“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the view they take of them.” Epictetus
“For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7
“We are the product of our thinking, so it is important that we choose carefully where to focus our mental energy.” Dr. Charles Stanley
Good mental health! It’s a statement we hear quite often, but the reality of what really constitutes it is sometimes illusive. Aside from those who have a diagnosable disorder of some type or a medical issue, the interplay of our thinking, emotions and behaviors must be taken into account for good mental health. It is often our misunderstanding of the interaction of these three that can cause some confusion, worry, anxiety or distress. In Cognitive therapy, a model is used which asserts that people’s thoughts and perceptions of events strongly influence their emotions and behaviors. It is not a situation in and of itself that determines how we feel, but the way we interpret or give meaning to an event or situation. Most of us relate how we feel about events, things and circumstances and therefore spend a lot of time attempting to arrange and change circumstances so we will be happy. The truth however, is emotions and behaviors do not depend on our environment, but our thoughts and belief systems which are called, our SELF TALK.
Choices! Our choices of our thoughts about events-our self talk-create our emotions and affect our behaviors! Self talk initiates and intensifies our emotions. It directs how we behave and what we say to others; and what people say to themselves governs the way they feel and act. Is your self talk a critical voice or an affirming one? The emotional or behavioral consequence of an event or situation in our life is not created by that event. It is our belief system, what we tell ourselves, which creates them. We create change in our lives by gaining control of our thoughts. Our thought processes, such as how we view ourselves and others, and how we approach problems, have been programmed throughout our lives from our development, family interactions, experiences, relationships, knowledge and other influences. We can decide on some of our mind’s influences-such as what we read, watch, listen to- but others such as parents or our environment we cannot. But we can choose what influences and input will shape our mind by believing and dwelling on that material.
Attitude is everything! Chuck Swindoll, a well known pastor in Frisco, says the most significant decision he can make daily is his choice of attitude. Making a determined decision of your will to change your attitude definitely leads to a healthy mind. We control our attitude; we have the power to change it if we decide to and this is biblical principle-“to be made new in the attitude of your minds” (Eph 4:23). Kevin Gerald, also a pastor, uses the F.A.I.T.H. acrostic: Focus on the positive- decide what you will focus on, will it be positive things or negative? Positive minds are always full of faith. Affirm yourself- what do you tell yourself all day long, your self talk, inner dialogue? Imagine God doing something good in your life- imagine the best; imagine God at work for your best! Trust God in all things- think on God’s presence with you at all times. Hope for the best- hope leads you to faith.
Distorted Thoughts! Be aware and be careful of how you perceive situations, events and even the behaviors and intended messages of others. It is certainly easy to get trapped into the most common distorted thoughts: Filtering-tunnel vision; looking at one element of the situation without looking at any others. Polarized- seeing everything in extremes; no middle ground. Overgeneralization- a conclusion is based on one incident or piece of information. Mind reading- snap judgments where there is no evidence for the assumption which is made based on hunches, intuition, a couple of experiences or vague feelings.
Catastrophizing- making a mountain out of a molehill. Personalization- relating everything to you; blaming yourself, always taking the responsibility. Emotional reasoning- if I feel it, it must be true. Blaming- someone else is responsible and it takes the responsibility off of us. Should’s- set of inflexible rules that are correct, indisputable and absolute-any deviation is bad. Always being right- consistent effort to always prove your perspective.
God’s word continually affirms the necessity of using our mind and being “self controlled” (1 Thess 5:6, 8; 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8). It tells us to take our thoughts “captive” and to get rid of the thinking that is unhealthy, vain and of no use. We need to replace negative, unrealistic or distorted thinking with higher ways of thinking, “setting our minds on things above” and making choices to have the right attitude. Retrain your brain! Make into habits the positive things you want in your life. Try the 3-D’s: decide what kind of person you want to be and declare it out loud, on paper. Then, direct your mind toward that goal. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). As Rick Warren says in “How to Be Thankful in Tough Times”: don’t worry about anything; pray about everything; thank God in all things; and think about the right things!
What we think about, what we dwell on, where we FIX OUR MIND, will dictate our peace!