A couple days ago I could feel the tension rising in my body. My mind was ruminating on all the ways other people were making my life difficult that particular day. Everything was irritating. Why did I have to deal with this new financial issue? Did I really have to unexpectedly drive an hour out of my way today for someone else’s convenience? Yes, I seriously needed an attitude adjustment.
I also knew I had an important meeting that evening with a couple people who needed me to be fully present. They had invited me to help them work through some big challenges they were facing, and they deserved my best. And my bad attitude could prevent me from being who God needed me to be to them.
A bad attitude can come on in an instant. Your flight/fight/freeze mechanisms get triggered, and the stress hormones are flooding your body and brain. Old negative tapes begin roaring in your head. Things can go from enjoying a beautiful morning to the brink of Armageddon faster than you can finish your coffee.
I learned years ago that I have much more executive authority over my mind than I had previously believed. That doesn’t mean a bad attitude doesn’t come flooding in. But I have a choice about what I do next.
And so do you.
Brain science helps here. And so does God’s presence. Here are some helpful elements that can bring you an attitude adjustment when you need it.
The inputs our brains receive in any given moment far outpace our ability to consciously notice them all. Starting from infancy our brains develop powerful templates to filter incoming messages and direct the “important” ones to our consciousness.
Those filtering templates do a lot of good. For example, they help us respond appropriately when danger presents itself. (A baby rattlesnake on my neighbor’s driveway is worth paying attention to!) But not infrequently those filter mechanisms serve us less than well.
One of Dr. Curt Thompson’s important phrases is, “Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.” I had to pay attention to the bad attitude developing in my soul. By consciously noticing the rising tension in my body and the irritated internal dialogue roaring in my brain I gained the ability to be intentional about what I did next.
We know now, from understanding brain science, that feelings get triggered much faster than thoughts can form. The biological chemicals that flood your blood stream and the neurons firing throughout your nervous system start doing their thing in an instant, perhaps fractions of a second.
And it takes your conscious mind a lot longer to form a thought – at least several seconds. So your fight/flight/freeze mechanisms are triggered long before your mind even has the ability to consider what’s happening.
Thus the importance of slowing down before reacting. By learning to pay attention to what’s going on in my body and brain I can lengthen the time between the trigger and my response. I’m noticing the instantaneous fear or anger or frustration, slowing down, and in that moment learning to grab the wheel of my mind in directing it where to go next.
Invite Outside Input
Internal swirling in your brain never ends well. Confusion does not come from God (see 1 Corinthians 14:33). When that swirling starts you might naturally try to mentally wrangle issues to the ground. Or you might quickly retreat and give up. Neither is helpful.
Seeking healthy input from outside your brain is a critical piece in getting an attitude adjustment. The feelings overwhelming your internal system don’t often quickly change on their own. But some new input from the outside can trigger new pathways in your mind, and that can change things.
God is of course the first place to run to when you need an attitude adjustment. I’ve learned to run to Him instead of away when I’m upset. Certainly it’s good to ask Him to “fix” things, but asking questions is also vital. Jesus, what’s going on here? Interpret this for me. Just that openness to hearing God’s input can make a lot of difference. That’s the foundation of the two-part prayer I often recommend.
As I noticed my growing irritation, I invited God’s input. I remained watchful and open to what He might say. Within a few hours a different financial option presented itself. Thank You, Lord! And while I was driving for that extra hour I listened to a podcast that gave me just the input I needed to reframe my thought processes. I could feel my tension decreasing, and I felt able to consider a new attitude.
Having paid attention, slowed down, and invited outside input, other possible choices become available. This is the outcome of taking the mental wheel, exercising the executive authority God has given us over our minds, and intentionally pointing them in a new direction. It’s not mind over matter; we humans are more complicated than that. But it’s very satisfying when you discover you have more ability here than you’ve realized.
As my brain calmed down, I became aware of some negative messages my mind was replaying – and believing. I started telling myself some new messages, messages based on what I’ve learned about God, about myself, about the world. I noticed and followed the invitation my mind received to go in a positive direction. My choices were intentionally triggering some different neural pathways in my brain.
And my feelings followed. By the time I met with the people who needed me that evening my mind was clear. I was focusing on the privilege of being invited into their journey, and I could be fully present.
Your Attitude Adjustment
You have more ability to choose your attitude than you realize. Yes, you may need an attitude adjustment. Learning to pay attention to what you’re paying attention to, slowing down, inviting outside input, and making intentional choices – these are skills you can develop.
This is a partial picture of the renewing of your mind that Paul talks about (Romans 12:2), and that God invites all of us into.
May your attitude be more and more like Christ’s (1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 2:5).
Your Turn: What bad attitude do you tend to fall into naturally? Can you see some steps here to choose an attitude adjustment? Leave a comment below.
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