By now, you may have seen this very short and funny video. A video that could be used to illustrate a dozen different sermons, corporate keynotes or school lessons. A video that had me laughing so hard, I just had to hit play about 5 times. Take a look:
Yo en la vida. pic.twitter.com/45QYhU670w— Victoriano Aizpurú (@urupzia) April 17, 2021
Does that hit home with you, too? I see that sheep struggle free, bound away, soar eagerly into the air –and straight back to where it was before. There is a wincing realization that this is so often me. (And that the Bible’s description of us as “sheep” is not a compliment!)
For example, how often do I fall into the same old personal ruts of snapping at my kids, being rude on the highway, or making my wonderful husband feel like I don’t appreciate all he does for us? (And how often do I feel like just a teensy hypocrite after writing books on parenting, kindness and the appreciation men need from their wives?! Oy!)
Thankfully, there is also a great encouragement here for those of us who want to actually change our ways.
To get out of any rut, you have to realize why you got into it in the first place
Think of yourself as the sheep and the rut as a neural pathway in your brain.
Doing something repeatedly forms those neural pathways. The more you do that thing (allow yourself to fume at the drivers on the highway or snap at the kids when provoked), the stronger and “deeper” that pathway becomes. Those brain patterns lead to patterns of thought and/or action – in other words, to habits. Habits that become almost automatic.
In other words: You squirm free of the rut, bound away – and fall right back into it.
But thankfully that isn’t the end of the story.
A neural pathway can lead to positive habits instead!
Here’s the key point: those patterns of thought can be good ones, not just bad ones!
The word “rut” by definition implies a negative trend. But what if you could make it a positive trend instead? Our tendencies may lean toward creating a negative rut a bit more naturally. But with a little attention we can just as easily create a deep gully that leads in life-giving, healthy directions.
For example, suppose one of your “ruts” is that you tend to complain about people who annoy you, and you know you should stop. You sincerely want to stop. So you take the hard step of squirming free of that rut (“I’m so sorry I posted that comment about you, please forgive me.”), bound away (“I’m never doing that again!”) … and fall right back into it the next time you’re provoked.
What do you do?
Practice, practice, practice the thoughts or actions that you want to make “your” gully
As the sheep discovered, simply trying to avoid a rut that is sitting there waiting to trap you doesn’t work very well. Because, given the way neural pathways work, you are going to find your way into and travel along a gully of some sort! The question is which one.
You need to fill in the bad gully – and dig out and travel in the positive one!
Taking the example of “I want to stop complaining about people so much,” what if you create a personal affirmation rule? You say that for one month, if you ever want to say something negative about someone, that you say something positive and affirming instead? Well, pretty soon, you’ll see those negative thoughts actually not arising as often to begin with, and the positive ones appearing in their place. You are creating a deeper and deeper positive gully in your thoughts.
And if you keep going, those positive, kind, uplifting thoughts and words about people will be your norm! The negative ones will feel unsettled and uncomfortable. So if you ever find yourself having a bad day or grumpy thoughts about someone, those are now outside your normal pathways. As a result, you will likely find yourself gratefully landing on thoughts that are positive, peaceful, and uplifting instead.
Whatever you practice will become your default pattern.
As I pointed out in one of the daily devotionals in my devotional book Find Joy (which deals with this topic, among others), “Negative chatter and a complaining heart are just us being really good at practicing the wrong thing.”
Let’s all remember the “sheep video” and make a commitment to fill in those entrapping ruts by purposely stopping ourselves from practicing the wrong things – and practicing the right things instead.
Find Christ-focused wonder in the midst of everyday life no matter what your situation might be. Pick up a copy of Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy, available in major bookstores.
Check out Shaunti’s latest book and Discussion Guide (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
This article was first published at Patheos.
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