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Command your thoughts: Three actionable steps to remove toxic thoughts!

Anyone else ever find themselves constantly battling a barrage of reoccurring toxic thoughts? If you are anything like me, it sometimes feels like you are losing that battle. What’s worse? Our thought patterns (i.e. our habit of thinking in a particular way, using particular assumptions) drive our actions. So we find ourselves in what appears to be an infinite toxic loop: our toxic thoughts create toxic assumptions which inform toxic actions. It’s time to break out of that loop with these three steps: 

Step 1: Create New Habits.

As in any other part of our lives, habits are formed by repetition. For example, this morning, my wife asked me, “why are you going to the gym so early if you are not required to go to work until a little later?” To which the only logical explanation I had was, “it’s a habit.” It is so much of a habit that I wake up at the same time (or earlier) even without an alarm, and if I try to lie there in the mornings, my mind will start racing and my body will start aching. So I just get up. The same is true when bedtime comes; I can easily fall asleep mid-sentence/mid-thought! (Ask my frat brothers who would have me out all night partying during college 😅.) Take a second to think about a habit like this you’ve formed over the years. When did you start? Can you even remember? My mom tells me that I’ve been waking up and falling asleep early since I was a young child. As it was when I was a child, that sleep pattern or sleep habit is fueled by an anticipation of what tomorrow holds.

This same logic applies to our thought patterns or mental habits. Whether we remember when the habits started or not, there is one thing that fuels these habits: our assumptions. In a previous post, I discussed my admiration for how our powerful brain gives us the ability to control our emotional responses. More specifically, I highlighted the cerebral cortex which, according to https://www.simplypsychology.org, the cerebral cortex “is the outer surface of the brain, [and it] is associated with higher level processes such as consciousness, thought, emotion, reasoning, language, and memory.” Many neuroscientists believe that our cerebral cortex “saves energy” by operating off of assumptions, and these assumptions are developed by our past experiences.

Author’s note: Most people stop here because they conclude since they cannot change the past and the past develops assumptions and assumptions fuel mental habits, then their mental habits cannot be changed. That is a very logical conclusion… Buuuuuut keep reading.

Keep reading below!

We can create new experiences! Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Become studious and an avid reader (audiobooks count!). Diversify your studies and reading beyond your craft. For example, my reading list spans from “The Kill Chain” by Christian Brose to “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Norman Doidge, M.D. to “It’s Better Being a Bunny” by Marilyn Sadler. Broaden your horizons.
  • Watch different movies and documentaries. I am personally a huge fan of action & adventure and comedies; however, National Geographic and The History Channel are also two of my personal favorites.
  • Take a vacation or travel to a place you have never been (even if it’s only a couple of towns over).
  • Try new food. I love food, so any post I get to mention food is a plus for me! Again, broaden your horizons!
  • Listen to a variety of music. We all have our favorite genre, but remember, we are creating new experiences. Listen to different genres and international versions of your favorite genre.
  • Take an interest in writing. Write about what you see. Write about your fantasies. Create a journal to record your thoughts and emotions or a food log (my least favorite lol) to track what you eat. Write a book if you’d like (I did it and so can you)!

All of these tips will work towards creating new experiences and ultimately developing new healthy mental habits.

Step 2: Indulge in Fresh Thoughts and Ideas.

Now that we have established a way to break our old habits through new experiences, we have to start programming our mind to think differently. In my studies of the Holy Bible, I found an excellent passage that universally applies to thought: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” -Philippians 4:8 NLT.

Let’s break this down to how it applies to life.

  • True: Let’s start by focusing on reality vs our perception of reality. One of the first cliches that comes to mind is, “perception is reality.” Wrong! Our perception is the lens through which we view life. (Sometimes our perception can be more like blinders than lenses). Similar to our assumptions, perceptions are based upon our experiences. Therefore, by creating new experiences, we are increasing our ability to see and understand reality through a clearer lens.
  • Honorable & Right: Despite what we may see on the news, I am a firm believer that mankind is inherently honorable (ethically and morally good). This thought inspires me to show goodwill and serve others, so I encourage others to think the same.
  • Pure: I love how Oxford Languages defines pure: “without any extraneous and unnecessary elements.” Sometimes our minds get so bogged down with negative things we consume on a daily basis. My recommendation is to be aware of the world around you, but don’t become consumed with the negative aspects of the world around you. My challenge for you is for every negative you read or witness, consume and meditate on at least two inspiring or positive things for balance.
  • Lovely & Admirable: Have you ever just stopped to take in the beauty of nature? I am a guy who loves warm weather; in fact, I have been frostbitten before, so cold weather and I are not best friends. Even so, I absolutely love a sunny day after fresh snowfall. Although the temperature may not be as warm as I’d prefer, I cannot help but walk outside, take in deep breaths of the cold, crisp, and seemingly filtered air, and smile as I see the sun glisten off of the sparkling snow. This is just one example of the peaceful places I have learned to admire and enjoy. What lovely things can you think of? Where do you go to find peace?
  • Excellent & Worthy of Praise: Think about the things you are grateful for. Even our worst situation is better than someone else’s best. If nothing else, you are alive and able to read this post. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant, celebrate every single win. You deserve to celebrate yourself, your accomplishments, and your life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Step 3: Command your thoughts!

If you have ever seen the movie “Cast Away,” you may remember the main character, Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks),  floating on a makeshift vessel. This vessel had no steering wheel, sail, or any way to control or steer. Chuck was at the mercy of the sea–carrying him whichever direction it pleased. Is anybody willing to admit our thoughts are just like this? 🙋🏾‍♂️ Mine are! Sometimes my thoughts take me to a place of bliss, enjoyment, and peace; but more often than I’d like to admit, my thoughts take me back to the infinite loop I mentioned before if I let them. Sometimes following these negative thoughts seems adventurous and addictive, but I assure you they lead to a never ending cycle of toxic actions and behaviors. Therein lies my final piece of advice:

Command your thoughts!

  1. Identify and write down your reoccurring negative thoughts. This is pretty simple: we cannot and will not get rid of what we cannot identify.
  2. Identify your triggers. What is causing your negative thoughts? Is it TV? Is it the people around you? Is it social media? Take some time away (at least 30 days) from your triggers to see if that helps you improve.
  3. Replace your thoughts with the thoughts we mentioned in Step 2: Fresh thoughts and ideas.

If you are anything like me, you read blogs like this with skepticism. Well allow me to encourage you; I use these steps in my daily affairs, and I have seen a huge change in my mental health and overall enjoyment of life! Start applying these steps to command your thoughts today!

Thanks for reading!

Olaolu Ogunyemi: U.S. Marine Officer | Mentor | Best-selling author

If you enjoyed this post, check out others just like it on my blog! https://parent-child-connect.com/blog

Need more on how to command your thoughts?! Here you go!

Deb Kartz’s Conquer Anxiety & Toxicity summit feature U.S. Marine & best-selling author, Olaolu Ogunyemi (Part 1)

Deb Kartz’s Conquer Anxiety & Toxicity summit feature U.S. Marine & best-selling author, Olaolu Ogunyemi (Part 2)

I also offer FREE resources here: https://parent-child-connect.com/free-resources

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What I learned from my recent appendectomy

Happy Saturday my friends! I hope you had an amazing week thus far and your weekend is even greater! My weekend? Let’s just say it has had a unique start. I underwent an appendectomy!

I was chuckling during this pre-operation selfie. I told the surgical team, “thanks for protecting my beautiful head full of hair.” (I’m nearly bald for those who didn’t know.)

No matter how big or small, I always try to find a lesson in each of life’s circumstances. So what could I have possibly learned from an appendectomy? Well, the first thing I learned is that seeing a medical professional early on can make a huge difference. This was the first time in my life that I did not attempt to “tough it out.” The medical professionals were able to fix the issue in the early stages (before the infection in my appendix worsened and rupturing became a threat). But there was a larger life lesson.

The life lesson: We must quickly address life’s hurts and pains.

Let’s backtrack for a second: I woke up this past Thursday feeling normal. I went through my morning routine and showed up at the gym at 6 am for my one hour Yoga session. Such a relaxing start to the day ☺️. As the morning progressed, I began to feel a small pain/discomfort in my stomach. I initially thought it was nothing more than gas (sorry if that is TMI 😬), but I wasn’t so sure anymore by the time I arrived at work. It was getting worse throughout the day, but I was reluctant to express this feeling to my peers. After all, they probably already assumed it was COVID, so I did not want to cause alarm. There was no hiding it, because I am always jovial; striving to be the one to bring brightness to the room. Contrarily, I was quiet, withdrawn, and exhausted. One of my colleagues even said, “Are you ok?…You look like you are really hurting.”

Luckily, I was responsible for picking my son up from school that day, so I had an excuse to leave early. When I made it home, I laid on the couch and slept. I tossed. I turned. I tried lying upside down. I took Tums… Anything to relieve what I thought was simply “trapped gas.” That evening, I told my wife the words that let her know I was actually in pain, “I am going to the doctor in the morning to see what is wrong.” She knows I HATE hospitals, so she knew it must have been serious.

I arrived at the hospital Friday morning, still playing the tough guy role. I imagined they would hand me something to quickly relieve the pressure in my stomach and allow me to go home. At this point, I just wanted to “rule out appendicitis.” I mean seriously, my phone was on 40%, and I left my charger in my vehicle; I just knew this visit would be short! I was wrong.

After reviewing the Computed tomography (CT) scan, the surgical team came into the room to confirm I had appendicitis (a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus, causing pain. Source: Mayo Clinic). Thankfully, I sought help early enough to avoid a rupture. The surgical team presented me with two options:

1. Take antibiotics to “hopefully” reduce the inflammation.

2. Remove the appendix to eliminate the chance of reinfection.

I chose the latter, and the rest is history.

Why did I share that entire story?

I was able to identify several parallels between my life and my recent experience.

1. Pain is an indication of something more serious. Sometimes we become so accustomed to emotional hurt and pain that we ignore it. We consider ourselves “lone wolves.” We “tough it out” because we do not want to look weak. We mask our pain. We pretend we are ok. We attempt to become numb to the pain. We ignore it in hopes that it will go away. The downside is it does not go away; it just intensifies. Then, we find ourselves attempting to treat the symptoms with things that may cause the pain to temporarily subside only to find that the pain only increases–requiring more temporary treatment measures. We focus more on covering/treating the pain than identifying the root cause.

2. Though they can see straight through our ruse, we attempt to hide our pain from others. I knew I needed to bounce back after the first time my colleague asked, “are you ok?” So I ran to the store and grabbed tums and ginger ale. After about 30 minutes I said, “I feel much better after my Tums, ginger ale, and [lightly salted] veggie chips!” I said it in such a way that I even started to believe it. I told an occasional joke or two to throw him off. Meanwhile, the pain was worsening, and he wasn’t fooled. How often do we do this? Instead of admitting we are in pain and seeking help (or allowing others to help), we attempt to hide it. “I’ll be ok.” “I was built for this!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body, right?” Those are just a few of my go-to quotes. What are yours? Regardless, no one is falling for it anyway, so why not just get the help we need?

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

J.K. Rowling

3. I got the help I needed. I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but I challenged myself to do something different this time. I decided I would get help instead of self-medicating. I am so glad I did. The surgical team informed me that my case was worse than they originally assessed via CT scan. Meaning, had I not gotten it taken care of, I risked rupturing my appendix (potentially fatal). We should normalize seeking professional help. Attempting to self-medicate our problems tend to make things worse. I learned this from previous injuries, and I am encouraging you to do the same. Do not try to do this on your own. Stop trying to hide or mask the pain and get the help you need to remove the root cause. Which moves to my last point:

4. You must address the root cause. When the surgical team presented me with options, I felt the answer was obvious. To me, Option A was: The surgical team would immediately treat the symptoms in hopes that the problem would not resurface. Option B was: The surgical team would remove the root cause which will immediately hurt more but has a greater chance of preventing future pain (reinfection). I chose the latter because that option addressed the root cause–my infected appendix. Simply reducing inflammation would have led to temporary relief. Chances are I would have returned to the hospital with the same pain in the future. So yes, I exposed myself to risks and pain associated with surgical removal, but in the long term, I do not have to worry about my appendix becoming reinfected… Because it is gone. Addressing the root of the pain was the right answer for me, and I believe it is the right answer for all of us. Healing and recovery may hurt and take time, but I will confidently endure knowing I made the best long-term decision for my health.

I know facing hurt and pain is a challenge for all of us. It can be scary and make feel vulnerable and weak. However, we must address the root cause of our pains if we want to live a healthy physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Today is your day. This is your sign. Allow me to be your friend today who is pointing you towards seeking help. We can do this together. I believe in you!

Olaolu Ogunyemi: U.S. Marine Officer | Mentor | Best-selling author

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How can you positively impact someone’s life today?

We are going to talk about “impact” soon, but first… it’s story time! Last Friday, I hopped in my car to go grab my son from school. This is always an exciting surprise for him; namely because my wife typically picks him up from school due to my work schedule.

Instinctively, I started the car, adjusted my seat, buckled my seatbelt, and began checking/adjusting my mirrors… rearview first, then side view, then one last check in the rearview. That’s my routine. On my latter rearview check, my eyes widened–there was something exciting heading in my direction… The FedEx truck!

Note: This is not a paid advertisement for FedEx… Although I would gladly collaborate with them lol.

As the FedEx truck approached, my anticipation and excitement continued to grow! It was finally time!!

I’m sure by now you are just waiting for me to reveal what I got in the mail right? What heartfelt gift (or hilarious prop for my silly antics) had I ordered this time??

Welp, I hate to disappoint you, but I was neither expecting nor receiving a package that day.

So why was I so excited? What was I anxiously waiting for? What is the point of this blog??

Ok, I’ll tell you! I was waiting for the FedEx driver to say, “hello!” Seems weird huh? Let me explain. There is this one FedEx driver who delivers in our neighborhood that ALWAYS greets us with a warm smile and wave. It’s like I have known him for years! He even tacks on a “see you tomorrow!”

As the excitement grew, I realized how impactful his simple “hello” is on my day… My life. I realized how his smile, wave, and “see you tomorrow” actually makes me look forward to greeting him and having a brief yet impactful conversation the next day.

I do not know his name. I do not know where he is from. I do not know his background. However, I do know he is using his platform (FedEx driver) to positively impact others’ lives–with a simple smile and wave!

So I encourage you; you do not have to be the strongest, the smartest, the wealthiest, or the most famous to impact others’ lives. YOU [we] have the power to positively impact others regardless of how big or small our platform is.

Remember this: The size of the audience doesn’t matter. The size of the impact does!

This week, let’s make a conscious effort to positively impact EVERYONE we encounter. Here are just a few examples of ways you can use your platform:

  • Donate to charity or someone in need.
  • Help a friend create a midterm exam study guide.
  • Help someone refine their resumé.
  • Visit a friend in prison or visit one of our elderly in the nursing home.
  • Purchase someone’s groceries or meal.
  • Allow someone to merge in front of you during busy traffic.
  • Support a small business or an indie author (I know a guy that writes children’s books… Me…. I’m the guy😁) either by spreading the word or making a purchase.
  • Smile, wave, and say, “have a great day!”

We have the power to positively impact others’ lives! Let’s do it!

My beautiful children deserve my attention and positive impact!
Random picture of me and my oldest princess. 👸🏾 😁

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Here’s an encouraging message to POWER you through the rest of your week: Don’t give up!

Don't give up! Olaolu uses one of his high school photos to tell a short story of how his father's persistence paid off in the long run.
High School photo of Olaolu!

Don’t give up!

This is me in high school. Aside from the fact that I was about to dribble through a double team instead of passing the ball the big man who had the clear size advantage; if you look closely, you will see the beginning stages of my mohawk!

My dad and Coach Johnson (assistant principal) HATED it, and their hate for my mohawk peaked when I spiked it! 😂 They were right. It was hideous and definitely outside of our high school uniform regulations. They talked to me for MONTHS before my dad finally got through to me. He taught me to look, dress, behave, and groom myself to be the person I want to be in the future vice whoever (or whatever 🥴) I was trying to look like at the time.

Moral of the story: Keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep teaching. Keep investing time. Don’t give up! It’ll pay off in the long run.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 NLT
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Distractions Causing Distance [From God]

Introduction: 

There is no greater oxymoron for people-loving extroverts (like me) than “social distancing!” Society has adopted this methodology to keep us safe, but I—like most—miss sharing the love of God through a warm embrace. 

What if I told you that there is a type of “distancing” that [ironically] can actually cause us harm? That is a distant relationship with our heavenly Father. 

There is hope! Join us in this four-day devotion as we discuss how to defeat three daily distractions that distance us from Christ!

Devotion: 

Be Free from Condemnation!

We are currently living in unprecedented times! We have wildfires, a pandemic, social unrest, and the list goes on and on. During these times we may feel a bit distant from Christ—I know I have felt that way plenty of times. In fact, there were times that I felt I really wandered away from Christ! Is that you right now? Do you feel like you are too far gone to pray? Are you so overwhelmed with your guilt and shame that you cannot feel the love of God? Are you having a hard time connecting through God’s Word because of mistakes you have made? I understand; I have been there.

The last time I was in that moment—sulking in embarrassment and guilt—God freed me through His Word by reminding me of His grace, love, and compassion. So I have a quick opening message for you even if you are feeling distant right now—our heavenly Father loves you unconditionally, and He still wants a relationship with you! 

Before we can learn to defeat distractions, we must be free from our own condemnation (very strong disapproval; punishment) and truly understand and embrace God’s love for us. Let’s talk about God’s love for a bit.

God’s love is free(ing):

Ephesians 2:8 AMP tells us, “For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God.”

I absolutely love free stuff! I know most people call me cheap, but don’t judge me. For example, one day while I was in college, I ordered food at a drive-thru restaurant. I was very excited to get my go-to budgeting college student value meal. When I approached the window to pay, the young lady said, “Your meal has already been paid for.” I would’ve done a flip in excitement if I were skilled enough to do so without injuring myself. “Wow!” I thought, “Why would a stranger give me a free gift?” 

When I reminisce on that day, I realize how happy that free meal made me (I saved about $3), but when I think about the free gift that Christ gave us (He saved my life) exuberant joy begins to overwhelm me. What’s amazing is Christ gave us this free gift because He loves us and this undeserved gift frees us from the oppression (control) of and judgment associated with sin. Now that’s a double-double to get excited about! So don’t beat yourself up when you mess up. Ask God for forgiveness, brush yourself off, and be free! 

God’s love is unexplainable:

John 10:11-18 reminds us that our heavenly Father has given us an unexplainable (and seemingly illogical) love. Imagine this, you are sitting in an open field watching sheep. The weather is beautiful, and you are basking in the sun while enjoying an ice-cold cup of lemonade. Out of nowhere, a wolf comes to take one of the one hundred sheep you are watching! I know what you are thinking, “well, 99% isn’t bad!”  I mean really, who wants to fight a wolf for that one sheep? The Good Shepherd does. 

He is always willing to lay down his life for us and will even leave the ninety-nine to save the one [wandering] sheep (Matthew 18:12)! My human mind cannot comprehend that kind of love, but I am extremely grateful that Christ is willing to sacrifice for you and me!

God’s love is unconditional:

Now this aspect of God’s love is truly amazing! We humans tend to have a limit when dealing with others. “You better not cross my [proverbial] line or it is over…dead…finito. You will henceforth and forever be excommunicated from my life!” Yep, God is definitely not like us, and here comes the amazing part: in God’s eyes nothing can separate us from His love! 

Paul asks in Romans 8:35 NLT, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” Then he answers in verse 39, “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Read it again! No matter where you are from or what you have done, nothing can separate you from the love of God! 

Walk confidently today as you embrace God’s amazing grace and love! Never again condemn yourself for your mistakes—instead embrace the free, unexplainable, and unconditional love of our heavenly Father!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for the free, unconditional love that you have given us. Though we can never truly comprehend it, we know that your love and grace is what allows us to be free from the crushing oppression of sin. Father, please forgive me for the things I have done that were not pleasing to you, and help me to overcome the temptations that arise today. Father, thank you for removing the guilt, shame, and condemnation from my life and preparing me to grow closer to you. Amen. 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #1: Worry!

“Will my family get sick? Am I doing all I can? What will we eat? What do others think about me?…” If we are honest, some of our minds continuously reverberate with these kinds of questions daily! The second our feet touch the cold or carpeted floor in our bedrooms, our minds begin to race. Usually this race persists until we finally return to bed at the end of the day. The unfortunate truth is our minds naturally dwell on difficulty and troubles which distract us from the important things in life like developing our relationship with God, family, and friends! So let’s take down our first distraction–worry.

When I began meditating on this topic, three scriptures immediately came to mind. First it was Matthew 6:27 NLT that asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Then, Proverbs 12:25 NLT reminded me that “worry weighs a person down.” Lastly, Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34 NLT “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The Word is abundantly clear about worry, and we all know that increased worry causes increased anxiety which causes increased mental and physical health concerns…So why do we worry? Why don’t we simply adopt the infamous meerkat and warthog duo’s slogan and lifestyle? (You’ll catch the reference at some point throughout the day.) 

Well, I will start by sharing how I [falsely] justified my worry: 

  1. A little worry combined with fear is my instinctual way of emotionally preparing for the worst outcome. I am like a gazelle on a Safari! My worry and fear keeps me from being consumed by the lion (life). Right? WRONG. Along with the increased physical and mental health risks, worry was increasing my paranoia. Simply put, my physical presence was not a “gift” to my heavenly Father, family, friends, and work colleagues because I was so busy worrying about being consumed by life that I was not building healthy relationships and enjoying life! 
  2. My worry allowed me to thoroughly analyze a situation to develop a well-rounded solution. Solid logic right? WRONG. Worry primarily focuses on the “difficulties and troubles” (negatives) associated with a situation; thus, my perception and analysis is skewed to focus solely on the negative outcomes. 

Those are my [busted] myths associated with my worry. Take some time to examine your own myths… then bust them! 

Now that the jig is up and we have eliminated our excuses to worry, let’s answer the million dollar question: “How do we combat worry?”

The million dollar answer is that we must fully understand and appreciate this fact: You are what you THINK!

A fairly recent study following tens of thousands of people from 2004 to 2012  found that those who were optimistic had a significantly lower risk of dying from several major causes of death, including: heart disease, stroke, cancer (including breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal cancers), infection, and respiratory diseases.

Sounds like a pretty clear answer to Matthew 6:27!

The study concluded that several proven benefits of thinking positively include:

  • Better quality of life
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better psychological and physical health
  • Faster recovery from injury or illness
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Better stress management and coping skills
  • Longer life span

I’ll take the benefits please!

Now that we understand the importance of positive thinking, how do we put it into practice?

  1. Make a concerted effort to focus on positive things. This is a tough one for us because sometimes you just want to sulk. In my personal life, I found a way to justify sulking. I felt that I deserved to be frustrated and disappointed! “Coincidentally” my Pastor emailed me to remind me that though the overall circumstance may appear to be negative, I can choose to dwell on the negative aspects of the circumstance or fix my thoughts on the positives. Yep, it is a choice! 

Try this!  Write down three positive things about your current circumstance! Even if the list starts with “I am breathing,” celebrate the fact that you are still alive with an opportunity to make it through this circumstance with an amazing story to tell! 

  1. Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude has been proven to reduce stress, increase your self-esteem and the self-esteem of those around you, and foster resilience amongst you and your inner-circle. Every day, find no less than three things to thank God for (and thank Him) and find no less than three things to thank others for (and thank them). When offered an opportunity to complain and criticize, thank! When you think of the positives, thank for the positives. 
  1. Now that you have recognized and shown gratitude for the positives, create and maintain a gratitude log. Label it, “People and Things I am grateful for.” I know. I know. It sounds corny, but it works! Maintain your log in a place you visit often, and keep focusing on that growing list.
  2. Open yourself up to humor. Laugh a little! I heard someone once say,  “if you’re happy and you know it, tell your face.” We cannot allow life to beat us down so much that we walk around like a bulldog eating lemonheads (just picture that for a second–maybe that was your laugh for today). Take out time to enjoy the pleasures of life. God has always intended for us to enjoy the pleasures of life. I mean, think about how beautiful the Garden of Eden was! We were designed to be happy. So take a second, look in a mirror (or prepare for a selfie with your electronic device), and make the biggest smile you can! Now let the brightness of that smile, your positive thoughts, and your attitude of gratitude melt the negativity away! 
  3. Check your inner-circle! You are who you hang with. In the country, the old folks would say “if you hang with stray dogs, you may catch fleas!” Spend time with Positive Paulas versus Debbie downers. Think back to my story about my Pastor. Had he begun to sulk with me and feed my negative thoughts and emotions, I may not have survived that circumstance. Remember this, Debbie Downers wallow in defeat, while Positive Paulas bask in triumph!
  4. Start off on a positive note by practicing positive self-talk! Instead of beginning with worry, begin with a prayer, devotion, meditation, and affirmation or declaration that you will have a positive day. Then carry that declaration with you throughout the day. As you walk into a situation that appears negative, say to yourself (or aloud if you’d like) I will see the positive in this! Still have that mirror or selfie handy? Let’s try this right now! Smile, say something positive about yourself, and make the declaration that, “I will see the positive in every situation!”

I believe that these steps will not only eliminate worry, but these steps will also foster a more healthy relationship with God and everyone you come in contact with! 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us the opportunity to see another day and meditate on your Word. You are truly our source of happiness and strength. We pray for your forgiveness for failing to see your beauty in every circumstance, and we ask you to help us to fix our thoughts on you! In Jesus’ name. Amen 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #2: Need to Disconnect

Now that we are free from condemnation and we have kicked worry to the curb, let’s talk about another distraction that becomes more complicated everyday. A lot of us are Distracted by the need to Disconnect. 

So I had to do some self-reflection to prepare for this one, and I ask you to join me. Take out your phone, tablet, or whatever device you use, and list out all the applications that take time from your day. My list went like this: Instagram, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, XBox Live, Zoom, Marco Polo, GroupMe, LinkedIn, news app, weather bug app, and Gmail. Wow! 

That was alarming to me because there are still only 24 hours in a day (and I spend about 16 of them either sleeping or working)! With that in mind, I felt a little better because my research told me that I am not alone. In fact, a recent study showed that the average American checks their phone 96 times a day or once every ten minutes. To compound the issue, social distancing and quarantines have given us an even more insatiable desire to remain connected and socialize.

It is very apparent how this distraction has caused distance, because, as I said before, there are still 24 hours in a day!  

So how do we disconnect so that we can focus on God? Well, I will start by saying, we talk/socialize too much and oftentimes, it is done in the wrong way. 

The right to speak is important; saying things at the right time in the right manner is even more important. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” 

So how do we defeat this distraction? 

  1. Watch your words. Words matter because words mean things. Proverbs 15:1 NLT “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” 
  2. Say less. Connect less. Be Wise. (Proverbs 17:27 NLT) “A truly wise person uses few words…” 
    • Words are like dollar bills. They should be spent wisely because we cannot take them back. Yep, that means even on social media…especially on social media! I am not saying we should not socialize/connect, but when done in excess, it drives a wedge between us and God. Simply put, we just don’t have time for God.
  3. Don’t look like a fool. Mark Twain said it best, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Because we are so connected, we often find ourselves caught in constant debate (most times publicly). Which leads me to the last tip to fight this distraction:
  4. Three T’s to check before you speak: Time… Type… Tone
  • Time: Is it the right time to speak or should you just be quiet?
    • Take inventory. How much of your time have you spent socializing in comparison to growing your relationship with God?
  • Type: Ephesians 4:29 NLT says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
    • What kind of Conversations are you having? Are you giving encouraging words to everyone you encounter? 
  • Tone: Are you addressing the situation in the best manner possible? Are you using the “gentle answer” described in Proverbs 15:1

Think about these things and challenge yourself to disconnect from the rush, rat race, and rigamaroo of life. Disconnect from distractions so you can reconnect and build a healthy relationship with God.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for your grace, mercy, and kindness towards us. We realize that busyness, drama, and life circumstances constantly pull us away from you, and for that, we apologize. Father, give us the strength, wisdom, and wherewithal to disconnect from the many daily distractions we encounter so we can connect to you. Thank you for continuing to love us! In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Image: Distractions Causing Distance From God

Distraction #3: You are what you eat!

Don’t worry, this isn’t health 101 where I judge you for your vice in the kitchen. Quite honestly, I don’t do as well as I should when it comes to eating right–whether in reference to physical food or mental food. 

While I was meditating on this topic, I John 2:15-16 NLT became the focal point of my devotion. It says, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”

So what is the Bible telling us? Does this mean we cannot enjoy the pleasures of this world? Of course we can! In fact, God desires that we laugh, eat, and enjoy life! So what is the Bible saying? The Bible is telling us to avoid becoming enamored with the physical pleasures of this world. In other words, we should pursue our purpose in God and the upbuilding of His kingdom. Though enticing, pursuing physical pleasures distracts us from achieving what God wants us to achieve and drives a wedge between our relationship with Him. 

In my moment of self-reflection, I realized while I am distracted by my continuous craving for/pursuit of the physical pleasures of this world (like great food, accolades, keeping up with the Joneses, and being the “first to know”) I could be praying in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Staying alert and being persistent in my prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). While I am constantly seeking to obtain my oral fixation, I could be doing what Jesus instructed us to do in Mark 9:29 KJV when He healed the boy that was possessed. Fasting, praying, and meditating on Christ is critical to building a close relationship with God! While I am constantly feasting on the negativity of the media, I could be “Fixing [my] thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think[ing] about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 NLT

What we eat, becomes who we are. The “old folks” used to say “you are what you eat.” Meaning, choosing to enjoy healthy physical and mental food increases energy, increases brain function, and increases your better overall mood. 

But what happens when you feast on negativity? It leads to spiritual:

  • Indigestion: We reject wise advice and biblical teachings and turn to “strange doctrines” for hope and guidance.
  • Heartburn: Our hearts are burning with anger, rage, and hatred for others instead of burning with compassion for the poor, widowed, and sick.
  • Diarrhea of the mouth: Instead of being silent and patient, we are quick to vent our anger/frustration and our disdain for others. While slow to talk to God.

I Corinthians 6:12 NLT does an excellent job of summarizing this last point by saying “You say, I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” We must choose to avoid becoming a slave to our appetites! Let’s pledge to make sound choices with the physical and spiritual food that we enjoy. 

I am confident that if we apply the basic principles that we have discussed the last few days to our lives and avoid these distractions, we will begin to live more healthy and whole lives, build better relationships, and most importantly, draw closer to God. I am excited and proud that we serve a God as described in one of my favorite songs, “there’s no shadow He won’t light up, no mountain He won’t climb up coming after me. There’s no wall He won’t kick down, no lie He won’t tear down coming after me!” I said all of that to say, with all of our daily distractions, our loving Father is still there, waiting on us to reconnect with Him. So my question to you is, will you defeat these distractions and reconnect with God?

Prayer

Father, we honor you, we praise you, and we thank you for your Word. Thank you for being a great God! Now Father we pray that over the next few days, weeks, and months we become less distracted with our daily lives, and more focused on you. And ultimately Father, we pray that everyone reading these words can feel your unfailing, unwavering, and never ending love. We magnify your Holy and Righteous name. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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