From Despair to Hope: The Science of Choosing Your Thoughts

From Despair to Hope: The Science of Choosing Your Thoughts

From Despair to Hope: The Science of Choosing Your Thoughts: How a daily practice can transform the way you think and change your brain. This practice is supported in science as well as the Bible.

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Today I have a very special guest post from my mom, Sheryll. She lives with me and I have been able to witness firsthand this process: the daily practice of choosing your thoughts. I asked her to write about this because of the changes I have seen in her as well as the excitement she has stirred among our family and friends. This is real and practical inspiration in the everyday! —Gina

It was Dec 15th, 2015 and I was at Starbucks writing about my resolutions for the upcoming New Year. Sitting there with my warm steamy drink, I stared at the blank page in my journal and felt like a hopeless case.

I tried to drum up some enthusiasm about the year to come, a chance for a fresh start and to stick to my new plan, but these thoughts poured into my head:

“Why are you even bothering with this? You never stick to any daily commitments that you make. Your track record is terrible for lasting change. You have a few daily habits that are good, but you don’t have any daily habits that matter. Where would you start anyway? There are so many things you need to change. You’re 61 years old and you continue to do the same thing year after year…get excited, start something new and then quit! YOU’RE HOPELESS…YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE

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It was true; long term commitments that take daily practice have never been my forte. I was the “A” student who crammed for tests the night before. But the fact remains that deep change of mind or behavior cannot happen by occasional “cramming.”

I thought that one possibility would be to give it up and just accept that this is who I have always been and always will be. After all, I’m getting older and I can choose to just be satisfied with my non-committal personality…but I’m a Christian and that puts me in a conundrum. With God, I know I am loved even with my flaws, but to not respond to that love makes me feel terribly incomplete.

I became a Christian five years ago for many reasons. One of the main ones was to know what real love is. Well, since then I’ve learned that to know love is to know God and to be loving is to be more like Christ. But it takes daily work to change your thoughts and behavior. Not my forte.

So there I was at Starbucks, in despair and ready to close my journal and give it up. But I decided to involve God in my dilemma. (This is another bad habit I have…going to God last instead of first!). This is the prayer I wrote in my journal:

“God, I BEG you to let me know CLEARLY where to start. I need something simple to do daily God…daily. I pray you will infuse yourself in me and I will be transformed to be one with You.”

And then I started the drive home. On the way I passed Barnes and Noble, and I really wanted to go there. I am sort of an addict when it comes to buying books…especially in the self-help area. After this long and nasty talk I had with myself, buying another self-help book to read and not applying it to my life was not going to help.

I said to myself, “Don’t do it. Don’t go there!” But of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation and found myself walking down the aisle directly to the Christian self-help section. Immediately, this book caught my eye: Switch on Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. The author is a communication pathologist who has worked in the area of cognitive neuroscience for 30 years. She does research on how scientific principles are supported by Scripture and vice versa.

Choosing Your Thoughts

I love brain science (I have a Master’s degree in psychology), and I have always believed that the thoughts we choose make a profound difference in our lives. But here are some of the things I found in her book that I didn’t know, showing me that science is finally catching up to what Scripture already had to say a long time ago:

  • The brain is not a fixed and hardwired machine. We can literally change the physical structure of our brains with our own choices. In other words, we are not hopeless victims.

Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. —Romans 12:2

  • DNA can change shape according to our thought patterns (which we can control).

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live. —Deuteronomy 30:19

  • Toxic (sinful) thoughts show up as shadows on our brain scans and healthy thoughts  look like trees. It takes 21 days to create a positive thought tree; after just seven days it looks like a little bud. We can wire out toxic thoughts and wire in healthy, life-giving thoughts.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:8

Besides a wealth of exciting information, Dr. Leaf outlines a 21-day Brain Detox Plan. She states that if done for 7-10 minutes a day, after 21 days it has been scientifically proven to physically change your brain!

Against my own commitment not to buy any more self-help books, I walked out of the store with this book in hand. As I sat at home reading it, this suddenly dawned on me: God had answered my prayer! I wasn’t intentionally trying to find an answer at the time. In fact, I thought I was being rebellious and self-indulgent when I made the purchase. Yes, God certainly works in strange ways!

I have been doing this program for over a month now, which involves spending time each day focusing on one positive thought that is backed up in Scripture (yes, of course I miss a day here and there…remember, I’m noncommittal in nature). Overall, I feel it has changed me in many ways. Mostly, I am aware that God is with me all the time and I feel more peace and hope. That is probably because of the thoughts I intentionally programmed into my brain. One of my favorites is:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. —John 15:4

Dr. Leaf makes it clear that her book is different than popular self-help books that encourage positive thinking. She believes that our life-giving thoughts must be connected to the truth that is found only in God and his Word. I couldn’t agree more, because when my positive thoughts connect only to me, I miss the Love and Truth that are larger and more accurate than my little self-fulfilling universe.

Every single thought we have is a choice. And each thought choice can either promote death or life in ourselves and those around us. It is up to each individual to choose life. As Jesus said,

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. —John 10:10

 

Gina here again—well, what do you think? If you’re intrigued, then definitely try out this method yourself and let us know how it goes, either in the comments or on any of my social media pages.

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(All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™)

Hey, I'm Gina!

I’m a wife and mom of five, with kids ages toddler to teenager. I’m created in the image of God, made whole in Jesus. In this online space, I help others overcome the overwhelm all of us face when navigating this messy, beautiful journey we call life. Want to join us?

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11 Comments

  1. Pam Peterson Laulainen

    I love this blog post, Sheryll – thank you so much for sharing!! I’m also very interested in neuroscience, in the Word of God, and in finding *something* positive that I take consistent action toward. I’ve heard of the work that Dr. Amen is doing in brain health, but I really like this information about Dr. Leaf, as she’s bringing in scripture. Thank you for your courage/persistence and clarity! <3 (Thanks, Gina, for passing the baton to your mom this time. Keep up the great work, you all!)

    Reply
    • Sheryll James

      Thanks for all your encouraging words Pam! Dr, Leaf also discusses the new findings in quantum physics about the energy our thoughts create. Finally I can take all by New Age knowledge and align it with the Truth of God instead of my own personal “truth”.

      Reply
  2. Julie Poirier

    Thanks for sharing Sheryll. You have inspired me.
    I’m looking forward to getting together once I get home.

    Reply
    • Sheryll James

      Thanks Julie. Can’t wait until we see each other again. Don’t forget…you have a Birthday lunch to collect!

      Reply
  3. Write Your Own Story Podcast

    What a great powerful read! Praying for your continued renewed mind and spirit. Thank you for sharing your powerful testimony!

    Reply
  4. Linda Sullivan

    Wow, this is awesome. Please thank your mom for me for being so vulnerable and real. May I share this story with someone who is not a part of this blog?

    Reply
  5. Maria J. Bueno

    Very inspiring thank you.

    Reply
    • ginapoirier

      Glad it was helpful!

      Reply
  6. fivemarigolds

    I love this post, and I’d love if you would share more examples of positive thoughts backed by scripture.

    Reply
    • Sheryll James

      Thank you. I can tell you that I think almost any positive thought can be backed by scripture. God’s story is full of wisdom, love, peace and hope. It depends what each individual chooses to work on. I often look in the Concordance at the back of my Bible to help choose a topic I am working on.

      Reply

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