Imagine that there was a pill that could take all your negative thoughts and anxieties away. Not that there wouldn’t still be ups and downs, but one pill a day would give you an overall sense of peace and joy, every single day. How much would a pill like that be worth to you?
Well, the truth is that our brains do have something like this. Not a pill, but almost a mental switch you can flip to change everything about your daily life, almost immediately. You’re probably thinking that sounds way too good to be true, that if it was that easy everyone would already be doing it. Well, the good news is that it’s not quite that easy. It’s not a pill that costs money, but a practice that costs discipline, patience, and a willingness to try new things.
Dr. Daniel Aman is a noted doctor who’s been the focus of a number of specials on PBS. According to Dr. Aman, negative thoughts and memories can cause an adverse chemical reaction in the glandular-hormonal system. If you don’t know, this system has an enormous impact on what you might call your daily experience: mood, anxiety, perceptions of yourself, even sleep… not that you really need a doctor to tell you that feeling bad about life and about yourself can be a downward spiral.
I was an emotional wreck in my 20s. I felt terrible about myself, constantly a slave to feelings of lust, guilt, and shame. And for my wife, who struggled with severe depression, things were even worse. We talked to all sorts of experts. Doctors, psychologists, therapists, ministers. We read all the books we could find on self-help and pop psych. I lost count of how many times they told us to start thinking positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts, but that was always good for a laugh. Of course we wanted to think positive thoughts! Did they really think we hadn’t thought of that?
No, thinking positive is a goal, not a methodology… but I did eventually find a method that worked. Now stay with me, because I know a lot of you are about to roll your eyes when I give you my answer: prayer.
I know, I know. But look, I’ve been praying my whole life, and it didn’t really start helping me until I learned this process. See, it’s not really about asking for what you want. Well, it is sometimes, but the real power of this process is in sincerity, in as ancient manuscripts put it, “taking every thought captive.” If you’ve ever seen Fiddler on the Roof, think of Tevye. Nothing fancy or performatively pious. Just your honest thoughts.
I have more to say on this, but we’re running out of time for this week. So for those of you willing to try something new, I’d like to leave you with some homework. This week, every time you catch yourself in a negative thought, turn it into a prayer. Something simple and honest. Even just a mental sentence. I’ll warn you that you might find it a little frustrating how often you’ll find yourself doing this at first, and it will probably take more than a week for it to feel natural. But if you stick with it, eventually you’ll find that your unconscious mind almost gives up on negative thoughts, and you’ll be amazed at how it changes your brain.
A final note: I know some of my readers may not believe in God, and I’m not asking those people to change their beliefs. Next week, I’ll talk about some of the research that’s been done on the physiological effects of prayer, but for now, I would just ask those people to treat it as an experiment—just to see if it can help you. If it helps, address your prayer to whatever spiritual concept you do believe if (if any). If nothing else, you can address it to your concept of love, or your better self. If there is a God, He’s listening regardless.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd