Brain: An apparatus with which we think we think. ~Ambrose Bierce,
Ever since our boys were small, my wife and I (John) have tried to help them learn about being financially responsible and aware. The world is not very kind to young adults who don`t understand money. I sometimes engaged the concepts in a joking way. For example, when I would get ready to leave the house on a Saturday to work at the office, one of them would say, €œWhy are you going to the office?
€œBecause I need to finish a project.
€œWhat if you didn`t finish?
€œI wouldn`t get paid for the work.
€œWhat if that happened?
€œWe wouldn`t have money.
€œWhat would happen then?
€œWe wouldn`t be able to pay for what we need.
€œThen what would happen?
€œThen we couldn`t live in our house.
€œWhere would we live?
€œIn a tent.
We had this strange dialogue many times when the kids were young. And at the end, they would look at me quizzically, see that I was joking, and say goodbye as I took off for the office.
However, the older they got, the less they bought into my argument and the more they cut to the chase. Now, in their teenage years, it goes more like this:
€œWhy are you going to the office?
€œI need to finish a project.
€œDon`t even say tent, Dad. It`s Saturday. You promised to take me to Best Buy. Let`s go.
And the sometimes-workaholic father goes to Best Buy instead of to the office.
Thinking and the Truth
The tent story illustrates a type of distorted thought process called catastrophic thinking. People who practice catastrophic thinking look at a small problem and picture it escalating until they`re sure it will result in a disastrous outcome. A missed payment will bring bankruptcy; a marital fight will end up in divorce; forgetting to take a pill will cause a hospitalization. Catastrophic thinking can cause serious problems in your ability to make empowering, ownership-type choices. It can paralyze you and keep you stuck in anxiety.
But catastrophic thinking is just one example of a bigger issue. Whether or not you go the tent route, you almost certainly have some sort of thinking problem, technically called cognitive distortion, which can hamper your pathway to success. In this chapter we will show you several types of cognitive distortion.
A great deal of helpful research has been done with cognitive distortions. Most cognitive experts agree that our brains sometimes automatically reach conclusions about things based on some habit or perception, rather than accurately relating to what is really going on. Though it seems to us that we are thinking factual reality, the truth is much more complex. Our thinking is colored by our primary relationships, experiences, our past, our development, the amount of stress we are under, and many other factors.
For example, suppose you are a woman having dinner with a man you are dating. During the evening, his wallet opens accidentally, spilling out a photo of a very attractive woman. When you see the picture you might think, He has a relationship already, and he hasn`t said anything about it. I am history with this guy. But seconds later he picks up the photo and says, €œThis is my sister, I`d like you to meet her sometime. Relieved, you congratulate yourself for not speaking every single thought that passes through your mind.
When we take distorted thinking to the next level, to the level of important life goals, we begin to see how much it can affect whether you get what you want out of life. The very way people think can render them powerless and helpless, and lead them to blame others.
For example, sometimes people see themselves and their abilities in such a way that they feel they could never succeed. Others look at their options as severely limited. And others listen to their minds telling them that if they take a small risk, their world will fall apart. You really can`t overstate the importance of your thinking patterns. Nor can you overstate how dramatically helpful it can be to learn to think differently. That is why thinking is one of your eight keys to empowerment and life change.
Make the Shift
As you begin the process of learning to think differently, one fundamental reality that you must come to terms with is that your mind is not always telling you the truth! Your thinker sometimes thinks thoughts that have nothing to do with reality. This is despite the fact that your mind may be telling you that those thoughts are real, true, and accurate.
This is not easy for most of us to accept. And it`s no wonder, because all we have to think with is our mind, and most of the time, our mind operates as if its perceptions were true. Your mind doesn`t usually say. Look, it seems like your boss isn`t seeing you in a positive light and you need to do something about this. Maybe you should talk to him. But I could be all wrong. Maybe he really likes you. Maybe I`m a little bit paranoid, or maybe I don`t want you to set up and get too hopeful here. You know you can`t always trust what I, your mind, says. Anyway, good luck, and make your best choice.
No, if your mind worked like this, you would have a hard time making any choices at all! Your brain thinks what it thinks, and it is usually fairly sure about its perceptions.
The bad news is that while your thinker always tends to come across as sure, it may not always be accurate. The good news is that you can change that. You can help your thinker to think in more reality-based, perceptive, and helpful ways about you and your life. In fact, you, and only you can begin to think differently in ways that are best for you. Rather than letting your thinking contribute to your difficulties, you can learn to use your thinking to your advantage and toward achieving your goals. This is an important issue, because so many of our decisions are based on what our thinker, the brain, tells us.
This doesn`t mean that we can simply tell ourselves to think differently and it will automatically happen. You can`t simply repeat the truth over and over and over and hope your thoughts get the message and make the change. That`s riot how it works. But you can make significant shifts, as we will show in this chapter, in how you look at life and yourself. And these shifts can result in changed thoughts.
Begin by making the essential first shift. Here it is: give up the idea that what you think is always the way things are. Question what your mind is perceiving, and learn the tips we will give you here to help train to see what truly is.
This step is also good for your mental health. One of the primary indicators of a character problem is a person`s resistance to questioning his perceptions about his situation or relationships. He is absolutely sure that things are the way he sees them.
Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who persisted in seeing you as the bad guy, no matter what evidence you gave to the contrary? New or different information had no effect€”whether it proved that you weren`t what he thought you were or that you bad really changed. He was as the saying goes, €œalways certain and often wrong.
A person with this sort of rigidity will inevitably have trouble reaching his goals. Reality is larger than we are, and when we insist that reality conform to our perceptions, we have the same mindset as the two-year old who see her parents as hateful because they won`t give her a piece of candy. People who are into success bend their knees, and their perceptions, to reality. That is the mark of an adult, and not a child.
Further. the €œalways certain and often wrong person will encounter great resistance, not only from reality, but also from healthy people who don`t put up with foolishness. That person will end up losing business deals, having relational shipwrecks, and suffering for his or her rigidity.
I once consulted with a company whose CEO was €œalways certain and often wrong. He was a pleasant person, but he continually resisted the opinions and viewpoints of others in his group. In his mind, his perceptions were reality; there was no distinction between the two. For example, when two of his vice presidents confronted this CEO, showing how his approach to solving a marketing problem would not work, he said simple. €˜No, I`m sure it will work. Even in the face of spreadsheets and numbers, he could not imagine his viewpoint to be in error, though it was. As a result, the talented people in his group ended up leaving feeling frustrated and not allowed to achieve their potential. The company suffered because the CEO couldn`t imagine that his mind did not perceive absolute reality at all times.
Stay with us and we will help you make sure you`re not in that camp.
What Your Mind Distorts
Let`s look at some of the major ways that our mind distorts reality in the areas that affect empowerment and life ownership. As you read over these common statements or practices, think about times you may have used them yourself, and consider what it may have cost you.
Distorted- Thinking Statement No. 1: €œI`ve Tried Everything and Nothing Helps.
When facing an unreached goal, a relational opportunity, or a life problem that needs to be resolved, a person will often express some form of I`ve tried everything and nothing helps. That is to say, he believes he has tried everything, and there are no solutions, in his mind, he has exhausted all the possibilities for making changes, achieving dreams, and making improvements, and now he must resign himself to the reality that there is no hope for betterment. Nothing helps.
It is true that there are those times in which nothing does help, at least in the sense that you can`t undo the past. When a person you love dies, he is gone. When you get fired, you are not likely to get the job back. When your husband says critical things to you, they can`t be unsaid. No device has yet been invented that can rewind what has happened and replay it by a different script. Dealing with the inevitability of the past is more a matter of knowing how to grieve and adapt.
But the distorted thinking that leads one to think everything possible has been done and the situation is hopeless is another matter. The person with this mentality believes he has nothing left but to accept a bad situation with no hope of change. That is a discouraging and disempowering thinking pattern, and it keeps people stuck and hopeless.
I can`t count how many times a caller on our radio show has said, €œI`ve tried everything to solve this problem, and nothing helps. She may be referring to a troubled marriage, a problem child, or a weight issue. The problems vary widely, but this distorted-thinking response to them is all too common. When I hear this distortion, I generally respond with two questions.
What is €œeverything? More often than not, the caller will rattle off a pretty short list that doesn`t even begin to exhaust the possible approaches to a solution. Say you have a husband with an anger problem. What have you done? Let`s list some of the options. You could:
€¢ Talk to him.
€¢ Let him know specifically how his anger affects you.
€¢ Ask him what he thinks is the problem.
€¢ Invite him to tell you what he thinks might be your contribution.
€¢ Change what you need to change, in his terms, not yours.
€¢ Clarify your own distortions about appropriate and inappropriate anger.
€¢ Tell him what specifics you want changed.
€¢ Tell him not just what you don`t want, but what you want.
€¢ Work on increasing trust and attachment between yourselves as a couple.
€¢ Pray together as a couple about the matter.
€¢ Look at Bible passages that teach about anger
€¢ Help him learn about grief and sadness as an antidote to rage.
€¢ Bring others into the picture to help.
€¢ Go to a support group.
€¢ Go to counseling.
€¢ Warn of the consequences.
€¢ Set limits.
€¢ Set stricter limits when he escalates.
€¢ Give affirmation when he is more self-controlled.
The list could go on. The point is this: if you find yourself saving you have tried everything possible, it`s a good thing to question whether you really have.
The second question I ask when a caller tells me she has tried everything is, €œWhat do you mean by €˜try`? I attempt to find out what the caller really means by her use of that word. For example, how many times did you tell your husband you wanted him to stop drinking? How direct, forceful, and serious were you with him?
Often I find that try means, €œI brought it up once or twice, and I`m not really good at confrontation anyway, and he ignored me, so I decided that it wasn`t working. But that interpretation of try doesn`t take into consideration how much work it takes for people to change their behavior. It takes a lot of time and energy and it often takes many repetitions and efforts to bring into his awareness that you intend to stay on the issue; it isn`t going away.
Often, there is another factor driving the €œI`ve tried everything thinking. Sometimes an individual is afraid of failure, discouraged, or just plain worn out. Or he may feel that he is a pretty powerless individual in general and thus incapable of being an agent for change. If this describes you, it is worthwhile to dig out whatever is triggering this thinking and confront it in yourself.
Distorted – Thinking Statement No. 2: €œI Can`t
I can`t thinking is the opposite of can do thinking. It is literally can`t do thinking. In this mentality, people feel unable to make any move to better their situation or reach their goal. They feel profoundly helpless. I can`t thinking simply shuts the door to opportunities, hope, and change. There is no resource; nothing can be done and nothing can be different.
Now, certainly there are some can`t in the world. Most of us can`t become NBA players, or Harvard professors, or Jack Welches. But the number of people endowed to achieve these goals is a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of the population. There are a lot more cans than can`ts out there, but somehow for some people the can`ts seem to carry the day.
Here are some of the I can`ts that take over their thinking:
€¢ Lose the weight.
€¢ Get a better career going.
€¢ Get my husband to listen to me.
€¢ Confront my boss on this problem.
€¢ Find the right person to date.
€¢ Go back to school and retrain myself.
€¢ Get my kids to mind.
If you have had these or similar thoughts, You are not alone. We all do from time to time. But when those thoughts become a pattern, it`s time to see it as a problem.
Actually, there is a certain relief in I can`t thinking. When people give up on a dream or on changing a problem situation, they feel they can stop beating their head against a tree. No longer must they keep making attempt after attempt. They give up, change directions and change their focus and expectations.
This is well and good if you weigh 130 pounds and wanted to play in the NFL. It is probably wise that you changed your direction. But all too often the goal you walk away from may have been achievable, which means the relief of I can`t is offset by settling for much less than you need to.
For example, a businessman friend of mine got involved in church a few years ago. He really loved God and wanted to grow in his faith. However, he had not grown up in the church. You may be aware of this, but sometimes churches unfortunately have their own €œreligious language, with certain phrases and words, which has the result of keeping people feeling alienated rather than included.
My friend wanted to help out and serve, but he felt like he was at the bottom of the class because he didn`t know €œchurch language. He told me, €œI like coming to church and learning, but I can`t really help out. I don`t know the right words.
I said, €œI see it differently. When you say you can`t help out, I think it may be more that you don`t know how.
€œWhat do you mean?
€œWell, you feel like an outsider, and I think that`s not your fault, its the church`s. The church needs to know how to relate to the world, not the converse. Would you be interested in helping the outreach to the community? I think you have a lot to offer as to helping us connect with everyone.
My friend thought about it and agreed to meet with the outreach ministry at the church. He felt unqualified and had a lot of I can`t thoughts, but he stepped up anyway. It was a great fit. He helped the church to learn what it is that unchurched people which is most of the world feel, think, and need. The I can`t attitude never returned.
Where does I can`t thinking come from? Often, people have had experiences in which they learned to fear risk and failure. Perhaps they tried a new sport or a class and failed miserably. Or perhaps they had significant relationships in which people close to them were critical and unaccepting of their failure. Sometimes these people simply learn that life is easier when you don`t try, because when you avoid risk you don`t hurt so much.
But I can`t doesn`t have to be part of your vocabulary. Failure can be your friend, because it`s a great teacher. In fact, those people who succeed the most fail the most. The research backs this up time and time again.
The Bible teaches the same thing about I can`t thinking when it speaks about practicing those things which lead us to maturity: €œBut solid food for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14 NASB). Practicing means trying and failing, and practicing brings training to us. Practice is one of the antidotes to €œI can`t.
I can`t is usually distorted thinking because it simply does not reflect reality. You can overcome the distortion by substituting reality phrases for I can`t in your personal vocabulary. Here are a few that are usually more accurate than I can`t.
I am avoiding difficulty: Trying to get that raise will be a lot of work; but it`s more than I know to say whether I can or I can`t before I try.
I am afraid: I fear that if I ask my friends to set me up with a date, they`ll think I`m desperate.
I am not sure: I can`t tell what will happen when I tell my wife I`m not happy with our sex life, and it`s hard for me to say things when I`m not sure about the outcome.
I won`t: The catchall. I realize I really could start taking night courses for an MBA, but I just won`t do it right now.
There is hope in all of these phrases, certainly a lot more than utterly hopeless €œI can`t! If you label your excuses honestly, you can learn to face difficulties you are avoiding; your fears can be comforted and you can be reassured; a lack of sureness can turn confidence; and even your refusal to make a move still implies that you have a choice. Whereas I can`t takes the choice out of hands. So pay attention to your vocabulary and banish I can`t linking (except maybe for your hope of playing in the NBA).
Distorted-Thinking Practice No. 1: Passive Language .
Let`s go back into your high school English class for a moment. Remember that verbs have voices, and voices can be active or passive, depending on what they are intended to convey. The active voice connotes that someone is doing something; the passive voice indicates that something is being done.
For example, if you say, €œI quit my job, that is active. It means that you are the one who took the action to leave. If, however, you say, €œI was laid off, you indicate an entirely different scenario. The passive voice of this phrase indicates that something beyond you is the reason you don`t have the job (downsizing, economy, stock problems, or whatever). Whatever happened, it was not your fault. You are merely the passive recipient of the action.
Active and passive meanings have no moral value; they are neither good nor bad. They just convey when people use passive language to explain their choices in such a way that they disown responsibility ownership, and empowerment. They have selected a way of thinking and communicating to others that hampers their ability to take charge and take action to get what they need.
Let`s look at some examples of using passive language, and how it could be recast in ways more helpful in meeting your goals:
€¢ I was prevented from getting to the meeting on time by the traffic.
How about, €œI chose to chat on the phone too long before I got in the car?
€¢ The opportunity to bring up the problem didn`t come up in the conversation.
How about, €œI felt awkward, so I didn`t say anything?
€¢ He made me go to that horrible movie.
How about, €œI gave him control over my choices?
€¢ We ended up in bed.
How about,. €œI let my guard down and chose to have sex with him?
€¢ I was manipulated into buying the stock.
How about, €œI chose to not do the research myself, and gave the power and responsibility to that group?
€¢ I`m waiting on God to find me the perfect job. (This clothes irresponsible passivity€”a passive attitude€”in pseudo-spiritual language.) How about, €œI don`t want to send out resumes, call people, and go online. It`s too much trouble?
When you hold these passive excuses up to the light and expose them, they are no very pretty. And there are lots more examples of passive language than these few. But you get the point. It`s all about learning to put yourself back on the hot seat, which is certainly uncomfortable, but when you compare that momentary discomfort to the reality that you are now back in the driver`s seat of your life, it`s worth it. Now you can get back to what you can do and achieve. Until you do that, other people are in charge of your life;
Distorted- Thinking Practice No. 2: Negative Thinking
The minds of some people seem to work negatively all the time on just about everything. Whatever the event, problem, or opportunity, they cast a dark light on it which discourages them and keeps them from the moves they need to make. For them, the glass is always half empty, and the light at the end of the tunnel is always a train.
Research indicates that negative thinkers will key in on three basic areas of life: themselves, the world, and the future. They see themselves as unlucky, even as losers who never get a break. They look at the world as unfriendly to them, oppressing their chances, and giving others more opportunity. They don`t see their future as positive and hopeful. It seems bleak and dark, with no hope to brighten it up.
You may have tendencies toward negative thinking and not even be aware of them. You may think you are simply being realistic. You may even think, Those positive thinkers are out of touch with reality They live in the clouds and don`t understand life the way it really is.
You can see how negative thinking can paralyze your ability to combat the culture of blame and prevent you from taking hold of your life in an exciting and change-producing way. Taking chances, risks, and dreaming great dreams takes energy and passion. That energy and passion get sapped and drained when we are plagued by negative thinking. For example, suppose you want to improve your marriage, which is getting stale and humdrum. Maybe you`d like to recapture the intimacy and great feelings of your early days with your spouse.
But if you struggle with negative thinking, what do you come up against when you have these desires? You encounter thoughts like these: It`s too much work; I don`t have it in me anymore (myself€”it`s more than I handle). Besides, he won`t respond. He never has, and he`s happy with the way things are anyway (the world€”€”that`s just the way things are). Better that just accept the way things are and get happiness in my work or the kids (the future€”nothing will ever get better). Can you imagine a more shutdown of the energy and passion you need to attain your dream?
However, remember what we said earlier about the way your thinker works: just because you feel it or think it doesn`t mean it`s always true! Has the courage to question your mind. It is saying something, but maybe what it should. Look at the negative thoughts as a signal of a problem, not a statement of ultimate truth.
In fact, it`s not true that a spouse cannot bring positive change to marriage. People do this all the time. They sit down and talk to their mate. They recommit to their earlier love. They start becoming intentional about getting close and resolving alienations between them. They go on weekends without the kids. They go to a marriage retreat with church. They join a small group which specializes in rekindling marriage. As a psychologist, I have seen such steps as these make huge improvement in many marriages.
What else could those negative thoughts mean? Several things. One could be a fear of risk and failure. Another could be hopelessness. Still another could be a passive outlook on life. Scratch the surface a little and try to understand why these thoughts are activated, and in what circumstances. Well give you more steps to follow later in this chapter.
Sometimes depression is the cause of negative thoughts. When people stiffer from depression, their minds often point away from the positive and spiral downward into hopelessness. Their depression is like an anchor, pulling all thoughts and emotions down into the dark. The person is not aware that his own mind is creating his dark view; to him it seems like reality.
For example, I was counseling a businessman who had depression. He was unhappy with his job and where he was in his career at this stage of life. The conversation went something like this:
€œHow could you improve your job position? I asked.
€œI can`t. I`ve tried, and there`s no room in the organization to move up.
€œWhat about another job?
€œThe industry is slow. That would be suicide.
€œWhat about another industry?
€œThat would be worse. Retraining at my age would he impossible.
€œWhat about learning to be content where you are?
€œThat doesn`t work. It`s not a fit for who I am.
At that point, I realized something: I was not having a conversation with a man. I was talking to his depression. His depression controlled the flow of the dialogue.
There is a very important principle to understand when dealing with depression. Depression attaches itself to our circumstances. Like glue, depression sticks to whatever events are in our lives, and it causes us to perceive them as negative. This man`s depression attached itself to his work life, making him think that work was the problem. But it wasn`t. In fact, we started paying more attention to the depression, and less to the job. As he began to see progress in his emotions, he began feeling more and more hopeful and positive. And as the depression began lifting, we started talking once again about his work. This time, it was very different:
€œHow could you improve your job position?
€œI`ve been thinking about that. I haven`t really gone after a better position like I could have. Here are a couple of ideas that I want to try out with my boss.
And in time, he was promoted to a much better situation in his company.
Do you see what happened here? Same circumstances, but a very different outcome. The difference was that the depression, which had attached itself to his work like a leech to your leg, was removed, and his thinking became more positive and affirming.
Distorted- Thinking Practice No. 3: Defensive Thinking
Sometimes distorted thinking causes our minds to work against us. Strange as it seems, our minds will often work very hard to ward off thoughts of any positive plans, changes, and improvements. The mind will create a million excuses and defenses designed to keep us snug in our comfort zone and away from anxiety and tension. This is called defensive thinking. If you see this tendency in yourself, you need to resolve it and get past it, for it is another insidious dream-robber.
There are many of these defensive thinking patterns. We will show you four prominent ones that are particularly powerful in stopping our growth arid goals. I call them the Four Horsemen of Defense.
The first horseman is Denial. When we face a particularly unpleasant or painful circumstance, our minds sometimes deny that it is true reality. We say to ourselves, That can`t be right; no way! This is especially true when we need to look at our own part in failures or disappointments.
For example, when the school calls again about a son`s misconduct, a parent might react with immediate denial: My kid couldn`t have done this; they must have the wrong boy. Denial preserves us from the stress of tackling the appropriate problem solving that`s needed. Reality thinking will take a more realistic and helpful approach, such as, I need to meet with the principal and see what my son is doing and learn what I can do to help him straighten out. This will not be fun, but I must look at it as an opportunity to give him the chances he needs for success.
The second horseman Of defense is Minimizing. Not as serious as denial, but another dream-robber. Look at it as denial-lite. When we encounter problems or obstacles, our minds will look for ways to do damage control, so that we don`t experience the full impact of the Issue. A minimizing parent might respond to the phone call from the school in this way: Sure, he gets wiggly; I know that. But I`m sure it`s not as bad as the teacher said. She` overreacting.
Minimizing helps anesthetize the discomfort of a problem. But it extracts a price: you can only achieve success to the level that you accept and own the situation. When you minimize, you guarantee that your son will not get all the help he needs; that your eating will never truly get tinder control; that your dream career will be limited: and so on. Minimizing must give way to a commitment to truth and reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
The third horseman is Excusing. When we call out this third Pattern of defensive thinking, we may admit the reality, but we remove ourselves from any ownership of it. Excusing is not as serious as denial at least we admit our kid has a school problem€”but we handicap our chance to help him. I know his conduct is poor in class. He`s is really bright, but the teacher doesn`t understand him. So he gets bored, and he doesn`t feel supported by her. Do you see the shift of ownership and responsibility? Now the teacher needs to be inserviced on your son`s personality type! Excusing our son`s behavior in the present doesn`t bode well for his future success. What happens when he is twenty four years old and gets a bad report from his supervisor? You won`t be there to say, €œObviously, you`re not providing the simulating work environment my son needs.
These are certainly legitimate excuses for some of the things that happen in life. But ask yourself, When I face the challenge of reaching a goal or confronting a problem, do I automatically default to an excuse? Excuses are also called €œYes-but thinking. €œYes but I had bad traffic. €œYes but I`m too tired to research my dream job. €œYes but I`ve tried everything. If you find yourself excusing, get your €œbut out of the way!
The fourth horseman is Rationalizing. This defense is what politicians are always accused of: presenting questionable behavior in the most favorable light possible. When you rationalize, you become your own spin doctor.
We all do it to a degree. Certainly my kid acts out in class. He`s a natural leader. That`s so much better than his being just another sheep, blindly following the rules. I kid you not, I have heard several parents use that spin to explain their aggressive, out-of-control children. Rationalizing problem behavior is a prime ingredient in the recipe for creating a long-term conduct problem that will one day make this boy`s future wife miserable. You want to save your kid from that fate and help him be responsible, responsive, and self controlled. But the only way to do that is to get rid of the spin and focus closely on what is true, even it that truth is dark. Your chances of success are much higher now than if you put it off.
People who use the four Horsemen often are not aware that they are employing defensive patterns. The impulse of defensiveness is so ingrained that it seems a natural way to face problems. After all, such patterns of thinking protect us from unpleasant realities such as failure, struggle, and doubt. But if you don`t deal with these realities head-on, they can stop your life path.
Don`t be afraid to look at yourself honestly and critically. Be curious and question whether you have difficulty seeing yourself as you really are€”as a person who may have problems, who may cause problems, or who may be failing. It may not be a pretty sight, but if it`s true, you need to know it. It`s much better to know the truth than to preserve your comfort with an illusion that keeps you stuck in unreality. When you quit putting up defenses against the truth, you enable yourself to take charge of your own world.
At this point we have shown what distorted thinking can do to our minds. Sometimes it causes them to be so negative they discourage our ownership and risk-taking. At other times, distorted thinking can cause our minds to be so unrealistically positive that they protect us from culpability and accountability. Sometimes they do both at the same time. However, there are very workable solutions to negative thinking that will make a positive difference in the way you live your life.
Steps to Thinking Better
You need your mind.
To reach your potential, to achieve your goals and dreams, whether they be about career, love, family, habits, or spiritual growth, you need your mind to be your ally and friend, not an obstacle. A mind plagued with excuses, negativity, passive discouragement, and similar contamination is like an engine full of sludge. It will not get you where you want to go.
So we want to show you some of the best steps you can take to revive your thinker and make it help rather than hinder your efforts to be more successful.
Step No. 1: Commit Yourself to Raw Reality
Reality may not be pleasant, but no problem was ever solved, no goal ever reached without looking at the situation squarely with no editing or refraining. Don`t be afraid to say, I need to know what is true, not what I hope is true. That is your sure path. Look for raw, unvarnished reality, not the prepackaged, politically acceptable type.
Suppose you had extensive diagnostic testing, and the tests showed clearly that you need heart bypass surgery. That`s a big deal. You see your doctor for his recommendation, and he says, €œThe surgery route just seems so serious and harsh. Why don`t you take a couple of aspirin and get a good night`s sleep instead? The good doctor is trying to save you from discomfort. The simple prescription he offers is certainly a very pleasant alternative to surgery, but there are two major problems with it: It wouldn`t address the true reality. And it wouldn`t get you the outcome you wanted.
Remember that accepting reality is like a reset button for rebooting your computer. It gives you a fresh start. When facing any problem or goal, always ask yourself, What is real and true here? What is my thinking missing that I need to know?
On the other hand, suppose you struggle with the negative I can`t or I`ve tried everything thinking. You often find yourself unable to feel the courage to make your moves. The appeal to reality applies here as well. Commit yourself to seeing the real situation for what it is, including what you can do about it. Develop the habit of thinking along lines similar to the following:
€¢ I`ll talk to someone and brainstorm to see if I`ve looked at every angle.
€¢ Maybe I`ve given too much power to another person in my life, and I need to take it back.
€¢ So what if I try this and screw up? Currently; Derek Jeter gets out 70 percent of the time and he does okay. The reality is that failure doesn`t end everything.
€¢ The problem may not be that I can`t it may be that I won`t, for some reason. I need to find out which it is.
€¢ If I keep waiting for someone or something to change, I may be waiting a long time.
€¢ Before I give up, I will make a good plan and stick to it longer than I ever have before.
Reality will never fail you. It is how God sees everything, and he uses reality to accomplish his purposes. In fact, reality and truth are part of his own makeup. He is €œfull of unfailing love and truth (Psalm 86:15 NIT). Seek reality and you will find God there, helping your thoughts conform to the truth.
Step No. 2: Become a Humble Person
Humility is a trait of greatness. It is not an aspect of timid people who see themselves as trash. Humility is the ability to see yourself and your situation clearly for good and for bad. Humble people don`t care if what they do or think makes them look like a hero or a bad guy. They want to get at the heart of the matter.
I had a friend, similar to the one Henry talks about in the previous chapter, controlled by negative thinking patterns that kept him from asking out a woman he was attracted to. He said, €œShe wouldn`t go for a guy like me; she`s a total goddess and I`m pretty` mediocre. After a few attempts to encourage him, I realized my folly. I realized I was heading the wrong direction, and said, €œActually, in a way, that could be a pride issue for you.
€œWhat? he said, not expecting that kind of reaction. €œI thought you were saying I put myself down too much.
€œI did, but sometimes pride can drive our self-talk too.
€œWhat do you mean?
€œWell, let`s look at it. How prideful is it to think that your mediocrity is so unattractive that you don`t have a chance? That actually gives a lot of power to your unattractive self-image. In fact, think about how you`re not even giving this gal a chance to choose you. That could even be seen as controlling.
He had never thought about it that way. He realized that he wasn`t being truly humble€”that is, seeing himself clearly. He finally asked her out and she accepted! So give up the idea that your past, your problems, and your limitations are all that powerful. Be humble enough to allow for the possibility that you can do better€”and then act on that possibility.
Step No. 3: Be a Self Observer
Develop the ability to monitor yourself. Observe what you do, why you do it, and when you do it. As Dr. Howard Hendricks, one of my favorite professors, used to say, €œBecome a student of yourself. That is a trait of successful people, and they achieve success because they are able to confront the truth about themselves and get over their inaccurate and unhelpful thinking patterns.
When I consult with people who come to me with problems, I often have them try this exercise. €œImagine that you are in two places at once: one €˜you` is in a real interaction with someone else, discussing some goal or problem. The second €˜you` is floating above, near the ceiling, looking at the interaction of the other you and learning from it. After you leave the conversation, you can use that floating, observing €˜you` to review what happened and consider what you could have done differently.
By employing this exercise you may learn that you give up power and choice very easily when someone has an objection to your idea. Or that you come down on yourself quickly when you are confronted. Or that you go into blame and excuses when you face a problem.
Such information is pure gold! Rooting out the truth about yourself may not be fun, but it will reap great rewards for you, for it allows you to see and own what you need to do and change. Without this ability, people are forced to interpret every bump in the road as fate, bad luck, or had people. Nothing is their own fault. They are then rendered helpless and hopeless because it`s all beyond their control. But the self-observant person who takes ownership of his future is way ahead of the pack.
Step No. 4: Forgive
At first blush. forgiveness may not seem to have anything to do with changing your thinking patterns. But it is highly critical to the process. When we forgive, we cancel a debt. That is the meaning of the word in the New Testament. In other words, we let go of our right to extract punishment, justice, and revenge from an offending person.
This releasing of negative baggage has great power to help us think more clearly, for unforgiveness clouds our minds with thoughts of victimization, powerlessness, punishment, unfairness, and retribution. When we haven`t forgiven another person, we can`t look at our situation or see our choices or see our own part in the problem. We focus only on what the other has done and what has been done to us. Forgiveness unlocks the key to that prison, enabling us to flush out the hurt and obsessions about the offending person. Then our minds can once again be clear to think about hope, action, dreams, and goals.
Step No. 5: Create and Write Down the Good Slogans
Your mind has been coming up with excuses to keep you from owning your future, and it has probably been doing so for a long time. As you become more self-aware, start identifying the slogans you have been repeating to yourself that have been chaining you down. We all have them. But go further than that and create new slogans that counter the bad ones. Craft these new slogans so that they put the true vision into perspective.
Write these new slogans down and keep them around you in places that will remind you of what is true and real. Put them in the screensaver on your computer. Place sticky notes on your bathroom mirror and refrigerator. When negative thoughts invade your mind, look at these notes. When you are doing okay, look at them anyway to keep yourself centered on reality. When you are doing the cognitive work of training mind, the personal work of embracing reality, and being humble and forgiving, the presence of these new slogans can be powerful and effective. Here are a few examples:
€¢ No more I can`t excuses. I can, and I will.
€¢ When I fail, I will learn from it and move on.
€¢ I will not wait for life to find me. I will find life.
€¢ There is great opportunity for a great future.
€¢ I am the only person who can own my dreams, and I choose to own them.
€¢ Blame will not get me where I want to go. Ownership will get me there.
€¢ When I take responsibility for my problems. I am in charge.
Rotate your slogans. Come up with fresh ones every few weeks. Put them in different places. Keep it interesting. Don`t let sameness cause you to ignore and forget about them. God understands the power of writing and repetition to help us remember, and that is why he encouraged his people to use this method centuries ago. He wants us to know, remember, and experience the realities that bring about success.
Look at what he told his people after he gave them his law:
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your towhead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NASB)
Remember the Ambrose Bierce quote at the beginning of this chapter €œBrain: An apparatus with which we think we think. Bierce was trying to be funny, but he was also being cynical. The reality is that God gave you a brain, not as an apparatus to make you think that you think, but as a tool to help you to see reality for what it is, and then to think plan, dream, and take ownership of your life. You can own your own thinker! Take charge of it