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THE JOURNAL

Toxic Thinking: Renewal through Neuroplasticity

Deep thinking near the Grand Canyon. Photo Credit: Timothy Simpson, Jr.

Toxic Thinking: Renewal Through Neuroplasticity

For years I have been fascinated with neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change by growing, rerouting or reorganizing. While this may be a popular buzz word, it is a century old truth. In some of my talks, the Biblical concept of renew gathered some of the most intense interest.  The apostle Paul in II Cor 10:5 strongly directs us to “take every thought captive.”

Those who are harnessed to their thoughts respond to any wild idea by chasing it down the same familiar path. The brain runs on the same track. Renounce the lies in our heads and claim the truth! Regularly, thought patterns repeat themselves. We must capture our thoughts. Why? Because our thoughts shape how we live.

Satan mimics the Holy Spirit in so many ways. One way is that he speaks in our mind in first person. We think those are our thoughts when they are not. We accept them as truth believing that they are coming from our own thoughts. Again, this is where we must renounce the lie, and remind ourselves of the truths that God says about us.

Research shows that “75 to 85 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illnesses come from one’s thought life?” This according to Dr. Caroline Leaf in Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health. Our emotions often lead us to thoughts that direct our behavior. Based on whether the thoughts are healthy or unhealthy, the response will be healthy or unhealthy. It only takes 10 minutes for the brain to form a new neural pathway. It only takes 21 days of a new way of thinking for this new pathway to take over. After 60 days, it becomes our new default way of thinking.

Many of our thoughts cycle around regularly. In response to shame, Satan often reminds of our past sins in order to castrate us from being effective spiritually today. Consider a situation where a sin is committed, but then confessed and forgiven. In God’s eyes we know that our sin is gone. In Micah 7:19 we read, “Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” If this wrong has not been responded to with confession, there would be reason to keep remembering it. 

One of my favorite Puritan theologians John Owen said that the goal of the enemy when reminding us of our sin is death. He suggests “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” In Dr. Leaf’s book she tells us that the average person has more than thirty thousand thoughts per day. Of those, so many are negative that much of our sickness is directly related to this repetitive toxic thinking.

My encouragement is to grab hold of what the scripture instructed us in so many centuries ago. The Bible is our truth guide. Over and over it straightforwardly tells us to take hold of our thoughts and renew our mind. Remember, Paul is a warrior. He reminds us that we are not warring against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces. John 8:44 reminds us that Satan is a liar. He tells us over and over things that are not true. Perhaps more powerful are the lies that are so full of truth, but poisoned by toxic falsehoods. He is an accuser. Our minds potentially became trapped with thoughts that have a stronghold on us.

Many of the strongholds in our thinking come from what we decide allow into our mind. Some of my favorite parenting resources are written by speaker and author, Brian Houseman. He speaks to the influences on our minds in Tech Savvy Parenting: Navigating Your Child’s Digital Life. You can also find more fabulous helps on http://360family.org.

The average teenager will spend
6 1/2 minutes a day talking with mom,
4 1/2 minutes a day talking with dad, and
10 1/2 hours a day plugged into media.

The good news is that we have the power of a living God coupled with the authority of the Bible which are God’s Words. 

Recently, I have been reading Jennie Allen’s new book Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts. One of the fascinating things I read in Jeannie’s book was a quote by Beth Moore, who is a “former pit-dweller.” Her belief is that there are three kinds of pits: the kind we jump into, the kind we accidentally slip into and the kind we’re thrown into. When my thoughts are spiraling, I can ask myself what kind of pit am I in with these thoughts?

Are you plagued by thoughts that God is holding out on you?

Are you haunted by the thinking that you are unlovable?

Are you bothered by ideas that you will never be good enough?

Are you tortured by reminders of the life you lived before you were forgiven?

Are you infested with demeaning jabs?

Are you discouraged by the spiraling pattern of repetitive thoughts of insignificance?

Are you hounded by the words of a bully from your past?

Are you pursued by the lies of physical beauty painted by the world?

Are you worried that if others really knew you, they would not approve?

God’s Word is the answer. Renew your mind.

If you did a little math earlier, you realize that the thirty thousand thoughts I think per day mean I think about thirty-one thoughts per minute. Which of these thoughts will captivate me? How will I respond to these thoughts? Will any of these thoughts be repetitive thoughts? How can I take an unhealthy thought captive? Can I take a thought captive? Can I be free from living a chaotic thought life? Yes, I believe I most definitely can and must grab hold of my train of thought. I must determine not to be interrupted and distracted. In my experience, my brain can be redirected. Neuroplasticity promises that the train running on the tracks in my head can be switched onto another track. Here are some steps to take to healthy thinking.

  1. Realize that I have a choice. I can decide what I am going to think.

Jeannie reminds us that “We are not subject to our behaviors, genes or circumstances. We are not subject to our passions, lusts, or emotions. We are not subject to our thoughts. We have a choice because we are conquerors who possess weapons to destroy strongholds.” 

My profession is an educator. When I teach children, I often redirect them back to the subject needing their attention. As their instructor, I am motivated by the overall educational goal for my student. In many cases they lack the discipline or motivation to stay on track with our work. However, it is paramount that we decide what we will think. In my everyday life, I must decide what I will think. My thinking then determines my actions.

2. If you continually interrupt a thought and redirect it, the new pathways will become the first go-to when this repetitive thought arrives. For example, if I am troubled by a reoccurring thought that I know to be a lie, I can tell my mind the truth every time the lie interrupts my thinking. The truth is a powerful weapon. Some thoughts need to be combatted with a scripture verse. God’s Word is a powerful weapon in the war of wrong thinking.

I can contain my thoughts. 

I can redirect my thoughts. 

I can mind my mind.

3. Notice my thinking. Pay attention. Make changes where needed. 

4. Liberation is possible. The brain can most definitely be rewired.

5. Bondage is heightened by the power of secrecy. The devil has us in a cage if we are hiding a secret sin. His chokehold is fierce.

6. If Satan cannot have my soul because I belong to Christ, he aims to castrate my effectiveness with wrong thinking.

7. Set my mind on living spiritually, not responding to lust. Roman 8 talks about the mind set on the flesh will lead to sin and death while the mind set on spiritual things will lead to a peaceful life. So, I ask myself, “What is my mind set on thinking?”

8. Practically, turn off any external voices speaking lies. Identify the source of my thinking? 

What am I hearing?

What am I feeling?

What am I seeing?

What am I believing?

What am I thinking?

Who or what is influencing my thoughts?

Am I being sabotaged in my thinking?

If needed, turn away from all screen related noise that aggravates wrong thinking. Neil Postman’s profound book Amusing Ourselves to Death speaks to the numbing and dumbing affects of entertainment mentality. Separate yourself from toxic people. For practical ideas on distancing yourself from toxic people read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. The solution may be distance or it may be confrontation that leads to healing in the relationship. Either way, the toxicity must end.

9. Grab a friend. Friends help you run faster and further than I could ever imagine running alone. Togetherness. Community. Strength.

10. Seek out healthy people. Again, refer to Dr. Cloud’s book on boundaries. Be proactive and surround yourself with healthy people pursuing wholeness. 

The take away is that I am not doomed to live with toxic thinking. I have the power to dismantle any poison of rooted errors in my mind. God offers me the tools to reorganize the neural pathways in my mind. It is up to me to choose positive thinking versus negative thinking, to combat sinful thinking with right thinking and to replace accusatory thinking with truth thinking.

One of my all time favorite preachers, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits” He also stated, “Whatever a man depends upon, whatever rules his mind,… is his god.” One of Spurgeon’s more impactful comments was “Mind your till, and till your mind.”

Guide your mind.

Avoid toxic thinking by renewing your mind.

comments +

  1. Pam Anderson says:

    This entire post is so good and so necessary. One of my favorite thoughts from it: “If you continually interrupt a thought and redirect it, the new pathways will become the first go-to when this repetitive thought arrives.” I need daily reminders that I CAN renew my mind and THAT will affect everything in my life. THANK YOU, LEAH!

    • Leah Simpson says:

      Pam, I think that the scripture is full of references about renewal of our thought flow. God wants our thinking to be be healthy. So glad you found some nuggets in this article!!

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