect real change in their worlds if they learn to control and channel those thoughts.
The Power of Thought ThemeTracker
The Power of Thought Quotes in The Secret Garden
She walked away, slowly thinking. She had begun to like the garden just as she had begun to like the robin and Dickon and Martha's mother. She was beginning to like Martha, too. This seemed a good many people to like—when you were not used to liking.
All that troubled her was her wish that she knew whether all the roses were dead, or if perhaps some of them had lived and might put out leaves and buds as the weather got warmer. She did not want it to be a quite dead garden. If it were a quite alive garden, how wonderful it would be, and what thousands of roses would grow on every side!
"Do you think you won't live?" she asked, partly because she was curious and partly in hope of making him forget the garden.
"I don't suppose I shall," he answered as indifferently as he had spoken before. "Ever since I remember anything I have heard people say I shan't. At first they thought I was too little to understand and now they think I don't hear. But I do."
"Oh, don't you see how much nicer it would be if it was a secret?"
He dropped back on his pillow and lay there with an odd expression on his face.
"I never had a secret," he said, "except that one about not living to grow up. They don't know I know that, so it is a sort of secret. But I like this kind better."
"He's been lying in his room so long and he's always been so afraid of his back that it has made him queer," said Mary. "He knows a good many things out of books but he doesn't know anything else. He says he has been to ill to notice things and he hates going out of doors and hates gardens and gardeners. But he likes to hear about this garden because it is a secret."
[…] If he had had childish companions and had not lain on his back in the huge closed house, breathing an atmosphere heavy with the fears of people who were most of them ignorant and tired of him, he would have found out that most of his fright and illness was created by himself. But he had lain and thought of himself and his aches and weariness for hours and days and months and years. And now that an angry unsympathetic little girl insisted obstinately that he was not as ill as he thought he was he actually felt as if she might be speaking the truth.
"I don't want to remember," interrupted the Rajah, appearing again. "When I lie by myself and remember I begin to have pains everywhere and I think of things that make me scream because I hate them so. If there was a doctor anywhere who could make you forget you were ill instead of remembering it I would have him brought here."
"You'll get plenty of fresh air, won't you?" said Mary.
"I'm going to get nothing else," he answered. "I've seen the spring now and I'm going to see the summer. I'm going to see everything grow here. I'm going to grow here myself."
"I shall stop being queer," he said, "if I go every day to the garden. There is Magic in there—good Magic, you know, Mary. I am sure there is."
"So am I," said Mary.
"Even if it isn't real Magic," Colin said, "we can pretend it is. Something is there—something!"
And this was not half of the Magic. The fact that he had really once stood on his feet had set Colin thinking tremendously and when Mary told him of the spell she had worked he was excited and approved of it greatly. He talked of it constantly.
"Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world," he said wisely one day, "but people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment."
To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.