Lately my mind has been busy ruminating over people and their thoughts of me. Fun, huh? I don’t even realize it’s happening until my mood sours and my self-confidence declines, and then I notice that my brain has gone on ugly autopilot.
One aspect of divorce that is hard is the “taking of sides.” Sometimes it’s not so bad because they were more my wusband’s friend than mine, or a business associate that I didn’t even know, or a new friend of his since the separation and divorce. But then there are the friends, or maybe I should call them acquaintances, who stand behind my wusband, that really surprise me. When that happens my brain tries to make sense of it all. Is their support of him an indication that they have always liked him more than me? Maybe. Are they mad at me? Could be. Do they think terrible things of me? Who knows? My brain makes assumptions and those assumptions usually hurt.
I was working with my coach to try to understand why I was struggling with these negative thoughts and why they were stuck in an dark eddy spinning round and round my head. Within a few minutes it was clear to my coach (but of course not to me, which is why I love my coach) that I was asking questions to which there may not be answers. Once I talked myself out she asked, “Dale, if you aren’t able to understand their behavior, what could you do instead?”
Hmmm. That was a hard one. I was speechless for what seemed like several minutes but was really closer to several seconds. And then it hit me. What I could do was set limits on my thoughts of them. I could choose not to entertain thoughts of them. I could do that. Because
“What others think of me is none of my business.”
I make assumptions about people’s thoughts way too much when I have no idea what they are thinking of me. And the truth is that I don’t know them, not really. And they don’t know me. These are not the people that I trust to share my heart with, so truly, they don’t know me. They may know about me but they don’t know me.
But that doesn’t stop me from letting my assumptions about their thoughts affect my behavior. When I assume someone doesn’t like me, I distance myself. And while they may not like me, I’ll never know because I have pulled away. It’s a reactive way to live and I hate it. I want to live proactively, choosing my behavior, living in integrity and setting limits on my thoughts.
Setting limits on my thoughts is the same thing as loving God with my mind.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37
Even though it seems as though our minds are hard to control, we do have choices. We are in charge of our thoughts.
I’m reading a great book called Your Brain at Work by David Rock and I just learned that while humans don’t have much ability to intervene in the signals sent out by our brains initially (ambient neural activity), we do have veto power, the ability to choose whether to act on that impulse. Which is why the apostle Paul told us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is possible to take control of our thoughts and set limits on them so the enemy won’t spin lies in our head.
When I am in conversation with myself (on autopilot in my mind), I am swimming in my own limited knowledge and my own personal bias. My thoughts are swirling in a vacuum with no hope for change. That is, until I turn my conversation with me into a conversation with God. Since “His thoughts are not our thoughts” I am probably not thinking like God when I am on autopilot, so I am working on asking,
“What are your thoughts on this subject God?”
Isn’t that a great question? (It’s not mine. It’s from John Eldridge in Walking With God.) If I let God tell me what to think about people or situations, then I know it will be true. And I know that it will set me free. Free to live without the approval of others. Free to work on my own character defects without condemnation and judgment. Free to be me.
So this week I am working on taking control of my negative thoughts by becoming aware of them. I noticed this was much harder to do while driving, showering, and washing dishes-those routine activities that tend to put my mind into autopilot. I learned that the medial prefrontal cortex of our brain is part of our default network that becomes active when we are not doing much at all. So watch out. I am also going to notice my thoughts and if they are swirling, I am going to ask God what His thoughts are. I’m going to confess and ask forgiveness for the times when I choose not to take control of my thoughts and to ruminate on unsolved mysteries. And finally I am going to replace those ugly thoughts and assumptions by thinking about “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.” (Philippians 4:8)
How do you handle your thought life?
If you are stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts that are keeping you from great relationships with God, others or yourself, I’d love to work with you. Email me at DWSkram@comcast.net for a free 30 minute inquiry session to see if real.life.coaching might be a good fit for you.