If there’s one area of life where we humans tend to struggle it’s the random thoughts that come into our minds.
Why is this a problem?
Often those thoughts are negative. Sometimes they go all the way to harmful.
ANGER: Man, I hate my boss so much right now!
LUST: Wow, I’d love to see her without her clothes on.
FEAR: Sheesh, how are we ever going to pay all these bills?
JEALOUSY: No fair! How come he got this bonus and I didn’t?!
Psychologists and social thinkers warn us that if we think negative thoughts for too long, then we’re in danger of acting on those thoughts.
Thoughts drive actions, usually, (unless an action is a gut response). And so the logic goes, for instance, that if we think hateful thoughts long enough, pretty soon we become a person who’s full of hate, and then we act on that hate. That is, our hate-thoughts will become hate-crimes.
Ghandi famously put it this way:
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
With respect to Ghandi, I’d say he’s partially right about this one. Sometimes your thoughts become your destiny and sometimes not. You might think lustful thoughts your entire life and never actually have an affair. You might think hateful thoughts for years and never actually murder someone, although you’re dancing on the edge of destruction.
Regardless, I’d say a related danger always exists whenever you let thoughts run wild—
You waste your life.
And that’s a big problem for anyone. Me included.
Say you wake at 3 a.m., and a fear about money floats into your mind. Which would you rather do—stay awake for the next four hours tossing and turning? Or take charge of your thought-life and return to a restful sleep?
Or say you see a fine-featured woman walking down the street? Which would you rather have? A marriage filled with lust, where you’re continually longing for other women? Or a marriage filled with satisfaction, where you’re continually thinking about how to best love your wife?
So, what do you do?
A primer on proactive thinking
Here’s a solution for taking charge of your thought-life.
Be forewarned, it comes from scripture. I realize not everyone who reads this blog has a faith-based value system, and as I’ve said before, that’s okay, I’m glad you read this blog. After I offer this solution, I’ll offer a faith-based application as well as a secular one. So keep reading, compadres, no matter what you believe.
One solution to taking control of your thought-life is found in Psalms 1, where the writer says,
Blessed is the man … [who] meditates day and night on God’s law.
The word ‘meditate’ means to mentally chew on something. You purposely place something in your mind and mull it.
You take charge of your mind.
According to this directive, you do well if you mediate on God’s law, namely, on passages of scripture.
If you’re not-faith based, the general principle still holds true: you do well by purposely placing something positive in your mind. You proactively think positive thoughts.
How is that done? You imagine something honorable. You mentally recite a famous quote. You focus on the words to a song that lifts you up rather than puts you down. You remember something admirable.
I don’t know about you, but the most vulnerable thinking times for me are the following:
· First thing in the morning. It’s far too easy to begin the day in a bad mood. Particularly a Monday. It’s almost expected.
· Last thing at night. As I’m lying in the dark, it’s easy to let negative thoughts, unrestrained frustrations, and the concerns of the day reign over my mind.
· When I drive. Particularly a long drive offers time for introspection, reflection, and contemplation. I’m prone to wonder about life’s ‘what ifs.’ I reflect on past conversations and interactions, sometimes angrily or bitterly. I become uneasy about the future.
Here’s the solution put into action:
First thing in the morning, I place into my mind these words below. I’ve memorized this, and the first thing I do when I wake up is purposely choose to run these words through my mind.
Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
At the end of the day, I put in my mind these words. I’ve memorized this, and the last thing I do at night, (or if I wake up in the middle of the night) is purposely choose to run these words through my mind.
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—
If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When I drive, if I’m angry or concerned, I often place these words in my mind:
Do not be anxious about anything,
But in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God
And the peace of God which transcends all understanding
Will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Replace the harmful with the helpful
Taking control of your thought-life means you purposely drive your thoughts in the right direction. If a negative or harmful thought comes into your mind, you mentally say, I’m not going to dwell on that.
But it’s about more than saying no.
Because if you just say, “I won’t think about X,” then the very thing you focus on is X. Soon your thoughts churn with keeping X out, denying X, not opening the door to X, and your mind become mesmerized with the removal of X. The harmful thought becomes the elephant in the room.
That cursed pachyderm can only be defeated by displacement. You can’t merely reject a negative thought. You must take action and place a positive thought in your mind instead. You replace the harmful with the helpful.
And you must think about the new helpful thought more than once. You proactively run that positive thought forward and backward again and again. You mentally chew on goodness like it’s a big piece of spearmint gum.
You take charge of your mind.
Preorder Marcus’ new novel, FEAST FOR THIEVES, in bookstores this September.
A hard-edged and well-crafted novel,
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founding senior features editor of
O, the Oprah Magazine