Going Against the Grain: How to Shift Emotional Patterns (Part 2)

whatsoever you sow.jpg

As Christians, we have more positive ammunition against our negative thoughts, our failures, and our shortcomings.

- Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP

By Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP

Continuing from last week—this is Part 2 of “Going Against the Grain: Shifting Emotional Patterns.” I mentioned before the example of the two wolves that represent good and evil, or really the Spirit and the flesh. The two are within us, and they are always at odds. But we know that biologically, our brains are designed to handle this juxtaposition.

In Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness, he explains we can have both positive and negative thoughts, but the shift is when we give more power to the positive. By savoring more of the positive feelings, memories and experiences, we can overwrite the negativity in our thoughts and perhaps even erase the negative with ample practice of savoring the positive.

I find this overlap so interesting with Scripture. In Philippians 4:8, we are told to fix our thoughts on whatever is true, right, honorable, admirable, lovely and pure. This is not because it’s just good for us—it’s because it changes us.

God designed our brains to be able to form a bias to choose one over the other.

While a negative bias is the path of least resistance, it’s also the path of destruction. So, it takes time and practice to carve the positive-biased path—the narrow, yet rewarding road.

Through the Future Self Journaling, a resource from Dr. Nicole LePerla (The Holistic Psychologist), I’ve been carving a positive path and looking forward to all the good feelings and traits I will achieve with practice.

The first part of the journaling is to write a “daily affirmation.” Sometimes this is really hard because I’ve had a history—too many failed attempts, too many broken promises to myself, too many good intentions yet no follow-through. As a result, I’ve lost trust in myself which makes it all the harder to affirm myself with my efforts.

But even when I can’t trust myself, I keep putting my trust in the Lord’s promises. I’ve used His word as my sword to cut down that “wolf of the flesh.”

As Christians, we have more positive ammunition against our negative thoughts, our failures, and our shortcomings.

We have another way—an option to act out of His power within us, and not our self-efforts. We have His word to claim over our weak self-promises. This is the hope I have had to cling to while I’ve been trying to heal from the harsh years of self-effort-survival in New York City.

Like I mentioned before, I ran my health to the ground in NYC. All my negative “motivating” with a harsh inner critic —barking orders with no reward or rest left me bedraggled. Even though I wasn’t listening to my body and the signs of wear-and-tear, my body still held every painful emotion whether my mind wanted to acknowledge it or not.

While there was a physical element of an unhealthy diet, no exercise and little sleep—there was also the emotional component. Our bodies and our emotions are closely related.

With my new recent focus of savoring positive feelings and uplifting thoughts, I have noticed a shift in my physical body.

“Only when your mind is at rest can your body build health.”  

When we don’t have control over our thoughts, our bodies physically suffer. We use so much emotional energy on the negative behaviors and consequences that we run our bodies to the ground and don’t use our energy for good work. This is definitely what happened to me in the New York years and the years prior.  

The Lord has been speaking to me through Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”

Leaving New York to be in Alabama has felt like a waiting period. I first thought this season was to get my physical strength “renewed” since my health had suffered so much in New York. But I realize now what He has been doing all along: He is renewing my strength by renewing my mind.

While my health has improved drastically, I’ve noticed a renewal in my energy as I’ve been renewing my mind recently. I’ve been proactive and consistent to combat my negative thinking and fight it as an “emotional addiction.” Through the Future Self Journaling, I’ve shifted my thoughts which has in turn, shifted my emotional patterns.

As the saying goes, “You reap what you sow.” What we sow in our inner thoughts is what we reap in our lives. I’ve replaced the negative, anxious, avoidant seeds with seeds of hope and joy. The best part is getting to reap these new seeds!

So, when you’re going “against the grain” of an emotional pattern—sow the new seeds of hope, faith, love and joy and you will reap them.

This was too good to summarize, so I’m ending this with a devotional excerpt from Frances J. Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved: The Intimate Devotional Classic Updated in Today’s Language. 

“Whatever You Sow”  

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully… He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 9: 6, 10

How can I give you healing for your body while there is anxiety in your mind? So long as there is disease in your thoughts, there will be disease in your body. You need many things, but one thing in particular you must develop for your own preservation, and that is an absolute confidence in My loving care.

It is written, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Only when your mind is at rest can your body build health. Worry is an actively destructive force. Anxiety produces tension, and tension is the road to pain. Fear is devastating to the physical well-being of the body. Anger throws poison into the system that no antibiotic can ever counteract.

“Be sure your sin will find you out,” the Bible states (Numbers 32:23). One of the most common ways that hidden sin is revealed is through the maladies of the body. Resentments and ill will bring about more arthritis than is caused by wrong diet. More asthma is caused by repressed fury than by pollen or cat fur.

There was no illness in the body of Jesus because there was no sin in His soul. There was weariness as a natural result of labor and sacrificial service, but there was no undue fatigue and exhaustion brought on by anxiety.

Ten minutes of unbridled temper can waste enough strength to do a half day of wholesome work. Your physical energy is a gift from God, entrusted to you to be employed for His glory. It is a sin to take His gift and dissipate it through the trap doors of the disposition’s evil emotions.

Do not condemn others for jeopardizing their health by harmful habits and wasting their energies on vain pursuits while you undermine your health by unworthy emotions. You waste time by entertaining such things as self-pity and remorse and evil surmising when you might be keeping your mind in an attitude of praise and faith. Your mind could be constructively employed, but instead you allow this to be a period of destructive action.

You cannot risk giving your thoughts free rein. They will never choose the right path until you bridle them and control them by your own disciplined will. You are master of your own house. You do not have to invite into your mind the foul birds of evil thoughts and allow them to nest there and bring forth their young.

Whatsoever you sow in your secret thought life, that you will reap. Sow love and kindness, and you shall be rewarded openly. Sow charity and forgiveness, and you shall reap in kind. Sow generosity and gratitude, and you shall never feel poor. Sow hope, and you shall reap fulfillment. Sow praise, and you shall reap joy and well-being and a strong faith. Sow bountifully, and you shall reap bountifully.

Sow! You shall see your seed and be satisfied.