Ever felt stuck in a rut? The idiom comes from the early pioneer days when covered wagon wheels would get stuck in the grooves or channels of a dirt road where prior wagons had passed. The wheels would get bogged down by the deeper holes or forced along a specific track.

Ruts can be an emotional state. As much as I look forward to summer relaxation and fun, there’s a part of me that has been on the go, driving kids to sports events, youth groups, and attending end-of-the-year school functions. My life has been what’s next, next, next for so long that when I can’t list off a few things that need to be done immediately, I start to feel edgy. I have to force myself not to create busy work. It takes a couple of weeks before I can relax and be okay without running around at Mach two with my hair on fire (to quote from Top Gun).

In his book, MaxOut, entrepreneur and business personality, Ed Mylett, talks about how we move to what is familiar to us – specifically with emotional states. The question is, what state is our status quo? Is it angered, stressed, fearful, anxious, worried, or depressed? Are we returning to harmful emotions because they’re familiar, like how dogs return to their vomit? How do we move toward the good emotions, like those derived from the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

youn girl thinking

God, in His goodness, gave us the answer in Philippians 4:8, “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.” I know what you’re probably thinking (or at least I was). Easier said than done. True, but when we also look at how God made our brains, the genius of our creator is awe-inspiring.

We have a Reticular Activating System or RAS, where our brains focus on what is deemed essential and filter out most other stimuli. The RAS is why when you get a particular hairstyle or specific fingernail color, it pops up everywhere. Ring tones are a famous example; once you choose one, it sounds like everyone has the same one. This is because we’ve told our brains to look for this information and not let it slide by us.

If we concentrate on what is worrisome or stressful, our brains will filter for anxious stimuli. If we focus on what is excellent or praiseworthy, our brains will reward us with positive and encouraging stimuli. When we ruminate on our dreams and God’s purpose for our lives, opportunities, connections, and learning lessons will pop up on our radar.

Over time, by merely redirecting our thoughts, we can jump the rails of our negative rut and get on a life-giving path.

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