Have you ever found yourself caught in a negative thought pattern loop? Something happens and you are suddenly thinking painful or angry thoughts. You may have been hurt by someone you trusted, had something tragic happen that haunts you, or are dogged by your own failures. Whatever the cue that starts you on the negative mental path, you find yourself rehashing the incident and feeling the pain again. After a while it becomes a habit and your mind will automatically revert to the pain. You want to forgive. You certainly want to forget. How can you be free? There is a way. You can break bad thought habits the same way you break your physical ones.
We’ve seen that there is a definite habit loop: a cue sets us off on a habit cycle, we follow with a routine, and then achieve a result. Today we’ll look at something deeper — how habits affect your healthy spiritual living plan. I found that it is possible by doing the same steps that rid us of physical habits. First see the pattern. What causes you to go off in that negative spiral? Then make an effort to avoid those cues. If it is a person who keeps bringing up the situation, you may have to step away from him. If it is a place or event, you may need to take a detour around those things.
But what if you can’t? What if you can’t get away from the cues? For many people it is a day when something tragic occurred. You can’t stop the calendar. Others may find the people triggers are inescapable. What can you do if you can’t avoid the mental cues that send you into a depressing and/or angry downward spiral?
Try changing the routine. Determine ahead of time that when the cue appears, you will make a conscious decision to change the direction of your thoughts.
I learned to do this when a well-loved business that promised such hope and was, well, fun, bit the dust. Every time I saw another business in that chain — or even the logo — I felt a surge of sorrow. That was followed by anger over circumstances that caused it to fail, a series of “what ifs” that plagued me, and inevitable depression.
I could avoid the cue, to some extent, but it would mean avoiding friends who have the same business, and driving out of my way to avoid seeing the signs. Not practical. Instead I decided to use the logo and the mention of the name to prompt me to pray. I decided to:
- Thank God that He is in control, even over the situations and people that let me down.
- Thank God that He is bigger than my mistakes, and has a purpose in them.
- Thank God that He delivered me from the debt the failure incurred.
- Ask Him to show me where His plan for the rest of my life is leading me.
By the time I get to number four in the list, I’m no longer angry or upset. Because it’s true. He is in control. He is bigger than mistakes — those of my own as well as those of others. Making a conscious decision to change my thought patterns to rehearse His goodness and truth instead of following the tiresome rutted path of anger sets me free.
It enables me to forgive and to move on.
My pastor/husband often advises people who can’t overcome grief over the loss of a loved one to use this very plan. Turning from habit thoughts of “what if” and “if only” to thanking God for the gift of time they had with their beloved is often the first step out of the abyss of pain.
Are you in a tiresome rut of anger and depression over a situation that just won’t go away? Take it to God. Ask Him for help to turn it around to a habit of prayer and communion with Him. It may take a bit for the habit to become automatic, but it will. And freedom is wonderful!
Eating to live and living for Christ,
Susan Jordan Brown