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.

Love Comes Down, At 1 O’Clock Christmas Morning

Empty bed love comes down
Rather listen to this post? Here’s that Keep On podcast.

Mama. Oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, my 13 year-old moaned.

My stomach hurts so much. Mama, please come. 

I wished he’d called for Papa instead. Because Mama was nestled, all snuggled in bed. The heat was turned low and she didn’t want to go.

After a week of late nights, I’d set this Christmas Eve to be my long winter’s sleep.

Mama, please come, he cried again. I rolled over. It was 1:04 a.m. I’d knelt beside his bed at 9 p.m., rubbed his head at 10, and given meds at 11. After which I finished wrapping the gifts—yes, I am that mom—arranged them under the tree, then settled myself in bed.

But I couldn’t ignore his pitiful cry.

So This Is Christmas

Coming, I called with a sigh. 

So this is Christmas. I thought as I lay in the dark, groping about for glasses and socks. I forced myself out of my snuggly, warm bed and stumbled shivering toward my son’s groans. 

Then it hit me—this is Christmas. Rolling out of a warm bed to help a sick child is closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.

Christmas is a lot like leaving a warm bed to love in the cold. 

The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” The King of the Universe condescended. Almighty God came down.

Love Came Down

Paul told the Philippians, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

I crawled out of my warm bed to care for a sick, pitiful child. The Son of left the glories of heaven and the warmth of his Father’s side to care for his sin-sick, pitiful children. For our sake, God the Son left heaven for sick, cold earth.

I love how C.S. Lewis explains that.

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

Mere Christianity

A Measure Of Love

Leaving aside our comfort for the sake of others is one measure of love. 

Jesus Christ came out of heaven’s bright glory and was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, “because there was no place…in the inn.” My Bible footnote on Luke 2:7 says that he could have been born in a stable or cave, but since mangers were often outdoors, “it’s possible that Jesus was born in the open air.”

Open air or stable or cave—they all sound uncomfortable and cold. 

But that is how Love came down.

No Knocks on Adoption: A Follow-up on the Duck

adoption text on brown surface
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

“Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”

My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.

To keep what is worth keeping

And with the breath of kindness

Blow the rest away.

But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.

I Failed And I’m Sorry

No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.

My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day, struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.

For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know. 

What I Meant

While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.

So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story. 

I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.

What did I mean by that adoption post?

  1. I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
  2. I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
  3. I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help. 

What I Didn’t Mean

What didn’t I mean to convey?

  1. I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt. 
  2. I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
  3. Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope

Comfort Is Overrated

Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?

By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.

But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives. 

Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.

For the Love of God

I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.

Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.

Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.

Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.

Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace

This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.

As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.

I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.

Even as sometimes we groan.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:23