Don’t believe everything you think

Emotions and thoughts

Say a random stranger walks up to you in a restaurant and tells you that the food you just received is poisoned, then walks out the door.

How do you feel?

It depends on whether you believe he’s telling the truth or not.

If you think he is telling the truth, you’ll likely feel intense emotions. Panic? Anger? Fear? And you’ll be repulsed by the food.

But if you don’t believe the words? Your emotions won’t be moved either way. At most, you might be amused or annoyed, but that’s it. You’ll return your attention to your food and enjoy the meal.

The difference in how you respond emotionally is in what you believe.

We know not to believe everything we feel (our emotions are not who we are; they are only how we are feeling).

But we don’t have to believe everything we think either.

We talk to ourselves internally all the time. Our minds chatter along almost all our waking hours.

But are all these words really true?

Um, no. I realize I make up stories in my head to fill in gaps of uncertainty.

If I don’t get a prompt response to an email, I wonder if I said something offensive. If I feel a strange pain in my side, my mind wanders to appendicitis perhaps? If a driver cuts me off in traffic, I assume he’s a self-centered snob.

But in more rational moments, I count the unanswered email as non-significant. The pain in my side will either go away or I can call a doctor later. And I realize the driver’s motor skills tell me nothing about his long-term character traits.

As someone who’s prayed about and tried to fight off irrational thoughts via worrying much of my life, this year I’ve finally made some progress in this way: if I’m imagining a future where God’s grace doesn’t outweigh my problems, I need to get out of that future and come back to reality here and now. 

My thoughts are horrible predictors of the future.

Thomas Keating says it like this,

“The first word that Jesus speaks as he enters upon his ministry is ‘repent,’ which means, ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.’ … Happiness can be found only in the experience of union with God.”

Yes, God has been present in our past and he will be present in our future (he goes behind and before us, inside us and out, below and above).

But God is most present in our presence . . . NOW.

The last verse in Ezekiel (a rather depressing prophetic book overall, but with a fantastic ending) is this:

“The new name of the city will be “The Lord Is Here!” (CEV)
Ezekial 48:35

The Lord is in this, right here, right now.

I don’t have to understand the whole situation; accepting this one piece in the present is enough. Doing whatever this thing is in front of me. Paying attention to this moment right now.

And all those thoughts rumbling around in my head? They will come and go. But as for me, I don’t have to believe everything I think.

“In general, we rarely get to directly experience whatever is happening in a given moment because our experience is constantly being created by our thoughts of what was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the past, what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ right now, or what may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the future.”
– Noah Elkrief

~ * ~ * ~

It’s what I’ve been working on and praying about this year through my One Word 2015 Now. I’ve meditated more, I’ve practiced staying more in the moment, and I’ve read interesting books, including notably The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Time Paradox by Zimbardo and Boyd.

A third influential book has been A Guide to the Present Moment by Noah Elkrief, not only for the words he shares, but for the way he’s made me question the words I tell myself.

At the risk of being misunderstood because I’m pulling them out of context, here are some quotes from A Guide to the Present Moment that have been helpful to me, and perhaps will be helpful to you.

I don’t believe everything in the book (because I also don’t believe everything I read), but because Elkrief’s questions made me actually think differently (and hopefully think better), I recommend this book to you, too.

It’s not the circumstances in your life that create all of your unwanted emotions—it’s actually your thoughts about your circumstances that cause you to suffer.

~ * ~ * ~

We have no choice but to give our attention to whatever is most important to us. So if we are giving attention to a thought, it is because we unconsciously believe that thought is more important than whatever is going on in front of us.

~ * ~ * ~

We tend to have this idea that anxiety is created by not knowing the future. However, uncertainty about the future doesn’t create anxiety. Anxiety is created by the belief that a “bad” outcome is possible.

Would you experience any anxiety if your friend told you, “I will give you $100 tomorrow for your birthday, but I am not going to tell if it will be $20 bills, $10 bills, or $1 bills”? There is uncertainty, but each outcome is equally “good,” so the uncertainty is irrelevant and won’t lead to anxiety.

~ * ~ * ~

We don’t need to be able to handle all of our future “bad” moments. We only have to be able to manage this moment right now. This is always much easier.

~ * ~ * ~

“Worrying is the responsible thing to do.” Worrying is actually not responsible. When we worry, we take our attention off our responsibilities in this moment. This makes us less able to perform whatever task is needed in this moment because we are busy giving some of our energy and attention to thoughts of an imaginary future.

~ * ~ * ~

But if our problem is about a future event, then it hasn’t yet happened, and therefore doesn’t yet exist as anything other than a thought. If we don’t want to spend our life solving problems that don’t exist, all we need to ask ourselves is, “Does this problem exist right now anywhere outside my own mind?”

* * *

You can read more at Elkrief’s website, www.liveinthemoment.org. He also has a video blog, http://www.liveinthemoment.org/blog.

Does your mind tend to wander more to the past, the future, or do you stay mainly in the present? Please share in the comments.

18 thoughts on “Don’t believe everything you think

  1. tiffany

    Yes to all of this! I needed this reminder — I don’t have to believe everything I think!

    I live in the future. My husband in the present- we make an interesting pair :)- ha! But we also help bring each other some perspective (we were just talking about this a few days ago).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My husband and I have this conversation occasionally too. I’ve read elsewhere this year that our patterns are a typical one: women tend to be more future-oriented and men more present-oriented. Don’t know how valid the research is, but it proves true in my family as well. 🙂 And yes, I agree that it is helpful to balance each other out that way. Thanks, Tiffany.

  2. Linda Stoll

    It’s so easy for me to go right to the worst-case-scenario mindset. I think it’s in the gene pool. This is cool –> ‘ But as for me, I don’t have to believe everything I think.’

    I want to hang on to what God says. And toss what doesn’t align with the truth He longs for me to accept …

    Thought-provoking post, Lisa. And comfort and joy to you this weekend, friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Worst-case thinking has a long history in my gene pool too, Linda. 😉 I have to consciously remind myself to NOT think that way. Praying you’ve had a blessed weekend and will have a great week ahead!

  3. Jean Wise

    I’m a always in the future gal. being mindful, paying attention to the present is a constant need. Good reminder and quotes here. Thanks Lisa

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yep, I can spend extended amounts of time in the future too, Jean. Some is good; too much is not good—that’s what I discover over and over. 😉

  4. June

    I won’t say I never worry or think about the future, but I certainly do much better when I {my mind} remains in the present! I know someone quite close to me who is always ready for the worst. I do believe it’s important to plan for certain what ifs, however, worry over the future can also rob us of the blessings we are receiving in the moment. I know from experience that even when bad things happen {and they will} God is good. Living with this perspective gives JOY in all circumstances. Very interesting post, Lisa! Lot’s to ponder and think about here! I think it may be time to recap my #oneword365 “new” and look toward next years focus word 😉

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Love everything you share here, June! Truth = “worry over the future can also rob us of the blessings we are receiving in the moment.” More and more reasons to stay in the present. I know I do better when I bring it back to “this moment” too; relieves my mind of having to figure out the unknown when I’m incapable of it anyway.

  5. Bill (cycleguy)

    I remember once reading “Attitude is Everything” by Chuck Swindoll. Then one day I realized he was absolutely correct. High or low. Up or down. Attitude, attitude, attitude.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “Attitude, attitude, attitude.” I agree with you, Bill! Maybe I need to put post-it notes around my house with “attitude” on them everywhere….

      1. Beverley

        You are the second person this week and the third person this month who has said the same thing, maybe it is time to think seriously about writing that book. Personally I think I have nothing to say!!

  6. Pingback: I Have My New Word! | My Wonky Life

  7. Jeanie Killion

    Hi, Lisa. I just stumbled across your blog and this post after finding and listening to some of Noah’s Youtube talks. As a believer in Christ and someone who studies the Bible, I found myself listening to what he shares, but also wanting to be careful to run it all through the filter of God’s perspective. I’m still processing that, but I found your takeaways really helpful and healthy. Thank you for what you shared here. God bless. Jeanie

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad we’re on the same page, Jeanie! I read through some of Noah’s stuff again just the past few days. There are still parts I agree with, and parts I don’t agree with. (Well, as with any book!) So I admire what you’re doing in filtering it through God’s perspective, too. Thanks for sharing!


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