What is the first thought that comes into your head in the morning?
'Good morning God!' or 'Good God, it's morning!'
What about when you are stuck in traffic?
There is an abundance of information about how to strengthen and train your body, how to eat a healthy diet and so on, but have you ever thought about the way you exercise your mind?
Just as a body left without some kind of training will become weak, tired and sick, a mind left to its own devices will quickly turn to negativity, criticism, judgement and discouragement. In short, our thoughts can become toxic.
Toxic thoughts such as, 'I wish I didn't have to work today', 'this assignment is so hard' or 'John Smith is just so _______ (insert critical word)' create a reality for us that then translates into emotions of annoyance, frustration, stress and anxiety.
An article in Live Science highlights the ability of the brain to change and adapt like a muscle, strengthening the neural pathways that are used most often. It works like a search engine prioritising websites according to the number of times users have followed particular links. In fact, Romans chapter 12, verse 2 asserts that your whole life can be completely transformed by just changing the way you think!
So, how do you train your brain to help you rather than hinder you?
1. See everything as an opportunity
Every situation has positive and negative potential. Waking up earlier than planned can be taken as a cause for annoyance that you might be a little sleepier today, or seen as an opportunity to get some extra things done, spend some time in prayer or watch the sun rise.
Receiving critical feedback on your performance can either lead to discouragement and feeling like you are 'not good enough', or as the key to unlocking specific doors to growth and self-improvement, potentially leading to greater success than you could ever have imagined.
2. Be thankful
Being thankful is a powerful way to banish a stinky attitude in seconds: 'It is cold again today, but I am thankful for my warm clothes, the heating in my home, a roof over my head and hot drinks to warm my tummy,' or 'My husband left his socks on the couch again, but he is so thoughtful and patient with me, he works so hard, and I appreciate the way he makes me breakfast in the morning' (Yes I know... I am truly blessed!).
Furthermore, if you catch yourself thinking critical thoughts about someone, exchange that thought for something you appreciate about them and tell them! I guarantee that you will see that person differently and your encouragement will bring out the best in them too.
3. Exchange worry for prayer, and visualise the positive outcome
When circumstances are beyond our control, it is easy to worry. 'Take that thought captive to Christ' (2 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 5) and turn it into a prayer, handing over the burden of worry to the One who can actually do something about it! And then thank God for the positive outcome, whatever that may look like (God is much bigger than the boxes we put him in), visualising a positive outcome so that you recognise it straight away when it happens.
You might even begin by repeating these three strategies to yourself as your go-to thought: 'opportunity, thankful, take it to God'. Or you might have another phrase that keeps you looking outwards with hope in your heart.
I dare you to choose a phrase and use it as your 'go to' thought for a day.
It really works!
And of course, any training program is best complemented by a nourishing diet of inspiring and hope-filled ideas, and by letting that thinker enjoy some regular R&R.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.'
- Philippians chapter 4, verses 6–9, The Message translation
Rosanne Menacho has a keen interest in sustainable and healthy living, and enjoys learning new languages. She is studying a Masters of Interpreting and Translation at Monash University and is loving every minute of it. Rosanne lives with her husband and Staffordshire terrier in the outer south-east of Melbourne, Australia.
Rosanne Menacho's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rosanne-menacho.html