Posts Tagged ‘positive thinking’

Well-Being with Whitney: Spring Cleaning for Your Soul

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

When spring arrives, more sunlight brightens your home as the days grow longer, and fresh air blows in once the temperatures warm up enough to open your windows. But all the light and fresh air reveal what you may not have noticed during the dark, cold days of winter: Your house is a mess. It’s not fun to see the clutter and dirt that needs to be cleaned up around your house, but the more light and air that flow in, the more motivated you are to do some spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning can be more than just a chore, however. It can actually be exciting if you use the time to start cleaning up something far greater than your house: your soul. The more you invite God to blow the fresh air of his love into your life, the more motivated you become to cleanse negativity out of your mind and welcome in positivity that shines bright.

Here are 6 ways to spring clean your soul:

  • Eliminate clutter. Get rid of distractions that block your ability to focus on the values that are most important to you. Take an honest look at what might be interfering with spending time with God in prayer and meditation, so you can tap into wisdom and know what matters most. Are you devoting more time and energy to working, watching TV, shopping, playing sports, pursuing a hobby, or something else than you’re devoting to time with God? How much time are you really spending praying, meditating, and at your place of worship? Are frazzled thoughts cluttering your inner life, or are you making time regularly for quiet reflection, and asking God to renew your mind? Eliminate clutter in your schedule and your mind to create space to focus on what’s truly important.
  • Scrub away dirt and disinfect. Cleanse dirty attitudes and behaviors and purify your soul. What kinds of filthy attitudes are lurking in your soul? Are you harboring bitterness against people who have hurt you? Do you entertain judgmental thoughts about people you don’t like? Are you infected with anger, fear, or selfishness? How do impure behaviors affect your life? Are you struggling with a bad habit or even an addiction that causes trouble whenever it rears its ugly head? Pray about each dirty attitude and behavior, asking God to help you clean up each specific one. Whenever negative thoughts enter your mind, purposefully replace them with positive ones.  Whenever you’re tempted to slide back into a bad behavior, ask God to empower you to resist and overcome temptation.
  • Suck up everyday annoyances and persistent resentments that will stain your soul if you let them accumulate. Keep short accounts with people rather than letting issues between you pile up and spill over into dirty arguments. Ask God to help you learn how to deal well with difficult people and those whose personalities differ significantly from yours. Whenever people offend you in minor ways, be willing to let the issues go. Whenever people offend you in major ways, be willing to forgive them and reconcile if possible. Do all you can to live at peace with others and resolve conflicts quickly and wisely.
  • Wipe away vestiges of the past that are hindering you from moving into the future with confidence. Consider how you need healing from past traumas and losses. Then patiently work through the healing process as God leads you, from prayer and journaling to support groups and counseling. Expect that each time you deal with one layer of dust from your past, you can see a bit more clearly as you move into the future.
  • Make your relationships shine by serving others as God leads you. Be creative about figuring out how often you can bless others through your words and actions. Remember that even a brief encouraging comment or small act of kindness can make a significant, positive difference in someone’s life. Every day, look for opportunities to encourage or help the people with whom you come into contact.
  • Rearrange your life so you can move into your future with positive plans and goals. Build your decisions for how to use your resources (time, energy, talent, money, etc.) around pursuing your dreams, so you can focus on what’s important without being sidetracked by what’s urgent. Set specific and measurable goals to help you move closer to achieving what you hope to accomplish. Check your progress regularly, and make whatever adjustments you need to make to keep your life organized well.

Renewing Your Mind: Worry: Shalom Peace

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Since my About.com site on angels and miracles has just been resurrected :>) and today is Christmas Eve, I’d like to direct you there to check out a new article that relates to the peace of mind we need to overcome worry. “Peace on Earth: Christmas Angels Delivering God’s Message of Peace” explores the various aspects of shalom peace — the kind of peace that angels proclaimed on the first Christmas in Bethlehem.

Shalom peace refers to complete well-being, with every part of creation existing in harmony with its creator and thriving as a result.

Merry Christmas!

Renewing Your Mind: Worry: Planning for Peace

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

This Christmas season is the busiest time of year for many people. When angels appeared in Bethlehem on the first Christmas to announce that Jesus Christ had come to Earth, they declared that it should be a time of peace. Now, we often stuff our schedules so full of Christmas activities that we’re stressed to the point of worrying how we’ll be able to do it all.

What we need this time of year is peace of mind.

One of the keys to experiencing that is wise planning. You can start planning well by reflecting on what you’re giving our attention to right now and whether or not each thing you’re focusing on is really worth occupying your mind and schedule. My recent Crosswalk.com article “Have Yourself an Uncomfortable Christmas” challenges you to ask certain questions to pull yourself out of your comfort zone and start focusing on what truly is most worthy of your attention.

Speaking of Christmas, my About.com site about angels and miracles will return later this month after being archived for a while. Thank you, wonderful readers, for continuing to visit the site even while it was archived. The page views have been so high that now it’s being activated once more, and I’ll be able to produce fresh content for it regularly! Since angels and miracles play such important roles in Christmas, the site features lots of Christmas content that I hope you’ll love.

How can you change how you plan your schedule to increase your peace of mind?

Renewing Your Mind: Worry: Closed and Open Doors

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Has your life turned out as you expected? Neither has mine.

Lately, I’ve encountered some closed doors in various parts of my life — from career to family — that I would open if I had the power to do so. But since I can’t, I’m faced with a choice: Get stuck staring at the closed doors, or get moving in another direction where I can find open doors.

We all face that choice when opportunities we’d hoped for don’t materialize. Making the right choice — changing direction to look for other doors that may open for us — begins in our minds. It starts with moving away from closed doors rather than wasting time and energy worrying about the fact that we’re not able to do what we’d thought we wanted. Besides the fact that what’s on the other side of closed doors isn’t what’s best for us after all, worrying about them only distracts us from finding the doors we’re meant to open and walk through.

Visiting Hampton Court Palace in England this summer, I learned a lot about doors. The massive complex of buildings contains many different sections built for the courts of various kings and queens, starting with the notorious King Henry VIII. I expected the unexpected when I walked through doors there, because the rooms to which the doors led were all distinctively different. From the outside, the palace has architectural integrity, appearing as one unified whole.  It’s surrounded by carefully manicured gardens that give the whole outside appearance an orderly, symmetrical appearance. But walking through the inside, it seems like a hodgepodge of mismatched (though elegant) apartments.

The difference? Perspective.

Walking through our lives from the inside, we may not understand why certain doors close while others open, and our circumstances may look like a mess. But from the outside — a larger perspective — everything is connected well. I believe that God has the larger perspective on our lives, and we can gain that perspective ourselves whenever we seek his guidance for which direction we should walk.

So rather than worrying about closed doors, we can search for open doors. In the process, we can find peace no matter what circumstances we’re walking through at the moment. I’ll be writing much more about overcoming worry in upcoming blogs…

What closed doors are you facing in your life right now? How can you move away from them and search for open doors?

Renewing Your Mind: Mystery

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

A church sign I saw recently made me think: “There are some questions that Google can’t answer.” Even though we live in the digital age, when we have access to more information than at any other time during history — mind-boggling amounts of data — we still haven’t come close to answering every question in life. As an information junkie who loves to research to learn about everything I can, I’m grateful for Google and other search engines that make that research possible. I admit that I get a thrilling sense of power from being able to look up facts quickly and easily. But I’m also grateful that I don’t know everything, and that I actually can’t know everything there is to know in this world. I’m glad that I still have to live with mystery.

Why?

Mystery inspires us to keep asking questions and searching for answers in life. It keeps us from growing complacent and arrogant as we would be if we knew it all. Because we don’t truly know it all, we’re motivated to keep learning and growing, which leads us toward new exciting adventures every day if we choose to be lifelong learners.

Humbling ourselves to embrace mystery and keep learning every day is key to the process of renewing our minds.  This is especially vital when it comes to exploring life’s most important questions (which are the least likely questions to be answered by a simple Google search!).

Sometimes even our own minds are mysterious to us. We may find ourselves thinking something and not know what triggered that thought, for example. As noble as it is to try to become more aware of our thoughts — as I’ve emphasized so far in this blog —  we can get stuck in too much analysis, going around in circles trying to figure out what simply won’t be revealed to us for now.

This is where faith comes in.

The Bible defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). As we enter the Christmas season, this is a great time to reflect on how some things truly are greater than what can be encompassed by a computer search or understood completely by our minds.

I  believe that much of what we’ll know one day in heaven is obscured by sin in this fallen world, as the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

And what’s even better than knowing fully? It’s being fully known by the One who created us — minds and all — and loved by him completely and unconditionally!

What mysteries intrigue you the most, and why? How has a mystery in life inspired you to seek an answer to a question, and led to greater faith for you as a result?

Renewing Your Mind: How Gratitude Changes Perspective

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Soon it will be Thanksgiving here in the USA, so this week I’m focusing on how you can renew your mind simply by being thankful. Gratitude is a powerful way to change your perspective on topics that trigger negative thoughts for you right now, because when you notice elements you can be grateful for, it opens your mind to new, positive thoughts. Whether you’re struggling with negative thoughts about difficult people or challenging situations, you’re bound to find something to be grateful for about them if you intentionally look.

This Thanksgiving is a difficult one for me, because a family member has recently hurt me and other family members by making a decision that has caused lots of unnecessary pain for us all around the holidays.  Frankly, when I think about this particular family member right now, the only thoughts that come to my mind, at first, are negative. So I’ve challenged myself to figure out how to think more positively about this difficult person in my life.

What works for me, when I try to do that, is to purposefully take an inventory of anything I do like about her. For example, this family member is kind to animals. Noticing just one positive trait opens the door for me to find others, and once I’ve started a flow of positive thoughts about her, my perspective on this person gets bigger — and more accurate, since everyone and everything in this world has both negative and positive characteristics.

Who or what is triggering negative thoughts in your mind right now? This week, I challenge you to find several positive traits about that difficult person or challenging situation in your life, reflect on those traits, and see how that changes your perspective for the better. Then the next time you must deal with that person or situation, you’ll be better equipped to do so.

Renewing Your Mind: Identifying Thought Patterns to Change

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Have you ever tried to stop yourself from thinking about something, only to find that the more you try to avoid thinking about that particular subject, the more it pops into your mind?

This counterintuitive process really hit me when I tried to give up chocolate for a 40-day period, when I was preparing for Easter by observing Lent and wanted to fast from something that had drawn my attention away from God. Prior to that, chocolate had become almost an obsession for me. I’d thought about it so much that I actually planned my daily schedule around when I could eat some chocolate, to make sure that I got my “fix” several times a day. Usually, I wasn’t even hungry when I ate the chocolate; I ate it for emotional reasons (to reward myself for hard work or to relax) rather than physical reasons. My unhealthy chocolate habit wasn’t just bad for my body; it was also bad for my mind, because my thoughts about chocolate controlled me rather than me controlling them.

So, with good intentions and all the willpower I could muster, I stopped consuming chocolate of any kind and repeatedly reminded myself not to think about it.

What a joke!

The more I reminded myself not to think about chocolate, the more mental energy I ended up using to focus on chocolate. Even though I directed my thoughts about chocolate  to be warnings against it, I was still thinking about chocolate — and more than ever before! Chocolate suddenly seemed to be everywhere around me, tempting and taunting me as I struggled not to think about it.

Then I discovered that if I didn’t remind myself not to think about chocolate, but simply used my mental energy to think about something else, chocolate thoughts started to melt away (:>) in my mind. When I saw chocolate and felt frustrated by my commitment not to eat it, I reminded myself that I’d made that commitment in order to focus on a greater goal than eating chocolate: drawing closer to God. Instead of scolding myself not to think about chocolate, I let the thoughts of chocolate that inevitably came into my mind trigger me to decide to think about God instead. By the end of the 40 days, my blood sugar levels were healthier, and so was my mind!

You can make unhealthy thoughts fade away in your mind by first identifying unhealthy thought patterns (recurring thoughts that you find yourself dwelling on despite not wanting to) and then replacing them by directing your mental energy elsewhere, to something healthy about which you do want to think.

What is one unhealthy thought pattern you’d like to change? Why is it important to you to work on changing that (because the thoughts fuel a bad habit in your life, perhaps, or because they negatively influence your relationship with someone)? What other thoughts can you replace those thoughts with that will help you grow?

Renewing Your Mind: Breathing

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Another effective way to focus your mind when you’re distracted, besides sharpening your senses, is by using your breathing as a tool to make you more aware of your thoughts in the present moment. Just as you constantly have thoughts flowing through your mind, you have breath flowing in and out of your lungs. Paying attention to your breathing patterns during times when you want to focus on your thoughts gives you a tangible cue to connect with what’s going on in your mind at that time. Some people use breathing in this way during meditation or prayer, and the practice can lead to decreased stress and increased peace.

You’ve probably had someone tell you to “take a deep breath” sometime when you’ve been stressed; or maybe, you’ve reminded yourself to do so. I certainly have. There’s real power to change your perspective when you focus your thoughts on your breathing, because it connects you completely what you’re experiencing now, making you fully aware of it. Your thoughts can run wild, but your breathing is naturally consistent — and you can only take one breath at a time.

As you breathe in, you can focus on what thought — positive or negative — happens to be in your mind at that moment. Then, if it’s a negative thought that you’d like to change to a positive one, you can imagine yourself exhaling that negative thought. When you inhale again, you can intentionally think a positive thought to replace the negative thought you’ve exhaled. Even if you’re not trying to change your thoughts yet, but simply trying to tune into them with greater awareness, your breathing’s natural consistency can help you deal with your busy mind in a way that brings order out of chaos.

How has taking a deep breath helped you focus your mind in a stressful situation before? Do you ever use your breathing to help you meditate or pray — and if so, how has that proven helpful for you?

Renewing Your Mind: Sharpening Your Senses

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

An especially fun way to sharpen your focus on your thoughts is by sharpening your senses. Training yourself to pay careful attention to your physical senses — the classic ones like seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting, as well as others such as temperature and motion — makes you more aware of the information that your experiences are giving you. Just as living fully in each present moment helps you wake up your mind, so does sensing the world around you as fully as possible. The external stimuli you experience can enliven your internal thoughts.

I practiced this at the famous floating flower market, the Bloemenmarkt, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Holland):

* Seeing: A crush of color — from bright yellow and vibrant red to pale pink and soothing lavender — met my eyes as I walked among the flowers. Holland’s signature flower, the tulip, was in abundant supply, and so were many other varieties of flowers, like daffodils and roses. Each had its own distinctive shape. Then there were large bins of brown bulbs with future flowers inside, waiting to burst out in all their glory after planting. There were other products spilling out of the market’s stalls, too, such as seeds, wind chimes, wooden flowers, magnets, candy, and cheese. Finally, I saw a crush of people as we all tried to navigate the stall’s narrow aisles without bumping into each other.

* Hearing: I overheard conversations happening around me in a variety of different languages — Dutch, English, German, French, and Spanish — punctuated by the sounds of bicycles and trams going past on the streets nearby and boats traveling past on the nearby canal.

* Smelling: The fresh scent of flowers was everywhere, of course. I also experienced the aroma of the Gouda cheese I bought and ate at the market, as well as the pungent scent of the canal water that wafted up to the market’s stalls in the breeze.

* Touching: From soft flower petals and squishy cheese to hard magnets and rough flower bulbs, there was a wide array of different types of touch to experience at the Bloemenmarkt.

* Tasting: As I snacked on Gouda cheese, I savored its creamy taste. Then I washed it down by finishing the clear, refreshing spring water in a bottle I had carried with me.

This week, I’d like to challenge you to visit a place that makes your senses come alive and spend some time there paying full attention to what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste there. Take notes on what you experience with your senses, describing the details and considering how that awareness makes you more aware of the thoughts in your mind.

Renewing Your Mind: In the Present Moment

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

How often do you find yourself distracted from fully experiencing the present moments of your life because you’re busy thinking about the past or the future instead? A key part of the foundation of renewing your mind involves living in the present — waking up to what’s happening inside of you and in the world around you, moment by moment.

I’ve sometimes struggled with too much nostalgia for the past, especially when something triggers grief about one of my loved ones who has died. Memories of my late mom and others I knew well before they passed away can easily overtake my present moments and lead me to yearn to be with them again.

More often, though, it’s the future that distracts me from thinking about the present. As a person who loves to plan, I’m constantly planning ideas for future projects I’d like to work on, future events I want to attend, future trips I hope to take, etc. My mind is so often immersed in future plans that I have to remind myself regularly to appreciate wherever I am and whatever I’m doing right now.

The key to successfully living in the present, for me, is embracing each moment as a simple yet profound gift from God.

That really hit home for me when I visited the Royal Observatory Greenwich in England recently. More than any other place on Earth, I believe, Greenwich offers a thought-provoking perspective on our human relationships to time and space. It’s the place where time and space are officially measured on our planet. The observatory there keeps Earth’s official time, and the prime meridian (the 0 degree longitude line that measures distances heading east and west) runs straight through the observatory’s grounds.

After touring the observatory and the nearby maritime museum to learn how people have measured time and space throughout history, I was struck by the fact that everyone who has ever lived seems to be compelled to try to master time in some way. Yet none of the cleverest gadgets (from ancient sundials to current GPS satellite atomic clocks that can accurately measure nanoseconds) or the most brilliant ways of managing time can change the fact that we all have a finite amount of time — and none of us can predict when our earthly lifetimes will end.

The best that any of us can do to gain mastery over time is to fully appreciate every moment of it. Whenever we do, we renew our minds by waking ourselves up to whatever we should focus on right now.

How do thoughts about the past or future distract you from living in the present? What could you do to start living more in the present — fully aware and appreciative of each moment you experience?