One of the keys to helping my patients achieve the healthier life they want is to help them change their behaviors. After all, if you want to lose weight AND continue eating junk food every day, you will always be frustrated.
So often, the goals we set for ourselves are on the other side of the behaviors we don’t want to let go of. You cannot wish your way to toned leg muscles. You can’t pray off the “spare tire” around your waist. It requires new behaviors, and new behaviors require new thinking.
The Apostle Paul said that in order to experience a significant transformation in our lives, we need to stop conforming to our former way of living and “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
So, How Do We Change Our Thinking?
It’s much easier than you think…and much harder.
First, the hard part: you have to WANT to change.
It’s like the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change.”
You have to want to change badly enough to stick with it when it’s no fun. Humans are creatures of habit, and American Humans, in particular, are creatures of comfort. Change is usually uncomfortable, at least at first. Real transformation starts when you get away from what makes you comfortable.
When the discomfort of your current life becomes greater than your fear of change, you will find the courage to change.
So, now onto the easier part.
I think most of us have the mentality that if we want to change our thinking, we have to spend a week hunkered down in isolation, doing nothing but repeating the same phrase over and over to ourselves until we suddenly look up and realize we are different.
It sounds absurd when you say it out loud like that, but don’t we harbor that image in the back of our mind? We say, “I wish I were more disciplined, but I don’t have time to devote to changing.” We might say, “I wish I were a more confident person, but I would need to spend time meditating to have that kind of breakthrough.”
Changing your thinking doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Frankly, if you went away and locked yourself in a log cabin for a week of meditation, you would be bored after the first hour. I know I would be. I would be looking for a jet-ski or SCUBA gear. That’s where I do my best thinking anyway, not locked in a quiet house, “trying” to think.
Things You Can Do Today To Think Differently
Here are a couple of simple things you can incorporate into your daily life to see a significant difference in your thought life in a relatively short period of time.
Change Your Route To Work
Little changes in your daily routine stimulate new channels in your brain. Repeated experiences reinforce existing electrochemical connections in your brain (called “synapses”), while new experiences open up new connections. You might see something very differently, which may cause you to reevaluate something you have always held true, like finding out that some of the amazing scenery on old movie sets are just flat paintings. On the other hand, you might find a new restaurant, a new park, a new museum, a new place to live, a new side of town. Any of these things would trigger a change in your thought life. That might also lead to…
Talk To Someone New
Birds of a feather flock together, don’t they? That provides a certain amount of comfort to your life, but it can also get you into a rut. If you spend all your time with people who think like you, it reinforces what you already believe, making it more difficult to see any shortcomings (or errors) in your beliefs.
Widening your social circles widens your worldview. Meet people from other cultures, backgrounds, skin colors, and religions. You might be surprised by what you learn from someone that you might otherwise avoid…if you’ll just take the time to listen with the intent to understand. One of my good friends mentioned recently that his Christian faith has been super-charged by his interactions with a group of Jews he has gotten to know through his business deals. You don’t have to abandon your beliefs or values (in fact, you shouldn’t), but when you see them in a wider context, you gain a better understanding of what you truly believe and why you believe it.
From that conversation, you might just…
Read Something Written By Someone With A Different Viewpoint
If you only read conservative-leaning news, try reading a more liberal blog with the intent to understand their viewpoint (or vice versa). You don’t have to agree with it, just understand their thinking. You might even discover that they have some valid points. Most of what passes for news on both sides is just partisan propaganda with the intent to bring division between people. The more you understand the other person’s point of view, the better you can communicate with them in an honorable and respectful way. You might learn something, too.
The news is an extreme example; there are plenty of other situations where we get set in our ways and benefit from someone else’s perspective.
Again, the point is not to abandon your current beliefs, but to see them from a wider perspective. For example, if you belong to a particular church denomination and you believe that your denomination is the only one that accurately interprets the Bible, you might benefit from reading a Bible study by someone with a different view. You might find that their perspective on a controversial passage makes sense because they connected it to different verses than you did.
Change Your Brand
Shop in a new store. Buy a different toothpaste than you normally get. Eat a different lunch than you normally do. Join a group or visit a church you’ve never been to. Wear something that makes you feel a little awkward in public. A friend of mine recently tried this. She changed where she bought clothes. There was one outfit in particular that she felt very self-conscious about wearing in public, but when she did she got so many positive comments from people – even from complete strangers! It changed the way she felt about herself. Another friend tried sushi on a whim and ended up discovering a love for Japanese food, culture, and music. Not all changes are going to have that dramatic of an impact on you, but every change opens you up to a new life in some small way.
It’s so easy to get into routines…and that can be good, up to a point. But it doesn’t take long to become a rut, a limitation, a box.
I know I said earlier that you can’t meditate your problems away, but there is a case to be made for meditating to change your thought life. The issue with not with the meditation, but with the method. You don’t have to run away and hide out in a cabin in the woods for weeks to change. You just need to change the things you say to yourself throughout your day.
Yes, you talk to yourself. Don’t worry…we all talk to ourselves. You’re not crazy.
The Apostle Paul also mentions “taking thoughts captive” and making them obedient to your new thought pattern. You can choose which thoughts you will think and which thoughts you will push away. Like one minister said, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop him from making a nest in your hair.” Thoughts come into our minds non-stop. We are constantly bombarded by advertising messages, memories, social media, conversations, sights, sounds, smells, and other stimulations that trigger action in our brains. Even spirits can plant thoughts in our minds. We don’t have to accept every thought that comes into our minds, though. When you recognize a thought in your mind that you want to change, you need to confront that old thought with the new thought you want to replace it with.
Decide what you want to think, and then identify the thoughts you want to replace.
For example, if you have always carried the thought, “I’ll never be successful in business,” then you need to recognize that thought when it comes up in your mind and confront it with a new thought: “I am intelligent, teachable, humble, others-focused, and resourceful, so I will be successful in business,” or something like it.
Here’s a key that most people miss: it’s not enough to confront thoughts with thoughts. You’ll just have a muddle in your mind, and the established thought will always win because it is entrenched. You have to confront thoughts by speaking the new words out loud. Your mind listens to your mouth, and will interrupt anything it hears inside with what it hears from the outside.
Try this: start counting from one to ten in your mind, then interrupt yourself in the middle by saying your name out loud. I don’t have space to explain this whole principle here, but it works.
Take some time every day to say out loud something that you want to be different in your life. Don’t say, “I wish I were smart.” Say, “I am smart. I am intelligent. I am bright.” Some people call it “positive confession” or “mind science.” All I know is that the Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” What you say, especially to yourself, is important.
This one is pretty extreme, admittedly, but think about how this can change your thinking. In the process of packing, you have to evaluate every object in your current home (unless you’re one that just throws everything haphazardly into a box and tapes it up) and make a decision about its role in your new life. Things that have been invisible to you, like books on shelves, suddenly take on new significance when you have to think about boxing them up and taking them to a new place.
I find that moving can be a very spiritual experience, where you say goodbye to old friends, end relationships with items that have outlasted their usefulness to you, push out old clutter, end old routines and habits, and reestablish your life in a new environment. If you ever want to close out old habits and establish new ones, possibly the best time is when you are moving to a new home.
Again, it’s an extreme case, but it’s a powerful time to swap out habits. If you’re anticipating a move, make the most of it by planning to replace any habits you want to change in the midst of the transfer.
Little Changes Add Up
These are just a handful of things you can do to change your thought life without running away into the mountains to fight for your thought life. If you’re in a rut with a behavior you want to change, it starts with your mind. Fortunately, your mind is adaptable and little changes in your environment will make changing your mind easier.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. If so, take a few seconds to share it on Facebook. It just might change someone’s thinking, and that might change their whole life.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles (and new habits) is a PROMISE!” — Eric Thomas