I live a lot in my head. When a problem arises, I expend a lot of mental energy pummeling it for insight, solutions, and meaning. When I feel the disconnect with lived reality and my ideal, I go into my head to resolve the tension. All this energy to think my way into a better place suggests that I believe, like many, that changing the way I think will change the way I live.
According to Dr. David Schnarch, not so. In his book Passionate Marriage, he exposes this often-held belief that we can change our lives by changing the way we think about our lives. Isn’t that what the Proverb says? “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” Or as a mentor used to say, “Right thinking is a pre-requisite to right living.” That all sounds so….well, “right”!
Schnark’s words have haunted me for a few days now. Probably because I am such a reflective, introspective person and wonder if that’s my problem. (See, there I go again, thinking my way through life in order to improve the way I live!) Most of my teachers, especially Christian teachers, suggest and model this way of transformation. But is that a modern convention rather than truth? After all, Jesus said "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need" (Matthew 6:33).
What intrigues me about Schnark's statement is the idea that change, or a new way of living, comes from moving toward life, leaning into life with all of one’s being—not just one’s “head.” As we do, life will teach us what is true and that will change how we think and see our relationships, the world, and ourselves!
I wonder what that would look like for me related to my biggest personal challenge right now: being anxious about my future. (I will be unemployed at the end of January—for those who are wondering.) I have tried to master living in the present and not fretting. To be anxious for nothing. To not worry about tomorrow because today has enough trouble of its own. I’ve tried to remember the lilies of the field. Yada, yada, yada. By “thinking” these thoughts, I am no less anxious or able to abide in trust that God will take care of me.
So, how do I live my way to a new way of thinking? Interestingly, as I ponder that question, my experience tells me that I am least anxious when I am knocking on doors, trying to do everything in my power to discover the next step in my vocational future. When I generate new possibilities through networking, I feel more hopeful. When I initiate and move toward life, God’s Presence seems more palpable. Even if a potential job doesn’t work out, I am assured that there are opportunities out there.
So, if I take my cue from living my way to a new way of thinking, I would say that my anxiety is soothed through taking actions that are within my power to take, not merely trying to think "less anxious" thoughts. Living my way to a new way of thinking has, in fact, proved its point.