“Think On These Things”: Talk to Your Brain to Change Your Life

February is a suitable month for dying.  Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long.”

–  Anna Quindlen, One True Thing

think on these things

Do you resonate a little (or a lot) with this quote? Figuratively speaking, does it always feel like “February” in your life?  While it is common to get a touch of the winter blues or experience cabin fever this time of year, most individuals quickly bounce back from these feelings.

But for those who struggle with ongoing negative emotions, bad habits, or addictive behaviors, many feel stuck—stuck in a pattern of defeat that never leads their analogous “February” to spring.

It’s all in your head: A word about biofeedback

Quite literally, it’s all in your head. And this truth is giving new hope to those struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, or other behavioral disorders.

Biofeedback—the technique of making unconscious or involuntary bodily processes (such as heartbeats or brain waves) perceptible to the senses in order to manipulate them by conscious mental control—is making promising advancements in the successful treatment of individuals.

The advances in this area have paved the way to new treatment options for many different or unique physical and emotional conditions.

For example, NASA has used biofeedback techniques to treat astronauts who suffer from severe space sickness, caused by a disruption to the autonomic nervous system.

Biofeedback uses electroencephalographs (EEGs) to measure brain-wave activity by placing electrodes on the scalp. This type of biofeedback is sometimes called neurofeedback and is the specific way that biofeedback is performed on individuals dealing with addiction, depression, or other behavioral issues.

“EEG Biofeedback therapy should play a major therapeutic role in many difficult areas,” says Dr. Frank Duffy, M.D., a neurologist with Boston Children’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. “In my opinion, if any medication had demonstrated such a wide spectrum of efficacy it would be universally accepted and widely used.”

In a UCLA study, researchers found that 77% of participants who received neurofeedback alongside a 12-step program remained sober from their addiction at 12 months, compared to 44% of those who didn’t receive neurofeedback, but who stayed in treatment longer.

Another study of homeless male cocaine users who received 12 months of neurofeedback (along with a 12-step program) saw an increase of 12 men graduating from the program per month, in comparison to only 12 men graduating per year before the study.

When used with other therapy techniques, neurofeedback has also shown promise for treating people who struggle with sex addiction.

In an interview with The Fix, a leading website about addiction and recovery, Richard Davis, president of the International Society for Neurofeedback Research, shares the success he has seen with addicts.

“I have worked with most all addictions and my specialty has become sex addiction,” he told The Fix. “I have also worked with alcohol/drug abuse cases, process addictions, and eating disorders.” Davis reports a success rate of 60-80% of clients remaining sober, even up to their five and 10-year follow-ups.

Additionally promising is the fact that more and more insurance companies are recognizing the benefits of this type of therapy and have even started to provide coverage for it in some cases.

As the awareness continues to grow, additional monies in the form of grants and programs have become available to improve accessibility for more individuals and families.

Learning to think in new ways

Exploring the subject of biofeedback demonstrates strong evidence in the importance of communicating with your brain to bring about change. Equally important, it challenges the status quo when seeking out options to improve one’s self. The practice of biofeedback has become more mainstream, expanding to include do-it-yourself home devices, programs, and manual exercises (such as breathing techniques to reduce stress and bring mental clarity). However, it’s the increase in its acceptance that provides an important reminder. Learning to change requires us to think differently, unconventionally, and outside one’s comfort zone. Change always requires hard work and dedicated participation from the individual.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School reported that sixty to eighty percent of adults find “thinking differently” uncomfortable and even exhausting. While this is not a shocking fact, it helps to explain why many just give up and stay in their current situations.

The bottom line: to experience real and lasting change, individuals must challenge their current thinking and think beyond themselves. While this may be one of the hardest challenges, it can also be the most rewarding.

Matters of the Heart

As we see the fascinating advancements that God has blessed and equipped individuals to make, it is important to remember that even the most promising of solutions can fail if an individual is not committed to making a total life change.

First, remember that God is the answer in all of this. He is first One to which we submit our struggles. With that said, He also has blessed us with an amazing mind and expects us to use it.

He expects us to be good stewards of our thoughts, our thinking. He expects us to use the tools that he has blessed us with to help ourselves.

Just as an overweight person should not just pray to take the weight away, they must also take action and use their God-given ability to try to do something about it. The same is true of those who struggle with their thought life.

Maybe you’re not ready or open to the idea of being hooked up to electrodes to help your issue. So here are a few practical tips to use when the wrong thoughts fill your mind.

1. Practice the 3-Second Rule

Also known as “Alert, Avert, and Affirm,” this is especially helpful for redirecting obsessive or destructive thoughts. First, notice what triggers you, whether it is visual or situational. Second, avert by turning away from the issue or remove yourself from the situation if possible. If not possible, try to isolate those thoughts mentally so they do not take over. Third, give yourself a positive affirmation, recognizing that while you are an imperfect human being, you are loved by God.

2. Replace and Erase

For every negative or inappropriate thought you realize, replace it with a positive, purer one. This will eventually create a habit over time and train your mind to squash the wrong thoughts as they are coming in.

3. Engage in Self-Talk

That’s right: talk to yourself. Licensed therapist and clinical social worker Matt Bulkley shares his expertise with Covenant Eyes on this:

“The ‘self-talk’ in which an individual uses with himself is crucial.  A vital part of treatment and recovery is the development of a ‘healthy self-talk’ which challenges the negative and destructive feelings that feed the addiction. Negative self-talk only reinforces the addiction and keeps the individual struck in the vicious cycle of negative emotions—being numbed with the addiction—leading to more negative emotions. Replacing the negative self-talk with messages to self that are bright, positive, and encouraging lead to a greater success rate for breaking the addiction.”

When your ‘season’ of life is not as rosy as you would like, remember Ecclesiastes 3:1: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Embrace this season of life that God has given you—it is a gift.

Pure Minds Online | Issue 28 | January 2013 | More in this issue: 3 Reasons Married Couples Use Covenant Eyes | How to Monitor Apps on Your Child’s Device | Get the Latest Pornography Statistics | Five Tips to Jumpstart Your Accountability

Picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fortinbras