Treading a new path in the mind
Being intentional about transforming our minds, is a powerful step to taking back control of our life, but it's not easy. Whilst my dependency is in God alone, there is no excuse for me to be ignorant of how I can best understand and co-operate with the process of mind renewal. The more I understand how my thought patterns are formed, the more equipped I become to change them. As I have said before, the way we think drives everything we do, so if we can master this then we create the power to change.
Neural pathways are like superhighways of nerve cells that transmit messages within the brain. Every time we think a thought, a small neural pathway begins to form in our brain. Each time that thought is repeated the pathway deepens and becomes more pronounced. It's like a random track meandering across a grassy meadow. At first the grass is flattened a little but as it is continually trampled on, the grass wears out and the deeper the track becomes. From then on It becomes a self generating process. The more pronounced the path becomes the more likely people are going to walk it. It's probably true to say that most people tend to be drawn to a well-worn path, rather than walk randomly across a field. There is a sense of safety and predictability about the fact that a path has been walked on many times before. In reality however, there was probably little design or thought given to where that path goes. It just came about through repeated use.
When confronted with the challenging issues of life most people will respond according to how they have been conditioned to think. In other words, they will walk the familiar path they have walked before. For some this might mean going to a specific type of food, or a cigarette, or even a glass of something ‘stronger’ for comfort. In isolation such response may not appear to be a major problem, but as it is repeated over and over, it forms an ever-deepening brain pathway and eventually becomes a default response to all similar predicaments. In extreme cases, they can deepen to become an addiction, which is more like rut than a track. Issues such as anger, depression, selfishness, jealousy, apathy or greed are default responses we reveal when under pressure. We weren’t born with them; we created them through repeated use. So how do we change them?
Neural scientists will tell you that whilst these pathways can never be erased completely they can over-ridden by new thought patterns. As you create new stronger pathways so the old ones become neglected and overgrown until they are barely detectable. Just like our path across a field.
For most Christians, our natural response when convicted of sinful behaviour is to try our best to resist it. The problem with this, is that those old thoughts paths are now so embedded in our brain, that we soon discover how little control we have over the direction our minds think. It's like riding a bike in a rut. You try to steer out of it but just keep getting forced back.
We need something more. Maybe the key to renewing our mind is found in treading new pathways. Sure, there is an element of resisting the old of course, but unless they are replaced with new tracks they will soon re-emerge. Maybe overcoming our addictive tendencies (don’t get hung up on that term…we all have them…I am not calling you an addict!) is not so much about breaking old habits, as it is about forming new ones.
Paul says in Phil 4:8 whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable; if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.
The more we meditate about God; about his word, his plans and expectations for us, the more we unconsciously re-shape our minds to default to his way of thinking. The brain is an amazing gift from God. It’s possesses what is technically known as neuro-plasticity, which simply means it has the ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This is good news. It means we all have the innate ability to create new pathways and produce new habits, given the right stimulus. It doesn’t have to stay entrenched in old ways. The suggestion that a person's thinking can never change is an outrageous lie of the enemy! Maybe that’s the first new pathway you need to build. If you tread the ‘I can change’ path’ a few times it will become increasingly evident in your responses. This is more than just cognitive conditioning or positive thinking; it’s about co-operating with the power of the Holy Spirit to renew your mind.
So put your walking boots on, and start to walk across the grass as God leads. When your next crisis hits, trample a new pathway in your thinking in accordance with God’s word. Then keep treading it down every day. It won’t be long before a clear path is established that will lead to a new destination.