Here's a simple way to change your life for the better

A lot of us are tired of life the way it is--or has been.

Blog. Woman. Pensive. 5.19.21A lot of us are tired of feeling powerless. 

Here's the good news: Getting unstuck appears much more complicated than it really is. Here's the three-word formula: 

 Change. Your. Thoughts.

I know, I know, that sounds too simple. I might not believe it, either, if I hadn't lived it.

It started when our children were young and I realized I needed to find a better way to live. Always before I kind of lived by circumstances. My mood for the day might hinge on whether I got up with a headache. Or whether skies were gray and it was raining. Or whether the baby wouldn't stop wailing or my husband seemed anxious about goodness-knows-what.

I'm ashamed to admit I found it easy to blame my tiresome approach to life on the little things of any ordinary day.  

I had another bad habit, too. Yes, I apologized, always offering the same well-worn lament: "Sorry, Hon, I can't help it. That's just the way I've always been."

But then the truth hit me. That statement had become my excuse. I knew it was time for a turnaround. But how?

Enter "The Worry Clinic"

Our daily newspaper began running a syndicated column by the late Dr. George Crane three times a week. His way of conveying mental health tips immediately spoke to me, so I devoured every word. All the while I carried on a running argument with him in my mind.

Dr. Crane, a trained psychologist and a physician, described his advice as "old-fashioned horse sense."

Which it was, I suppose. Here's a statement he repeated often:

Act the way you want to feel and soon you'll feel the way you act.

The first time I read that it made no sense to me, but it opened my mind a crack. As time went on I began to see the truth of his words:

Our emotions flow out of what we think.

Here's how Dr. Crane explained the process: 

You can change your thoughts as easily as you change stations on your radios or channels on your television sets. Deliberately switching your mind to another topic can be learned. 

All it takes is practice.

That bumped me up against an uncomfortable fact about myself: I kind of liked being able to excuse myself with, "I can't help it. That's who I am."

When I finally grasped the truth I cringed. I didn't much like my new (honest) view of myself.

What shocked me more was to understand my moods rubbed off on our four young daughters. They had become star copycats of their mournful mom.  

And my sweet husband, loving us, lived patiently with all five of us. 

I resolved to change

Dr. Crane primed readers not to expect an overnight transformation. He explained the captain of an ocean liner cannot turn the huge ship 180 degrees all at once. Therefore, he said, neither should we expect to do a 180 all at once. 

The only way to do it, Dr. Crane advised, was to deliberately master one degree at a time and then repeat that maneuver 180 times.

Would it take awhile? Yes.

Would it be worth it? Yes!

Always before, I prayed for God to change me, then waited for change to happen. Now I understood I also needed to act in faith.

That is, I needed to pray and trust, yes, but also behave as if God already answered my prayer and changed me--and act that way. As time went on these actions began to feel "natural."

Over time these small, incremental moves paid off. Our home became a happier place.

For all six of us.

Branching out 

As a Christian it reassured me to read this remark of Dr. Crane, who was an M.D. and also a doctor of psychology and psychiatry:  

"I gleaned more practical psychology and psychiatry from the Bible than from all other books!"

By now I wanted to learn more and read more, but I didn't want to lose my way. I knew I needed a solid understanding what the Bible says if I wanted to be able to evaluate what I read or saw in the media. That motivated me to become more serious about reading the Bible. I scribbled notes and underlined verses that spoke to me.

In those pre-Internet days--an era mostly pre-paperback books, too--I dug into the shelves of our public library and frequently brought home stacks of books on personal growth, marriage and parenting. When something "hit me and fit me," I wrote it down. 

Older books, newer books, it didn't matter. I devised my own criteria.

  • Did the principles in this book conflict with what I believed as a Christian or with my personal values? (If so I set it aside.)
  • Did the author sound in touch with real people or rely on jargon?

I picked up bits of knowledge and wise advice from a host of good, qualified authors. Each one helped me grow.

After years of reading and living, here's what I know is true

  1. It's not the circumstances of our lives that determine our mindset. What matters most happens between our ears.
  2. We can manage our emotions because they flow out of what we feed our minds, just as Dr. Crane said. 
  3. Sound thinking is not enough. We also must invest our time and our will to make the changes we need.
  4. It's not uncommon to have the "want to," but think we're not making progress in changing our habits. If you struggle with trying to change, talk to your pastor or a trustworthy professional counselor.

 Whatever bit of progress we make is still a win.

Two Bible verses to help us stay on track

What helped me was to focus on the fact that my Helper is always with those of us who trust in Jesus. It made all the difference when I focused on Him, not myself. 

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  2 Timothy 1:7

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.  Isaiah 26:3

With Him on our side, how can we fail?

Enjoy the journey!

October 20, 2021

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