Thoughts Boss Feelings: How the 90-Second Reset is Changing My Life

90-second timer on phone to deal with bad feelings

No one can make you feel mad, bad, sad or less-than. I used to tell that to myself and my sons.

But it turns out, I was wrong. People absolutely can make us feel mad, bad and less-than. People can set us off. Specifically, they can set off a neurochemical response we can’t resist.

But only for 90 seconds. At least that’s what brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor says.

Can’t Stop The Feeling, But You Can Reset

I’ll explain. When someone, which might include myself, says or does something that makes me feel any of these negative emotions—say someone hurls hurtful words with a kernal of truth, or I say put my foot in mouth and blush— a shot of the cortisol bursts into the blood stream. The stress hormone is in my bloodstream for 90 seconds. I can’t help feel mad, bad, sad or less-than for those 90 seconds.

But after 90 seconds I can help it. I can choose. But it might be hard.

Because if the trigger for those stress hormones sets off a memory of a past trauma, podcaster Alisa Keeton says, “that story is in your neurology, in your neural pathways.” Keeton explains that once we have the physiological response of offense or stress or anger or shame it can “hook right into that memory and the memory drives the car.”

Triggers are real. We can’t stop the feeling.

But we can help whether we ruminate on the story after that initial burst of stress hormone fades in 90 seconds. Even if your life story is one of trauma or mistreatment, true thoughts can boss your feelings. You can get out of that story, take the wheel, and steer the car.

But we can only do that if we have a better story than the one our raw emotions will keep telling us.

We need a truer script.

What’s Your Truth Script?

That’s why we must know the word of God. The world has its “affirmations,” and some contain truth. But Christians have God’s eternal, rock-solid truth. His word—his living, nourishing, sanctifying word— is truth. It’s this truth we need to tell ourselves.

When I mess up and get bossy with the same people in the same way, again, I don’t need: “Inhale confidence, exhale doubt,” or “I let go of that which does not serve me.” These affirmations are not a better, truer script.

Rather I need a truth script myself, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” and “Though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” It’s truth like this that I need.

I love how Alisa Keeton fleshes this out in her podcast:

My story is best rewriting itself in light of the thought of who God is. In 90 seconds I have a choice to think in line with God and his word and heaven’s reality or I can think in line my present experience, the story of my pain and my hurt.

Which story will we choose?

Keeton’s advice is good: If someone disrespected you and you’re on your way to the pantry or Amazon, give it 90 seconds. Before you eat or drink or yell back or shop, be still and feel. Ride the wave of negative feelings out.

Feel The Feelings, Then Boss The Feelings

Dr. Jill says if we stay angry or anxious longer than 90 seconds, it’s because we are rerunning that loop. We are rethinking the thoughts that re-stimulate the emotional circuit. Then, here we go again on that ride. Another wave is out.

To recap: At any one moment one of three things is happening: a thought, a feeling, a physiological response to what you’re thinking and feeling (stress hormones pumped into the bloodstream). If we have a thought that stimulates anger or anxiety, the physiological response is the adrenaline in the blood stream. From the first of the thought until the adrenaline is completely flushed out of blood is about 90 seconds. We can observe rather than engage.

If we are in Christ, we have power to resist the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) and to “observe ourselves” rather than give way and engage in the negative story. This is Joshua saying “choose this day who you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), and Paul calling us to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Are you feeling shame? Feel it. Name it. Confess and repent if it comes from real guilt. Then choose life. Choose truth.

I got to do that this afternoon.

How I Bossed My Feelings Today

It looked like this. I felt a wave of guilt and shame for a parenting choice I’d made, not once but over years. I observed myself in a new, painful way. When the thought came to mind, I felt sick to my stomach and tears welled up in my eyes.

For about 90 seconds. I rode the cortisol shame wave and then, glory to God, I got off.

And then, by the grace of God, I did two things. I chose a better meaning than the story of the “The Tiger Mom Who Tore Her House Down.” I could have lived in that story. (This is not to say there are no hard consequences for us. There are.) But I repented and confessed.

God gave me with a better truth script. Those who look to the Lord are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.

This is about reframing the pain. It’s about realizing that discomfort won’t kill us, and that God disciplines those he loves. It doesn’t mean he’s mad at us. It’s James 1 and Romans 5. It’s the truth that God uses trials—which even include cortisol blood spikes when people are mean and we screw up—to make us mature and complete and lacking nothing.

So we realize that the negative feelings will subside. Stay present and feel. Ride the wave and look for God’s love.

Include that in your truth script.

3 Ways The Reset Helps

The 90-second reset is just a tool. A bit of knowledge that is a gift from God.

Why is the 90-second reset so revolutionary for me? These three reasons explain why.

  1. It is an acknowledgment that words can hurt us. It assures me that it’s part of the design that as a thinking, feeling creature made in God’s image, the stress hormones he made affect me.
  2. Because it explains why, try as I might, I just can’t stop the feeling. At least not for those first 90 seconds. It explains why even though my head knows another truth, I still feel lousy.
  3. Because it’s a tool to help me do Romans 12:2 and renew my mind, and do Philippians 4:8 and think on true things, and do 2 Corinthians 10:5 and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Would you consider dropping a comment if this 90-second reset is helping you?

Or confusing you? I’d like to know that too.

Make Meaning, In God’s Story

Have you heard of Viktor Frankl? He was an Austrian psychiatrist and Jewish Holocaust surviver. He was also a great observer.

In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote,

When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves… Everything can be taken from a human but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Frankl was not, that we know of, a Christ-follower. But he knew that it was ours to choose. In Christ, we are free to write ourselves into his grand story where there is righteousness, peace and joy. Where, one day, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.

That inner freedom helped Frankl survive Auschwitz and find meaning in his tragedy. As Keeton says, our response is our response-ability. We are responsible to assign meaning. We must choose. Frankl chose his response to his circumstances instead of letting the circumstances dictate to him.

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor too. And she knew the same truth. Jesus did not promise to change the circumstances around us, Corrie said. He promised great peace and pure joy to those who would learn to believe that God actually controls all things.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, fight-or-flight, life-saving hormones included, by a loving God who controls all things.

As such, we need not be slaves to our feelings.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Anxiety Relief: Give Peace A Chance

Woman praying for peace, no anxiety
Rather listen to this post? Check out the Keep On podcast here.

It has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. G.K. Chesterton wrote that about “the Christian ideal.” But it’s just as true of Paul’s treatment for anxiety.

In other words, we can be freed from anxiety. Moment by moment, hour by hour, if we are willing to exert and apply and fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), we can live in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).

But you don’t get me, Abigail. I have serious anxiety. I’m a worrier. It’s in my DNA.

Exactly. I am writing to you. Paul has written to you. His Philippians 4 treatment is just what we need.

I Was A Worrier Too

The tendency to worry and fret is deep in me. In seventh grade, social anxiety was so crippling that I missed my best friend Jill’s birthday party. Junior high upset my stomach so much I tucked a Ziplock in my backpack for fear I’d be sick on the bus.

I’m not immune.

If anyone has cause for worry, I have more. Circumstanced to breaking point, of the people of Worriers, of the tribe of Wustmann; in regard to personality, a Type-A; as for plans, lists overflowing; as for hyper-sensitivity to hurt feelings, faultless.

But whatever was cause for worry, I’m learning to count as fuel for faith.

What I wrote that hard times preparing me to “race with horses” is more true now than when I wrote it months ago. Stressors are ramping up not gearing down.

I share this to gain credibility not sympathy. Because I want you to know that I’ve got lots at home that could make me a nervous wreck. I’ve drawn this out so you believe me when I say that you can be free from anxiety. Paul’s peace pill works.

And we’d do well to take it.

Just A Little Worry? Or Infidelity?

Because when we are worrying, we are not trusting, Corrie ten Boom wrote.

Because, it is not only wrong to worry, Oswald Chambers said, it is infidelity, because worrying means that we do not think that God can look after the practical details of our lives.

The prescription for our anxious hearts is found in Philippians chapter 4.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

NIV, bolding mine

I know this treatment works.

An Effective Prescription For Peace

Here are three reasons I know.

  1. Because God never lies (Titus 1:2). He promised his peace will replace our anxiety if we take the Philippians 4 treatment.
  2. Because what Christ commands, he also gives. His command is, “Be anxious for nothing,” and Jesus offers his peace (John 14:27).
  3. Because I’ve experienced the cure. When an angry barrage came at 11 pm last night, I took the treatment and fell fast asleep.

Here’s how it looked today. A loved one made an unwise choice that will likely crimp his future and impact ours, a pang of fear shot through. My insides twisted from chest to waist. Then I took Paul’s peace pill.

Lord God, please take my worry. I give it to you. Thank you that you’re way ahead of us, working a solution before I even saw the problem.

Then I did part two: the “think on these things” part. I called to mind true, right, lovely things. As I did, peace trumped. It pushed out anxiety.

I won’t lie. I had to do it again and again this afternoon. But each time I did, it worked.

Effective anxiety treatment is within your reach. You can be an A-Thrower, too.

Insist Upon Thinking

But peace requires right thinking—thinking the way God calls us to think on the things God calls us to think. That is how the peace of God calms our anxious hearts.

In his message on Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus gave 8 reasons not to be anxious, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones zoomed in on reasons #2 and #4, “Look at the birds,” and “Consider the lilies.”

Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking. And the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life, life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated.

The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons, in observation and deduction. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.

The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask: ‘What is going to happen to me? What can I do?’. That is the absence of thought, it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord here is urging us to think and to think in a Christian manner, and that is the very essence of faith.

Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: it is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else – and he goes round and round in circles – that is the essence of worry, that is not thought, that is the absence of thought, the failure to think.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

We must not allow circumstances to bludgeon us. We must think. This is faith.

Oh, dear Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5).

A Lot To Worry About

Because there’s a whole lot we could worry about. We could worry about Putin, the Ukraine, and the U.S. for three. We could worry about unhealthy choices our loved ones are making. There’s always fear of being misunderstood, mistreated or mistaken.

But by now you know, there is a way out of worry. But it’s not an easy way. Peacemaking is not passive, and rarely comes free. One gave all and all, who-would-be-anxious-for-nothing, must give something.  

Peacemaking is not passive, and rarely comes free.

Peace with God came through Jesus Christ’s death on a cross. Christ gave himself up for us.

Peace within also comes at a cost. We must offer something up to God. 

Anxiety Can’t Coexist With Thanksgiving

Back to Philippians 4 verses 6 and 7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Did you see it? We offer up our prayers, with what Psalm 116:17 calls, “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Then, when human reason cannot figure how this can work out well, the peace of God glides in.

It guards us from the dread enemy of anxiety that would kill joy and steal peace. 

Note, some anxieties can resist everything except thanksgiving. English preacher J.H. Jowett explains,

When thanksgiving begins, anxieties melt away like icebergs in tropical seas. The life that is ungrateful is very cold and icebergs abound. Let us raise the temperature and we shall be amazed at the results. A really thankful heart is so crowded with the sense of God’s mercies that it can offer no hospitality to worry and care.

This too, I know from experience. When I turn up the heat with thanksgiving, my worry melts away. Thanksgiving trumps anxiety. I simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same moment. I can’t ride two horses with one heinie. Remember, even if you don’t feel thankful, youcan give thanks.

Because that’s how contentment comes. That’s the cost for inner peace.

But there’s more, in Philippians 4 verses 8 and 9. We’ve got to think on good things, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable things. (I made this printable to help us do just that!) Then we’ve got to practice good things. When we do, Paul makes the promise: The God of peace will be with you. 

Does the dread enemy of anxiety really stand a chance when the peace of God Almighty guards our hearts and the God of peace is with us? 

Why Don’t We Take Peace Pill?

So why don’t we pay the price for worry-free?

First, maybe feeling anxious makes us feel like we’ve got a horse in the race. Corrie ten Boom said, “We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are indications of how wise we are. We think we see the dangers of life clearly.” As if our worry could change the outcome, as if anxiety makes us boss.

But the other reason is real, at least to me. It’s not one and done. The anxiety-peace trade must be made again and again. I may have to pray my anxious thoughts to God with thanks 20 times an hour.

Anxiety comes easy. Peace takes work.

But we block of the power of God’s promises (2 Peter 1:3-4) when we erect clinical barriers around anxiety. We make our troubles untouchable.

David must have faced anxiety when he was behind enemy walls, seized by hostile Philistines. A thousand years before Dr. Paul wrote the anxiety script, David took the peace pill and penned Psalm 56.

Keep on trusting, keep on thanking, keep on thinking. Give peace a chance.

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

Postscript:

  1. Some of you are still shaking your head. “You don’t understand. My anxiety is way beyond what you know.” To you I say, “Maybe it is. But please go to God (Hebrews 4:16). He knows.” Relief from anxiety may involve more than the Philippians 4 script, but it will not require less.
  2. If you have 7 minutes, you might enjoy this Ask Pastor John podcast, “Anxiety: Sin, Disorder or Both?” It helped me.

On Influence & A Good Influence Named Linda

Two women smiling, Linda and author, influence

You cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Let’s talk about influence.

Dr. Pepper seltzer, Tim Hawkins, the ragged copy of My Utmost in her WC twenty years ago that led to one in mine; the elegance of Hedgehog and Goudge and countless other good books, whole cream in coffee, radish slices not Ruffles, and those flexible plastic cutting boards. Oh, those blessed chopping mats!

How could possibly forget that legendary Swiss vinaigrette, something like this but on the exact recipe, I’ve vowed secrecy.

Those things are not the half of it. They’re only a fraction of the ways Linda has influenced me.

On Linda’s Influence

You went to Peoria again last weekend? my friends ask. Why’d you go down this time?

It’s alway the same reason: Linda. Linda and John, and their five vibrant kids—remember that long, non-looping trip?— and their beloved “urban family” who have become our friends too.

And Linda. Linda is my husband’s sister, my sister-in-law. But more, she is my friend.

Turns out, my first memory of Linda is my first memory of my husband Jim. I was 14 when my family spent two August weeks at their grandparents’ campground. Jim and Linda would bound and bounce around the deck then spring into that little Meadowlark Acres pool. Vivacious, friendly, bright—I loved the life in them. Thirty-one years after we met at the pool, I still do.

Linda is a good influence—a joyful, faithful, cheerful influence. But you cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.

Linda and her crew are why we go to Peoria. Because we want to know them more. I want them to influence me.

Think About These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7

What do you think about when your mind is “resting”? Because the teacher wrote, as you think, so you are.

Lovely people think about lovely things, Alistair Begg said in a message on Philippians 4:8. By extension, truthful people think true thoughts, pure people think pure thoughts, and just people think just thoughts.

But the only way we can get those good thoughts a-thinkin’ is to place ourselves with them in the first place. That means we seek out good influences—influences that build our strength, our faith, our joy.

Do you see why all the three-hour drives to Peoria and all the time spent in the Word? In a word: influence.

Because thoughts stick around. For better and worse, they loop.

There’s a sign on a gravel road in Alaska that reads, Choose your rut carefully. You will be in it for the next 25 miles.

We have a say in what tracks we choose. As Christians, we’re called to choose an excellent and praiseworthy groove. Which means I must wisely choose my influencers. I must make an effort to spend time with people like Linda who affect me for good.

And I must set the Lord always before me.

There Are No Ordinary People (So Be A Good Influence)

God created us to be influenced. Over and over, Scripture calls us to imitate, to be influenced for good. First, by the Spirit applying God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But then by the fellow image-bearers with whom we rub shoulders.

But God also created us as influencers.

This bit from Lewis is often quoted, and for good reason. Because we are all in process. We are all heading one direction or the other. We are all influenced and influencers.

It is a serious thing […] to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. 

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis delivered this sermon at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on June 8, 1941.

All day long, we are influencing each other in one direction or another. Influence is never neutral.

You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.

We are influenced—for good or for ill—by who we know and by what we know. This knowledge base directly impacts our thoughts. As we think, so we are.

Which brings us back to the top. Find yourself some good influences. Latch on to a Linda. And set the Lord always before you.

Because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Married Him & 1 Marriage Tip

Bride and Groom married walking down aisle, hand in hand
January 4, 1997

1 Marriage (& Friendship) Tip

Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.

But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.

I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.

Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.

In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.

To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Not Blind, Just Focused

So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.

But maybe you feel like you made a mistake in choosing your marriage partner. I hope this surprising quote from lessons for incompatible soul-mates encourages you.

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52

And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.

Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 

Ana Cumens

Do Not Withhold Good

Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.

Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.

Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”

And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.

10 Reasons

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:

1. He makes me laugh. Refer to the infamous Stanley Park incident and ask him Inspector Clouseau at Walgreens.

2. He is a handyman of handymen. Look what he installed for forest-dwelling, sun-loving me.

3. He fears God. He greatly delights in his commands.

4. He is kind. And—shhh— I don’t even think he even knows about the 30-Day Challenge.

5. He is a tidy. He puts dirty clothes in the bin, though I still struggle to put the clean away.

6. He forgives me. Yes, to #7 of those 8 marriage quotes: A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. 

7. He gives the best back rubs. ‘Nuff said.

8. He plays games. With the boys and with me, he plays to win (and usually does) and for that I’m glad.

9. He reads to me. It was Churchill’s Trial in bed last week.

10. He keeps his word. Jim’s word is golden; never have I ever doubted that.

That’s how CALL IT OUT looks around here on our 24th anniversary night. But remember, it also works wonders with friends.

Before I close, I’ll let you in on a little secret about this “game.” Playing it is a gift. But the gift of gladness is as much to yourself as it is to your spouse or your friends.

So do not withhold. Call out the good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 3:27