Have you ever considered that the simple, common thoughts you have about yourself, about others, and about the world you live in might be running (and maybe ruining) your life?
I’ve been reading a book recently that suggest this is true, and the research is compelling. According to Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of a book called Who Switched Off My Brain? our thoughts are like active, living things in our brains and they actually work to shape the physical structure of our brains, and therefore the reality we experience on a day to day basis.
Our thoughts are not neutral, she argues. They are powerful, and ever-changing.
In one sense, this is terrifying, don’t you think?
Because it means the thoughts that come through your brain have the ability to shift your physical body, to shape the actual structure of your brain, and to impact your experience of reality.
On the other hand, this is incredibly freeing. Because it means that an honest inventory (and spring-cleaning) of the thoughts you entertain could trigger tangible changes to your life and body. As I’ve been reflecting over the past few weeks about the thoughts which have negatively impacted my life, here are a few that came to mind.
1. Other people are inherently better, smarter, prettier, cooler, or more capable than I am.
I don’t know where I picked up this thought, but it’s played a too-prominent role in my life over the last decade or so. The truth is that there are wonderful, intelligent, beautiful, “cool,” and capable people all around me, but by celebrating their strengths, and choosing to collaborate rather than compete (or surrender, and self-deprecate), I demonstrate, cultivate and expand my own unique value.
2. I deserve better
I deserve to be treated better, to have a better living situation, a better car, a better life, etc, etc.
The truth is there is nothing more toxic than believing I “deserve” a better life than the one I have. I deserve nothing. Everything I have is grace. Lately I’ve been meditating on the common verse from Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the rest will be added to you” and the meaning behind this verse is coming to life in a whole new way for me.
It’s simple, really. When we seek first the things of God (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control) everything else feels like icing on the cake.
3. The life I desire isn’t possible. My dreams are out of reach.
This thought is debilitating because it steals my hope. I’m learning to see lately how there is so much more within my reach than I have previously realized; and while the universe does not revolve around me, it is possible to have my deepest desires met when I’m honest about what I want, give up what it takes to go after it, and refuse to give up until the end is achieved.
4. The world is out to get me. The game is rigged.
I’ve always felt like, if things weren’t going my way, it was because the “game” of life was rigged. There was no point in trying. The end result would always be the same.
More recently I’m ditching this toxic thought. Most often, the patterns that repeat themselves in my life have a common denominator—me. It wasn’t easy to admit this to myself, because it meant taking personal responsibility for what I had done wrong, turning, and forging a brand new (scary, foreign) path for the future.
But accepting personal responsibility for the challenges in my life also uncovered great joy and meaning by offering a redemptive perspective to my suffering and giving me new-found emotional and spiritual freedom.
5. There are good people and there are bad people. The good people are on my team, and the bad people are out to get us.
This idea is reinforced by a ton of popular culture—and even religion. The problem is it’s really not Biblical, fair or productive.
This mindset fostered a posture of constant protection against potential threats and rendered me closed to experiences, ideas and people I didn’t expect or understand. When I close myself to what I believe is “bad” (which is based on my limited perception) I simultaneously close myself to what is good, too. A posture like this fosters bitterness, hatred, anger, fear, rage and resentment.
A life lived open, in contrast, is a life full of love, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, and self-control.
Can you think of other negative thoughts that are running (or maybe ruining) your life?