As a teenager I grew up with the belief that every thought I had was an exact representation of who I was. If I thought I was good at math, or singing, or being a friend, or baking, that’s what I believed. However, if I had the thought that I was bad at math, singing, being a friend, and baking, I also believed that too. When your whole belief system and self-perception is based around whatever the world feeds you with, you’re going to get confused really quickly – literal description of my teenage years.
The best thing is, that we are NOT defined by our thoughts. No matter how many times you think you are a banana, it does not make you a banana (an exaggeration, but an example none the less)!! After a downhill spiral in my first year of University, I started identifying my thoughts and learning the skill (yes, it is a skill!) of choosing whether to accept the various thoughts that came through my mind – imagining they are like trains at a train station and I had the ability to jump on or off helped me! I knew the person who I wanted to become, and if a thought that came through my mind popped up helped me towards becoming that ideal ‘Kathleen’ then I would accept it.
However, what happens when you base your filter of thoughts off of something that changes? You may gain all the skills and habits to identify and choose your thoughts, but sooner or later they will become out-of-date or ineffective. So, this asks the important question of…
What do you use to filter through your thoughts with?
For as long as I can remember I filtered my life through ‘people’ and with the emergence of social media right when I entered high school that only strengthened that filter. Quickly, my thoughts reinforced my personal belief that I was never enough, and so began a reinforcement pattern between belief, thoughts, and actions. Our filters reflect where/what we spend most of our time doing, and what we value. If you binge watch 10 seasons of Netflix every week, you’re more than likely to allow thoughts that align with the type of shows you are watching to stick. If you spend the majority of your time working towards your career goal, your thoughts will benchmark yourself against those in your desired career.
For myself, I am learning to surround myself and filter my thoughts to those that are biblically sound. There are days or situations when I’m using a colander-sized Bible filter rather than a sieve-sized Bible filter and thoughts of failure slip through and I start to believe them. Or mornings where I spend an hour scrolling through Social Media before even getting out of bed, and then scrolling through it again for an hour before lunch – you can guess what type of filter I enable for that day! Hidden within our day is our morning routine, which has the power to shape our day, week, year and ultimately our life. However small or seemingly insignificant we think it may be, the time we spend entertaining thoughts that don’t align, can and actually do have an impact on our life.
By no means am I an expert at this stuff, I only have 23 years life experience and am 1 semester into a Psychology degree, but what I do have is personal experience. I fought and fought with people suggesting that I had the ability to filter and select my thoughts, I punished myself for the negative thoughts that came up. I have spent time ruminating and surrounding myself with detrimental thoughts because they were comfortable. The only change that I saw in my Mental Health journey has been when I filter my thoughts, and more specifically, filter them with something that is constant, eternally-bound, and encouraging (aka, the Bible), and anything that does not pass through my filter is treated like water off a ducks back. When the negative thoughts do start to pop up (which they always do), I am able to not only decide whether to accept or deny the thought, but I am able to replace it with an eternal proof that has been promised to me. When was the last time you checked in with what your thoughts were telling you?
“It takes courage to live through suffering; and it takes honesty to observe it.” – C.S. Lewis