In 2021, one of the things I struggled with the most and posted about the most was about my thinking patterns and the things that consumed my brainpower. All my fears and anxieties were housed in the recesses of my mind and from time to time I would take a trip down ‘what if’ lane. Every time I let my thought wander, I realized my anxiety or fears or anger in the situation in question increased exponentially.
Have you ever thought about what you are thinking about? Thinking about thinking is a process called metacognition. Metacognition is a strategy that allows us to organize and evaluate our thought processes related to learning and problem-solving. The more intentional and iterative the metacognitive process is, the better one gets at it. There are many scriptures that speak to aspects of metacognition and one such helpful and revolutionary verse is found in Philippians 4:8:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Philippians 4:8 NLT
This scripture calls for us to take charge of our minds and rather than let our thoughts run off on their own, be intentional in what we think about. A rather apt illustration comes from Gary Thomas in the the Oct/Nov edition of the Focus on the Family magazine. It says if we want to be physically healthy, we won’t eat everything that looks delicious; we’ll exercise self-control. Likewise, if we want to be healthy relationally, we shouldn’t think about everything that demands our attention. We need to exert the same self-control with our minds that we do with our bodies.
We must not dwell and ruminate on things that are distasteful, dishonorable, frustrating, anger-inducing, shameful, or deserving of censure. Instead we should reject negative thoughts and lean more into the positive ones. Metacognition does not come naturally to anyone. It is an intentional process which involves making an effort to rein our thoughts in- making it a conscious part of our lives to think about what we think about and actively reject the negative thoughts.
In the past few days, I have been practicing this and this is what I have learned…a lot of my emotions both positive and negative first start with a thought-often a perception based on my assessment of the situation and then that thought becomes an emotion that leads to a reaction. Let me illustrate: An acquaintance sent me a message about a new business he had started and in my excitement I asked, “Can I share this information with others?” The response back was, “That is why I shared it with you”. Now lets consider that response: My first thought was “wow! how rude- I am trying to be helpful and I get attitude back?” In that moment, I equated that text with sarcasm and disrespect and then I got angry at the impudence. Then I remembered Philippians 4:8 and decided to put it into practice so instead of reading the text through the eyes of impertinence, I decided to imagine that there was good intention and joy behind the message and with that in mind, I interpreted the text as “Yes, that is why I shared the information with you because I knew you would be kind enough to pass it along”. Two different reactions to the same message because the starting thought processes were very different. And you know the interesting part of this, I would never truly know if the text was sent with sarcasm, excitement, or indifference and frankly that does not matter. What matters is how I reacted and in the moment, I reacted negatively to the text and developed resentment-this is why we must exercise control over what we allow ourselves to think about.
The act of thinking is not a passive process at all, we can influence our thoughts more than we realize and in my next post ,I will explore how we can do this more. In the meanwhile, stay tuned and try practicing Phil 4: 8 and take control of your thought patterns- be intentional about thinking about your thinking!