By Linda Newton, Pastoral Counselor
Is anyone out there afraid to check the headlines these days? The world is filled with such negative news that it can be hard to think positively. However, we can direct our thoughts more than we realize, especially if we ask the Holy Spirit for help. Here are some tools I’ve found when my thoughts tend to rob me of peace. We need to Reject crippling doubts about the future. God has our future under control despite what the circumstances around us dictate. We can get stuck in our stinkin’ thinkin’ or we can Recognize negativity as toxic for us. That seems like a duh! but many times, we wallow in our misery, self-pity, fear, and anger. If we are consciously aware that these thoughts are destructive, we are far more ready to embrace healthy ones. Then we are less likely to get stuck in, “This is the way it is.” or “I don’t deserve better.”
Here are a couple of tools to redirect destructive thoughts.
1. Interrupt Negative Thought Patterns.
In college, I learned the tool of snapping your wrist with a rubber band to dispel a negative thought. It was called “Thought stopping” and we were encouraged to replace that negative thought with a positive thought about what is going right and or what we can be grateful for. It works to shift the brain to a positive perspective.
Now, neuroscience has some awesome additional help as we do this. After you snap your wrist, stand up. Dr. Daniel Amen suggests, “The step of standing up is more important than you think. When you rise to your feet, you create a scotoma-a blind spot—in the brain. It’s like when you’re sitting on the couch in the living room and decide you want something out of the refrigerator. You stand up, make your way into the kitchen, and walk in—and immediately ask yourself, What am I looking for again? What happened is that you interrupted your pattern—sitting on the couch—created a scotoma or blind spot.” The same principle applies when you have a negative thought or a bad feeling: Stand up, create a scotoma for the brain, take 3 deep breaths, and replace the thought with something positive. Try it and let me know what you think.
2. Don’t take yourself and your brain so seriously.
Dr. Steven Hayes wrote a book called The Liberated Mind, stating that most of us live with a constant stream of internal thoughts, criticisms from the past, commands from bosses and authority figures bouncing around in our brains. We can decide not to let them define us by “psychological self-distancing,” that keeps us from buying into our what our thoughts are telling us or allowing them to over-direct our actions and choices.
Negative and intrusive thoughts characterize depression. Hayes suggest that we give our brain a name. chatter threatens to rob his peace, he tells “George” to “Give it a rest,” as he gains some emotional distance from the unhelpful rumination. Quite honestly, that felt a little schizophrenic to me, although I don’t doubt the efficacy of this technique. Plenty of research confirms with imaging studies that this practice calmed the emotional centers of the brain and enhanced self-control. So go for it if you like. But I have embraced what I learned in Mindful Meditation. As I mentally sit quietly on the riverbank during my morning time with the Lord, I view my thoughts independent of me drifting by on the river and I get to decide which ones I will “allow in.” So many of those thoughts include fear of the future or pain from the past, frustrations about things that I could have done better, or shouldn’t have done at all. (We can certainly beat ourselves up, can’t we?) Instead, I seek to be in the present moment where I am seeking God’s peace. So I choose not to embrace that stinkin’ thinkin’ that will drag me down river into fear or self-loathing.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. As a person who is a travel agent for guilt trips, I can succumb to a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. But this practice helps me to stay in the moment feeling the unconditional love of God so we can do the third tool.
3. Refocus our thoughts on the truth from God’s Word and/or the memories of His faithfulness and provision, empowering us to walk in strength.
The Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Instead of fixing my eyes on my problem like the latest daunting headline, or prognosis from the doctor, like rising gas prices, or constant political unrest… This verse encourages me to fix my focus on the problem solver, Jesus.
Here is that same verse in The Message.
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” 18: These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
Party in heaven, ya’ll!
“Therefore we do not lose heart.” We don’t give up. Instead, we trust that God’s got this and we embrace hope, an unshakable confidence concerning the future. It’s a deep abiding trust in God, that He’s got it handled, and it will work for our good.
Whatever you are facing today, I pray this helps.
Lovin’ Jesus and You