Change/Growth? Jagged, Messy & Worth the Effort!

New vision, new mindset, new lenses, new language, new neurons. What do these have in common? Well, obviously "newness." Most of us get excited about the idea of new, yet ironically we tend to resist change. I saw a billboard once that proclaimed, "We are all for progress, it's just change we don't like!" But still, new seems to offer a promise, something better, something hopeful. 

So how else are these terms similar?  What is the promise, the better? Well, psychology, neuroscience, and the Bible offer us the opportunity to see with new eyes, to develop new mindsets, to speak a better language—which can in turn create an improved life, so we can live with vision and purpose.  All three suggest we can be transformed by renewing our thoughts—we can react differently (more kindly, more thoughtfully, more intentionally) because we see proactively rather than reacting from our old, unexamined and dysfunctional patterns. We can develop new neuronal networks in a positive direction. We can see, think, and act from a more loving, wiser place within us. 

Psychology teaches us how to overcome the old, deeply entrenched negativity for more positive, loving, relational mindsets and behavior. Neuroscience teaches us that our brains can be renewed, retrained and reformed. We call that neuroplasticity. The Bible promises that we can die to the old and become new—alive to love, faith and hope. Who doesn't want all this positive possibility? Well, for the few who don't, this hope is not for them.  

But this hope is for me, and I hope it is for you as well. We don't need to stay stuck—entrenched in our old, and often miserable ways of being. So what is all this newfangled mind renewing, transformational stuff anyhow? Is it for real? Is it magic or wishful thinking? Or is there some truth and science in it? The answer is yes! It is real, it is scientific, and it is Biblical.  

It is simply profound, though not necessarily easy. Look at the first sentence again. What else do you notice? I want to call your attention to the fact that it requires dedication, an intentionality, and a learning curve. Learning a new language happens best when you practice daily, immersing yourself in it, in various forms: book study, conversation, listening to it in movies, songs, practicing exercises with sight and sound recognition, playing games... Get the idea? In neuroscience terms, "what is wired together, fires together." This means that the neural pathways you etch into your brain by repetition are what become habitual. Therefore, our old dysfunctional thoughts, attitudes, moods, and behaviors are bad habits that can be broken. They are like deeply dug irrigation ditches (I like to joke that they are irritation ditches) that can be filled in (obliterated) so new lines of thinking can be etched into the grey matter of our brains.  

So you want habitual joy, peace, patience, love? To mix metaphors, we can dig new mental ditches by choosing to practice those values, exercising them repeatedly in various situations. These are like mental gymnastics we need to repeat consistently until those muscles can do the heavy lifting—so those muscles don't fail us in the toughest of challenges. So we can fire up the happy neurons in a stressful situation.  

Easier said than done? By all means. My own experience with shifting my mindset—putting on new lenses—is that the learning curve can feel really steep at first. I catch myself slipping backward into the old, easily. It takes a persistence, a determination, a daily intentionality to finally live from the new vision. Charles R. Swindoll (Insight for Living Ministries) called it “three steps forward and two steps back,” a kind of see-saw pattern. Jagged. Messy. Like when I determine to see the positive in every situation, to thank God for every struggle because there is a lesson in it—some great revelation and beneficial character change—I find myself slipping into a grumpy, moody, frustratingly dark place before I miraculously evolve (thanks to the inner working of the Holy Spirit) into the victory of being established firmly in the new and improved perspective. Back to the metaphor of learning a new language—this requires steady, consistent practice. But if you stay with it, you'll wake up someday realizing you've been dreaming in your new language! Then you will know, it was worth the effort! 

© Laurel Basbas 2014