THE POWER OF THINKING FOR MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
Here are my notes for teaching my portion of the round-table discussion at the Cornerstone's April 26 worship celebration.
THE POWER OF THINKING
My assignment is to talk about the power of thinking in mental/emotional wellbeing. Bottom line, our thoughts are so powerful and so important that they are foundational for our quality of life. The Bible says:
(Proverbs 4:23) Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
The heart is a way of talking about our mind, our thoughts. The passage teaches that how we think determines how we live. Our thoughts control our moods, our decisions, our words.
Neuroscientists have done experiments that show how repetitive thoughts actually change the physical structures of our brain.
Some thoughts actually trigger toxic brain changes that are harmful to us. For example, if our thoughts are repeatedly focused on the negative, such as anger, anxiety, bitterness, and so on, those ways of thinking actually get hard-wired into our brains and that creates the way we approach everything. Constant fear-filled thinking leads to a brain that is wired to fear everything.
Bottom line: We cannot focus on negative thoughts and expect to have a positive life.
CHANGING OUR THOUGHT-LIFE
The good news is this: we can change our thoughts, thus changing our brains, thus changing our mental and emotional health. Here's how. Look what the Bible teaches us in Romans 12:2:
(Romans 12:2) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
We can improve our mental and emotional wellbeing by constantly doing three things:
Choosing our thoughts. Basing them on ideas that are godly, true, and positive.
Monitoring our thoughts to weed out and reject thinking that is ungodly, untrue, or negative.
Repeating the choosing and monitoring process over and over again. Here's the exciting part, after about two months of repeatedly focusing on a godly idea, it actually gets hard-wired physically into our brains. It becomes a sub-conscious way of thinking. Songs and pictures are great helps in this process.
OK. Tami and Joey, do you have a question or an idea to add?
Q: Peter, where do you find these godly, true, or positive thoughts that you talked about?
A: Primarily, I find them in the Bible. I focus on who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing for me and on his teachings. I focus on the character of God. I read Psalm 145. I read Romans 8. Proverbs are a goldmine. I'm pretty ruthless about what I allow my mind to focus on. I don't watch ungodly, dark, vulgar, negative shows. It's not unusual for Kim or me to turn off a movie after a few minutes because we know it's not going to produce healthy thinking. I try to follow Paul's insight in Philippians 4:8:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
That's in there in the context of combatting anxiety.
Q: Peter, how do you monitor your thoughts and what do you do when there are so many thoughts and they seem out of control?
A: Dr. Caroline Leaf is a neuroscience researcher and a believer and she gives me a lot of confidence that we can take a deep breath and re-focus our thinking. She writes: "You are able to stand outside yourself, observe your own thinking, consult with God, and change the negative, toxic thought or grow the healthy, positive thought. When you do this, your brain responds with a positive neurochemical rush and structural changes that will improve your intellect, health, and peace. You will experience soul harmony and share that harmony with others.”
Q: What role does the Holy Spirit play in this process?
A: I believe the Spirit brings God's word to mind. He did it for the apostles so they could remember what Jesus taught them, so I'm confident he still does that today in our lives, especially as we read, contemplate, and memorize Bible passages and concepts. It's very cool how the Spirit brings exactly the insight or promise that my mind needs in a specific situation:
(John 14:26) "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (See also, 1 John 2:20, 27.)