The French novelist Anais Nin writes, ’We don’t see things as they are but as we are’. Because we think something, even repeatedly, does not mean that we are right. Worry exaggerates problems. Night time enrages them - fear strikes hardest in the small hours. And well-worn stronghold trails - mental pathways well trodden - are easy to walk - not least because the brain tends to follow well worn ruts!
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re driving somewhere—to church, or the gym, or a friend’s house—and all of a sudden you find yourself driving to work or another familiar place? Your mind is so accustomed to taking you to another place every single day that it ends up saving that route in your mental factory setting. Your mind loves to do the same things over and over again because patterns take less energy.
Our brains have over 100 billion nerve cells and over 1 trillion support cells with over a quadrillion connections between them. Until recently, most scientists thought of this brain with all its cells and connections as a hardwired machine incapable of change. The prevailing thought was that after the brain stops growing around age 18, you only get to look forward to the brain’s slow decline with age. And if you lose cells or connections, they are gone forever. Yet beginning in the 1960s and 70s, various scientific discoveries showed that the brain physically transforms itself with the activities it performs, rewiring and perfecting its circuitry.
New neurons are developed, new circuits are laid down, and new axons and dendrites are formed that take messages to and from the various neurons. At the same time, unused connections are removed, and dormant or unused neurons are pruned and deleted. So to sum up the process of ‘arresting unhelpful thoughts’….
- Map them - consider the ‘stopping off points’ in that mental circuit that you take. What triggers you setting off in the first place? Where do you usually end up?
- Name them - preferably something humorous
- Arrest them - 2 Corinthians 10:5 admonishes us, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Catch your thoughts. Recognise them. Grab them before they get out there and take control. Own them before they own you.
- Replace them -tune in to whatever is good, pure, true, lovely. Philippians 4:8 is not just a sweet, sentimental verse in the Bible—it’s life or death. Your thoughts have the power to seriously enhance or completely destroy your life.
- Repeat the process…over and over again! One writer puts it like this: ‘Old pathways are worn and easy to tread. You have to choose a new path again and again before it becomes the easier one to walk’