Have you ever found yourself going in reverse?
Walking backwards after finding your footing on a brand new path?
I know I have.
Think of a time when you worked up the courage to enact some sort of change in your life. Chances are you thought about the possibility of change for a while. Maybe it was change related to forming a new habit, quitting an old one, or starting a new way of thinking. Maybe the idea of change filled you with hope. Maybe it felt scary as you thought of the possible risks or losses involved. But maybe the idea of the benefits and rewards that were waiting on the other side of change were beckoning you to take action.
So you did. You made a plan. Determined, you packed up and set out on a new road to freedom. God is all about transformation. He loves to see us change and grow.
At some point in our lives, we have all been there. Standing at the starting line, backpacks on, shoes double-knotted, ready for the journey. The first couple of days on this new path of change are hard. Our muscles ache and we are thirsty, but we have strength. Willpower. At the end of the first day, we feel exhausted, but also victorious.
Day by day, we continue to put one foot in front of the other, pointed in this new direction. Then we finally make it to the end of the first week of change.
We start to gain some real momentum.
But then something strange occurs. Maybe we can pinpoint where, or perhaps the exact moment eludes us, but we hit some sort of a snag, or a bump in the road. Our focus, once so sharp and clear, gets blurry. Our determination, once strong and firm, starts to fizzle.
Then, it happens. It might be all at once, or at a snail’s pace.
We turn around and go back from whence we came.
Because somehow, we lose sight of the finish line. Of the goals we have set for ourselves. We run, willy-nilly, to where we began and get right back on the road we were on before. In the moment we do so, we probably can’t specifically articulate exactly why this happened. It just did.
The frustration that ensues is palpable. We might garner a new resolve. We might start over. Give it another try. And we find ourselves at the beginning once more, lacing up our shoes, stretching our muscles. Taking another deep breath before we begin again.
Or, maybe we give up. Maybe we feel too defeated. Maybe the old path is where we stay for a while longer. Maybe for a moment, or perhaps for years, we put change out of our minds, and we go about the business that is familiar to us.
Maybe we don’t believe we can actually change.
The mind is a powerful thing.
For a long time, I struggled with negative thinking. It wreaked havoc on my self-image and the way I lived life. The struggle was real, y’all.
I finally realized that my thoughts were getting in the way of who I was and who I wanted to become. And I was determined to do something about it, so I started a journey on a new path to change my inner dialogue – the way I talk to myself.
Here are a few of my own walking-backwards moments.
“I’ve already worked out five times this week. I’m tired. Give me pizza…Did you just eat that pizza, girl?! It’s going to take an extra two weeks to get that cheese off of your thighs. Now you’re several days behind in losing another pound. Concede defeat and accept the extra weight. You’ll never get into those old jeans.”
“I failed again. That lesson should have gone way better… Yep, you probably really confused your students. Great, now they’ll spend the rest of their lives not really knowing the difference between proactive and retroactive interference. Nice.”
“Writer? Ok, honey. Let’s come back down to reality now. You’re a dime a dozen. The world is saturated with writers and bloggers. You might be able to string a few clever sentences together but, really?”
Oh my goodness, those are hard to spill onto paper.
They are so negative, and mean, and destructive.
These were thoughts that I believed I’d said goodbye to…
But somehow, time after time, they came back like an old flame I never wanted to see again.
They were like Adele.
And then I would remember scriptures like Ephesians 4:22-24. Reminding me that I am a new creature. God saying to me, “That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Freedom. For a while. But then, the inner battle would wage. This negative self-talk wove wicked web that seductively pulled me back to living in negativity and disappointment. And each time the thoughts resurfaced, the uncomfortable familiarity of their destructive nature took me back to a place of self-defeat.
I didn’t feel new. I felt crumbly. Defeated. And gross.
I spent years being engaged in an inner battle between self-criticism and positive affirmation. I blamed myself for the negative thoughts while simultaneously congratulating myself for overcoming them, again and again.
But I needed to know why. Why did I keep walking backwards?
We might be tempted to think that the effort of the new journey of change is just too tiring. Walking backwards brings to us a sense of failure, but it also washes us with relief, because that old path is easier. It’s what we know is certain. Even if it’s ruddy, muddy, or steep. Because our brains remember the way. We can walk that old road with our eyes closed without missing a beat.
It might seem as if the strength of our resolve to change gets swallowed up by a lack of willpower. But the process of change involves more than just this simple explanation.
The freedom of knowing how change happens comes from understanding that our journey is not just a matter of will and psychology, it is also a biological process that takes time.
Change not only requires intention, and action, but it necessitates that physical changes happen in the brain.
Our brains are made up of billions of neurons. These nerve cells are the building blocks of our brains and are largely responsible for how we experience the world. Neurons “speak” to one another through an electrochemical process of firing neural impulses, creating and laying down pathways of communication in the brain for all different kinds of things. Things like emotions, memories, beliefs, and perceptions.
Our brains are amazingly sophisticated. They have the ability to dig up, remember, and re-cultivate the seeds of negative thoughts, behaviors, and habits we never want to see again, because these pathways have been established. By us. They are like well-shoveled walks, and we navigate them with relative ease.
So, for example, if we have chronic, negative thoughts about ourselves (I am a failure or, I am not enough), the neurons in our brains have actually created pathways for these very patterns of thinking. Our brains are simply responding to the way we have taught ourselves, and subsequently learned, how to think. And our thoughts, unless changed through a series of steps over time, will gravitate toward this path, over and over again.
Toxic, negative thinking is also often linked to the neural pathways communicating in the emotional centers of our brains. The parts that control fear, anger, and memory. Thoughts related to negative emotions are often the hardest to stop because our emotional brains are primitive and react almost automatically. It takes cognitive effort and intentional, continual steps toward change in order to create new neural pathways in the brain that lead us to new thought or behavior patterns.
And this is challenging. We will most definitely find ourselves walking backwards.
But it’s a necessary process. Because our brains are creatures of habit. They’re cool with the way they have been doing things for the past however-many-years. It becomes nearly effortless for our brains to think self-deprecating thoughts, or to gravitate toward negative, habitual behavior. Our brains like consistency. And, they are also a part of our faulty flesh.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Change is also a spiritual process and requires that we challenge our thoughts and weigh them against scriptural truth.
Changing our thoughts is not easy. But we can win the battle.
Yes, our brains like consistency, but God created them to be incredibly sophisticated machines, built to rewire themselves. They are plastic. Malleable. And they bend beautifully to change.
Neurons can make new connections. Miraculously, the neural pathways that have proliferated negative cognitive processes can be replaced by new networks communicating positive thoughts and affirmations. And once these new connections are made, each time they are utilized, they become stronger.
When the neurons responsible for new thought processes communicate, they release chemicals that make it much easier for these neurons to fire again. They become more efficient at talking to one another. This process sparks learning, and we begin to make new associations and memories. New thoughts and behaviors become easier for us.
The Bible is so clear about of the mind. God knows that this awesome, three-pound masterpiece made up of fat and chemicals is incredibly powerful.
Romans 12:2 gives us insight. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
He reminds us so clearly that our cognitions have the power to change our lives. We might battle with our thoughts, but we have the ability to hold on to the hope that God has promised.
We can think differently.
It takes time. And patience. And practice. And prayer.
No matter how many times we have tried before, we can begin again to challenge negative and destructive thoughts or beliefs. This process of walking down this familiar path, or maybe a new road, can lead to lasting change. And while mobilizing our determination and exerting our willpower are essential ingredients, let’s not forget that change is all parts psychological, biological and spiritual.
When we choose to continue to move forward, we don’t find ourselves walking backwards as many times as we did before. It’s not that the negative pathways have disappeared. They have not – which is why they seem to pop up out of nowhere. But, the more we get back on the new path, the more we practice new thoughts or behaviors, the easier it becomes to turn around and walk forward. Step over step. We can gain momentum.
And friend, let’s remember be kind to ourselves as we embark on the journey. Let’s support one another. Pray for one another.
Let’s believe this truth.
Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
God promises that we can be transformed.
Walking backwards is not failure.
Not if you get back on the path.
We are constantly being renewed.
Mind, body, spirit.
Walking backwards is part of the process of change.