Who doesn’t want to think better? or as Graham Cooke suggests, to learn the “art of thinking brilliantly”? Graham Cooke- the art of healthy thinking or thinking brilliantly.
Whilst it’s ancient wisdom Proverbs 23:7 , because of the popularity of neuroscience and legitimate psychological research, most of us in this day and age know that the better your thoughts are, the better your life will be. The link between emotional responses, physical conditions, behaviour and the subsequent thought processes is concrete and evidence based.
So how do you think healthier, how do you think better?
I want to share some keys to healthy thinking, from an holistic angle. I’m going to break it down in 4 areas ( physical, psychological, social/ educational and spiritual). Whilst we are complex beings, and those 4 areas are interconnected and integrated within us, it helps to clarify things to deal with them separately. There are many other things I could add here, but here are a few keys.
Keys to Healthier Thinking
Food – Just like the rest of your physical body, your brain needs feeding with proper nutrients. Eat foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids ( salmon, mackerel, tuna), whole grains, blueberries, tomatoes, chicken, eggs, leafy greens, blackcurrants, citrus fruits, seeds ( especially pumpkin), broccoli, herbs ( sage), nuts ( especially walnuts). See 10 foods to boost your brain.
Exercise – particularly aerobic exercise. It enhances functional aspects of higher order regions involved in the control of cognition. Brain chemicals called Endorphins are released, producing a positive feeling in the body. Stress and tension is relieved along with increased capacity to think positively.
Sleep – in particular deep sleep, is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake. In a basic sense, when we sleep ( similar to when we exercise) our brain ‘catalogues’ our thoughts in order. When we don’t sleep enough, our thought life can quickly become confusing and ‘out of order’.
Laughter – like exercise releases the feel good chemicals, Endorphins, which among the fore mentioned qualities, increases our pain threshold.
Sex – The act of sex and sexual orgasm releases endorphins also. It can also assist heart, bladder and immune health and contribute to better sleep. In addition to this, sex aids intimacy between people which in itself is directly related to mental health.
Medication – there are times when certain medication can be helpful for better thinking. Anti- depressant medication and other drugs can be helpful, but should never be taken as an alternative to counselling, at times a person may need both.
Read, listen to and watch material that is positive, truthful and encouraging. This is the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
Meditate – Rather than emptying your mind, true meditation means to ruminate, ponder, reflect, ‘mutter to yourself’. The opposite of helpful meditation is ‘worry’. The most helpful meditation is meditation on Biblical Scripture. This is known as ‘Lectio Divina’. Through this ancient form of meditation, scripture is able to penetrate the deeper areas of our minds and even subconscious.
Willpower/ choice – practice exercising control over your thoughts. It is like a muscle that can be developed. Picturing your thoughts as being like clouds floating by, that you can choose to or not to entertain is helpful. This is a form of mindfulness.
Counselling – Being able to talk to somebody honestly and openly, especially from an emotional ‘gut’ level is cathartic in itself. Along with confidentiality/ privacy and a process by which a person can ‘work through’ thoughts and feelings without the fear of judgment, rejection or ridicule, counselling can be a great relief and help for people. In addition to this, good counsellors and psychologists are skilled in modalities of therapy that assist in deeper issues, that simply talking to a friend wont fix.
Goal Setting/ Being Intentional – Intentionally setting goals and purposefully living in a way that can see goals fulfilled is great for your mental health. It propels a person into motivation and underpins a sense of purpose and meaning in life and when a goal is achieved, the satisfaction speaks for itself. Avoid living in a ‘fatalistic’ way, where whatever will be will be. Be intentional, be purposeful. Exercise self-control.
Use Your Mind – Exercise your mind through education and mental activity. The old adage, Use it or Lose it applies here.
Be Creative – We are creative beings- all of us! Use your mind in your chosen area of creativity, whether it is graphic art, theatre, music, building, dance, whatever. The satisfaction of creativity comes from both the process itself, and the end product. The additional benefit of creativity, is that it often brings pleasure to other people .(i.e. music, an art piece, poetry, theatre), which because it is an act of ‘giving’, produces joy in the giver. Interestingly you will discover that you become more creative when you are less stressed- and vice versa.
Set Healthy Limits (boundaries) – Having the ability to say NO and developing your No Muscle is central to better thinking. When you can ‘define your soul’ and be self-differentiated, it helps you to manage your soul (mind, will, emotion). When you can manage your soul well it is much like managing a desk at work. You can keep that desk tidy, ordered and ready for work.
Have Fun – Recreation, hobbies, pastimes that you enjoy are important. Explore life, find out what you enjoy, life is an adventure to be lived- so live it!
Family – The connections that exist within families are central to emotional and mental health. Whether it’s with your family of origin, your children, or your marriage, if you are estranged from your family or have disconnection, bitterness, resentment or unresolved relational issues, do whatever you can to resolve them. Family connection is profoundly central to mental health and even physical health. In fact, the longest living people on earth all have ‘family’ as a central priority in their lives. See https://www.bluezones.com
Friends – The definition of ‘friends’ has been described as ‘people we spend time with because we want to, without any strings’. To have a few close friends is really important. We can have many acquaintances, but to have a few close friends is true wealth. Loneliness is an epidemic, that directly leads to depression. To have friends with whom we can ‘be ourselves’,recreate with and participate in mutually enjoyable pastimes is truly one of the joys of life. Remember the ancient proverb, He who has friends must himself be friendly.
Community – There are two basic psychosocial needs that people have. These are self-differentiation (identity) and connection (community). We need a balance of both. We need to be free to be ourselves in the context of relationship. True community allows and nurtures both. In fact, true community should give a person a deeper sense of identity, as other people around them perceive them (see from a different perspective) and encourage and instill what they see.
Walk with the Wise – the old proverb, “he who walks with the wise, will himself become wise, but the companion of fools comes to ruin” is true. Some things are ‘caught’ rather than ‘taught’. If you want to grow in certain areas of your thinking and living, spend time with people who are already living it. Be humble enough to recieve from others and be teachable.
Build Intimate Connections – love and fear cannot coexist in the same space. The best thing we can do to limit anxiety in our lives and thinking, is by intentionally developing intimate connection. Danny Silk rightly states that addictive cycles spring up where intimate connections with others are lacking. Love drives out fear and anxiety.
Conscience – that part of you that alerts you to the difference between right and wrong. That feeling that occurs when you think, say or do something that is contrary to your value system is your conscience. It is a faculty of your spirit. When your conscience is saying ‘guilty’ it’s very difficult to think positively. In fact when we feel guilty, we often tend to ‘beat ourselves up’ in our thinking. Unless you have an overly critical conscience ( in which case, seek counselling and learn boundaries), your conscience is a faculty of your spirit that can keep you out of danger and on the right track.
Intuition – intuition is the ‘inner tutor’. It is the part of your spirit that ‘knows stuff’ intuitively. It is also the part of your spirit that recieves knowledge from God ( who is Spirit). Without getting weird and super spiritual, it is important for healthy thinking, for a person to be sensitive and receptive to intuition.
Connection – For someone to nurture healthy thinking, it is necessary to know and be known by God and others. True connection and relationship involves the interaction of spirits. For a person to connect with God, a simple faith in the person of Jesus Christ and what was achieved on the cross is the way. This is the way to get rid of guilt, shame, a sense of condemnation etc. Interestingly, psychology will only ‘go so far’. We are more than just a ‘mind’. The root source of anxiety and fear is actually guilt and condemnation. cut off the bad root and the bad fruit will drop off.
Forgiveness – have you noticed that when you are resentful toward someone, negative thoughts about them seem to spring up in your thinking? Well, the opposite is true when you’re NOT resentful towards someone. When you forgive people in an emotionally honest manner (admitting your feelings and also the fact that what the person did was quite possibly very, very wrong), the change is profound, and the subsequent effect on your thought life is amazing. It is important in this process to understand that forgiveness is not saying that what the offender did was ok or ‘sweeping it under the carpet’. Not at all! But someone once said that holding on to unforgiveness is like drinking deadly poison and expecting the other person to die. In the case of major offence (abuse, etc.) seek out a good counsellor to help in the process.
Metanoia – I have deliberately avoided using the term ‘repentance’ (the English translation of the Greek word ‘Metanoia’) because of the way this word has been mistranslated and misunderstood. The word Metanoia simply means: ‘to change ones mind’. Quite simply, it is about changing your thoughts, perspective, attitude etc. As is stated, We are transformed by the renewing of our minds…