Thinking About Your Thinking

Episode Summary

Just as railroad tracks provide a clear route for a train to follow, our minds create neural pathways for us to think the same thoughts over and over again. The more we think a certain way, the more automatic our thoughts become. In this episode, we explore how to examine our thoughts, renew our minds, and create new neural pathways.

Episode Transcription

Have you ever met someone who's directionally challenged? That's my mom. She's been way better since smartphones came out. But before the digital age, if she left town without my dad, it was asking for a frantic phone call from a gas station where she couldn't figure out her way back home. Case in point, she went to visit my brother one time to just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. It was about a five hour trip, and she was doing really well until she accidentally exited the interstate and ended up in the loop of arrivals and departures at the Indianapolis International Airport. And she couldn't figure out how to get out of the loop. You ever seen that movie European Vacation, where the griswolds get caught in the roundabout in London, and the dad just keeps saying, look, kids, big Ben parliament. Look, kids. Big Ben. Parliament. And they're riding the loop until the sun goes down? That was my mom at the Indianapolis International Airport. Another time she came to visit me in Kansas City, and she was doing so good. I mean, she was really close to sticking the landing. She was about 20 minutes away when she exited the interstate again. And this time she ended up in an endless line for parking at a Kansas City Royals game. And if you've ever been in line for parking at a Royals game, it's like a sea of red taillights and you can't get out of it. You can't back up. You actually have to go through the toll booth to pay and then swim your way back out against the stream of traffic and try to figure your way out to get back to the interstate. Needless to say, we were very happy to discover that Amtrak had a direct route from southeast Iowa, just south of where my parents lived, to downtown Kansas City. It was perfect because we knew if we could get her on the train, once she got on board, there were no left turns, no right turns. It was a direct route, and it would take her exactly to her destination. That's the beautiful thing about trains. The course is set, the course is determined, and if you just ride the rails, you're going to get to your destination. And there's a great parallel there for our thought life. In fact, you've probably heard that phrase, a train of thought. What a train of thought means is if we can link one idea to another idea, we'll eventually arrive at a conclusion. So it's someone's line of reasoning. If we can understand their train of thought, we understand how they get to their conclusion or their destination. I love the idea of trains and tracks being compared to our thought life, because our thoughts really do lay down tracks for our mind to travel over and over again. Here's what happens inside of our brain. Our thoughts produce a neurochemical change inside of our head. When we think the same thoughts over and over again. Our neurons actually link together and they create what's called neuropathways. It's very much like tracks for a train. Our mind knows how to think that same way again and again. Now, that's great. Eight if it's things like remembering directions for how to get to work or remembering how to. Daily task, it becomes automatic because pathways have been formed. But if we think about it in terms of our self talk, if we have really negative self talk, we've actually created neural pathways, train tracks, and our mind thinks that way every single day. It's the way that we talk to ourself negatively. Now, if we have positive self talk, that's awesome, because those train tracks have been laid in our mind, and our thoughts automatically go down those train tracks. What I want to talk about today is how to correct a couple of negative ways of thinking. And I want to start with worry, and I'm going to compare this one to a roller coaster train. You've probably been on a roller coaster before. You sit inside of the car and you start inching forward slowly, and there's always a hill at the very beginning. You start clicking up that hill, and your anxiety is building because you know when there's enough momentum and you get over that first hill, you're about to go on a really, really wild ride. Upside down, sideways, going fast. If you're like me, you're getting sick. The whole time, people are screaming, it's a wild ride. And then you come to a screeching halt only to find yourself back at where you very first began. And that's really the picture of worry. If you're someone that has laid the rails inside of your brain of an anxious, worried way of thinking, that's what goes on in your mind the whole day. You wake up in the morning and it's like a slow creep. As you begin to get more alert and more awake, the thoughts start to come. And then the whole day is a wild ride of playing out worst case scenarios and worrying about the future, or fear of failure, whatever it is that you're anxious about. You go on that wild ride all day long, only to end your day with the screeching halt, finding that you're back at the same place as where you began. And then the next day, you start creeping up that hill, and your mind has laid these rails of an anxious, worried way of thinking. Now, contrast that way of life with the scripture in Philippians four six where Paul says, don't worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all that he's done. What Paul's doing in this scripture? Is he's offering a better way of thinking? He says, don't worry about anything. Did you know worry and anxiety come into our life when things are out of control? It's because we start looking toward the future and we aren't sure what's coming. And so we go on that roller coaster ride inside of our mind, playing out worst case scenarios, fear of the future. But Paul gives us a better alternative here. He says, tell God, the one who is in control, what you need, and thank him for all he has done notice. Paul says look to the past. Give God thanks for how he's been faithful in the past, for how he showed up in the past, how he provided, how he made a way, how he brought reconciliation. So look to the past and give him thanks. And then talk to the one who is in control about the future. I love what Paul is doing here because he's trying to. US out of a futile way of thinking, which is a phrase he uses a couple other places in scripture. Futile means produceless or useless or hopeless. It's going on that roller coaster ride only to find ourselves back at the very place where we started. So Paul is offering a new track, a track that's going somewhere, a track that's leading to a better destination. Pray to the one who's in control and give gratitude. Lay a new pathway in your brain, because your thinking is laying the rails for the rest of your life to follow. So we don't want this roller coaster train way of thinking. We're full of worry and anxiety, and we go on this wild ride in our mind every day but get absolutely nowhere. But we also don't want a runaway train way of thinking, and this one involves toxic thoughts. Have you ever seen an old Western movie that has a train barreling down the tracks out of control, and for whatever reason, it's at this out of control speed, and the brakes aren't going to be able to stop it in time, or the brakes are out, or there's a bridge out and it's headed toward a crash. Sometimes our mind can be that way. It can be like a runaway train. And we know that our mind and our thoughts are out of control, but we don't know how to stop it. And that's because we've created this neural pathway in our brain that has a toxic way of thinking. These thoughts not only affect us, but they affect everybody around us. Imagine the engineer on that runaway train. If he can't stop that train, it's not just going to affect him, it's going to affect everybody that's on board. Toxic thoughts are false beliefs that have become automatic. They're automatic, negative ways of thinking that become core to who we are. We don't even think to question them anymore. They sound like everyone's going to leave me or I'm not good enough, or I'm worthless, or I'm stupid, or I'm all alone or no one can be trusted, or I'm never going to amount to anything. It's a skewed judgment that we have of ourselves or that we have of other people. And remember, our thoughts are laying tracks for our lives to follow. So as we repeat the lies, these toxic lies, day after day, we're picking up steam and we're headed for a crash. At some point, we have to start thinking about our thinking. We have to ask ourselves, where are my thoughts taking me? If I press fast forward on this way of thinking, where am I headed? And if that's not a good place, then we have to take our thoughts and put our thoughts on trial. Do you remember the verse in Philippians four eight where Paul writes, 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. I wish we could remove the top of our heads like the lid of a cookie jar and pull out our negative thoughts or our worry or anxiety and put them on a witness stand just like they're in a courtroom and they're in the hot seat. Our fear of failure sits, or our fear of the future or our toxic thoughts about ourselves. And I'd love to see our thoughts cross exam ammon by Philippians four eight. I'd love to see a prosecutor say, Are you true? Are you noble? Are you right? Are you pure? Are you lovely? Are you admirable? Are you excellent? Are you praiseworthy? Did you order the code red? Sorry. That was my Tom Cruise impression. But I want you to actually imagine it. Imagine your anxious thought on trial. Imagine the condemning voice that's inside of your head on trial. And it's sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So as it's getting drilled with questions like are you true? Are you noble? Are you excellent? Are you right? It's forced to answer with an honest response of no, there's actually nothing to be anxious about. No, I actually am worth something. I actually am good enough. This is what thinking about our thinking does. It's the beginning of dismantling the tracks that we've laid inside of our head. I love these four questions that author Byron Katie suggest we use to isolate a negative thought. And then we run the thought through these four questions. It's like a cross examination. It's thinking about our thinking. So we isolate the one thought and we ask number one, is it true? And that's the first thing in Paul's list in Philippians four eight is it true? And then number two is really similar. Can I absolutely know that it is true? Sometimes we've been thinking a certain way for so long that we've fictionalized what really happened. And so the second question asks us to take a look again, shine a flashlight on that moment in time again and see what it reveals to you. Remove all the subjective ways of thinking and try to look at the facts. Can I absolutely know that this thought that permeates in my mind, can I absolutely know that it is true? And then, number three how do I react when I believe that thought? She suggests that we close our eyes and witness the feelings, feel the body sensations. Do I get a lump in my throat? Do I get like a pain in my gut? What behaviors arise in me when I believe that thought? Notice how you treat other people when you think that thought. Notice how you treat yourself. So number one is it true? Number two can I absolutely know that it is true? Number three how do I react when I believe that thought? And then, number four who would I be without the thought? What a powerful question. Who would I be if I didn't have the roller coaster of anxiety going through my mind every day? Who would I be if my mind wasn't like a runaway train? Would I be freed up to take risks? Would I be more present with people in my life? Who would I be if I didn't have this thought inside of my mind? And take some time to dwell on that. If this thought went away, how would I live my life? Four powerful questions Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it's true? How do I react when I believe the thought? And who would I be without the thought? And then I would offer one bonus question. What if the opposite of the thought were true? In terms of spiritual warfare? We know that Satan's name literally means the opposer, and he's the father of lies. So if we're stuck. In a rut of negative thinking that's based on lies. It would be good to ask ourselves, what if the opposite were true? What an empowering question to ask ourselves, because the truth is what sets us free. I want to close with one last scripture. In Romans twelve two, Paul writes we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. That's how important our thought life is. It can literally transform our entire life. If we go back to the train analogy, it is impossible for a train to be on two different train tracks at the exact same time. So if we press play on our current way of thinking and we don't like where we're headed, the only way for us to get on another set of tracks is to renew our mind. It's to think on things that are true and pure and excellent and praiseworthy. I want to encourage you today to start thinking about your thinking and aligning your thoughts with God's thoughts so that you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Thank you for listening. We hope this message encouraged you. 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