Distracted Thinking as a Result of How We Think - Part I


Today Dr. Luke will talk with us about how distracted thinking can be caused as a result of how we think.

Tan Jiang Wei was a 35 year old man who lived in a rural part of China. He was a businessman who worked hard in his manufacturing business. He noticed, as did his wife that over the past two months he had a much harder time concentrating. Even at home his wife noticed that he was easily distracted and often times forgetful. Tan Jiang Wei’s wife asked him about this and he acknowledged that he did have trouble with this. But he did not know why. 

He noticed also that he was having trouble with his thoughts; that is not only was he distracted easily but he was loosing control of his thoughts. He would be more negative about things than in the past. Were these related? He wondered.

His wife suggested that he go to the doctor and see what might be causing the problem. So he went to the hospital with his wife. While at the hospital he noticed that he was easily distracted as the doctor was asking him some questions. After the exam and the test results were back the doctor told Tan Jiang Wei that he did not think he had a medical condition which required a medicine.

Tan Jiang Wei asked him then what was the problem. Because he knew he had trouble and he also knew that this problem was affecting his work. There must be a medical problem as Tan Jiang Wei knew that he was not going crazy. The doctor assured him that he was not going crazy. He also assured him that it was important to not overreact to the situation.

The doctor began by telling Tan Jiang Wei that the issue at hand was probably how Tan Jiang Wei thought about things. Though he had noticed the problem for about two months the problem was probably present for a much longer period of time. As Tan Jiang Wei thought about this he realized that this was true. The doctor went onto say, every human being talks to themselves all of their waking hours.  We think in words and sentences as we go through our day.  Many of the thoughts that we have are neutral such as "I need to pick up the mail on the way home".  But, some of our thoughts are positive and some are negative such as "I can do anything right".  Positive thought patterns will result in positive feelings or emotions and negative thoughts can result in depression anxiety or low self-esteem.  The doctor continued, our thoughts are based more upon our internal beliefs than they are upon reality.  For example, if a person has been rejected, they may tend to believe that they are unlovable or unlikable.  Because of this belief, their thought patterns will reflect a tendency to anticipate rejection. Tan Jiang Wei thought this was certainly true. He was very interested in what his doctor was saying.

Doctors have identified a number of types of negative thinking that impact upon our emotional health.  It is believed that all human beings fall victim to these negative thought patterns at times.  However, some people use these thought patterns much more frequently than others.  These thought patterns can result in depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties low self-esteem and like Tan Jiang Wei distracted thinking.  What is worse is that all of these can become habits if used for a long time.

The first type of thinking habit or pattern that the doctor told Tan Jiang Wei about was All or Nothing Thinking.

1.  All or Nothing Thinking:

This type of thinking is sometimes called perfectionism.  This is where an individual feels that they must perform task perfectly or their performances totally unacceptable.  The person strives for perfect grades; perfect responses from others who are evaluating performance, perfection in their own eyes and feels that it is terrible were awful when they cannot meet this goal of perfection.  All or nothing thinking can also apply to a person's expectation of other situations.  For example, a wife may have all or nothing thinking when she considers her marriage.  Thus, if her marriage is not exactly the way that she believes that he should be, she feels that is totally unacceptable and awful.  People can have all or nothing thinking when they consider others performance or behavior.  In this situation, the individual would have very high expectations of others and to become very upset when these expectations are not met.  All or nothing thinking tends to create a significant anxiety or significant irritability depending on whether the person is directing that thinking to themselves or towards others.  Tan Jiang Wei knew that this really described him. He tried to be perfect in all that he did and he grew impatient or frustrated with those who did not share that same perfectionism.

The second type of thinking which the doctor told Tan Jiang Wei about follows the first and is called Disqualifying the Positive.

2.  Disqualifying the Positive:

In this type of thinking, the individual has a tendency to disqualifying positive events such as a success or a complement through their thinking.  For example, a student may make a very good grade on the test but disqualifying that positive and because the student things to themselves "it was really an easy test and anyone could have done it".  As you can see, this type of thinking robs the individual of positive events in their life.  This type of thinking can contribute to the maintenance of a low self-esteem.  Tan Jiang Wei and his wife knew that this was becoming a bigger issue in his life. He was always thinking about negative things in life and always looking for the worst thing which could happen.

The doctor then went onto the third aspect of thinking which he called Mental Filtering.  He described this as the following.

3.  Mental Filter:

In mental filter, the individual has a tendency to focus their attention on the things they're done wrong in their lives ignoring the things that are good or positive in their lives.  Through their life experiences, people tend to learn the habit of focusing on those events.  At any time in our lives, there are some positive things happening and some negative things happening.  If we think about the negative things while excluding thoughts about the positive things in their lives, our general perception is their life is terrible or awful.  This type of thinking is very common in depression and in people with distracted thinking.  Tan Jiang Wei had become much more likely to do this and often had no good things to say about what he had done well or anyone else for that matter.

The next point, which the doctor called generalization, follows the mental filtering.

4.  Overgeneralization:

Overgeneralization means that we have experienced a negative event, but that we generalize that event in our thinking as if it happened all the time.  For example, a person may fail at some task.  But, then they have thoughts that they can't do anything right or that they always fail.  Of course, it is not true that they always fail at everything that they do.  But because they think that way, they have the same emotional reaction as if they did fail all the time, at everything.  Our emotions respond to our thoughts, whether or not those thoughts are inaccurate.  Overgeneralization can contribute to a low self-esteem or to depression and even to distracted thinking, like Tan Jiang Wei had.

At this point the doctor suggested that Tan Jiang Wei and his wife go home to think about what they had talked about as they had talked about a lot.  The doctor gave them some homework. Go home and talk about thee four areas, that is all or noting filtering, disqualifying the positive, mental filtering and generalization. Then decide which is most important, why Tan Jiang Wei does this and then how he could overcome these problems of how you think. The doctor told Tan Jiang Wei once he started getting and understanding in these areas his distracted thinking would lessen.  Tan Jiang Wei and his wife left the hospital excited that they were making a start to his problems.

As Tan Jiang Wei and his wife left the hospital they met a friend whom they had not seen for several years. They noticed a change in this friend. He had moved to another city but was back to visit his mother in the hospital. They went for lunch and there asked what the change in their friend was as he seemed so much more happy than normal. He told them that he had a new friend named Jesus Christ. In fact Jesus Christ had given him a new life. This new life had purpose, meaning and peace which he had not had before.

In fact Tan Jiang Wei’s friend told him that over the past year since he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior he had overcome some really negative thinking patterns. Tan Jiang Wei and his wife were stunned. How could this be? This is just what they were at the hospital for, they told there friend.

Tan Jiang Wei’s friend turned to the Bible and showed him the following which says, ‘finally, brothers, 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 (Philippians 4.8).’ Wow, thought Tan Jiang Wei, they sounded great. The problem was how to do it. He had tried and failed many times and especially in the past several months.

That is where the person of Jesus Christ comes in Tan Jiang Wei’s friend said. Jesus Christ gives us the power to overcome our problems and weaknesses or as he said the Bible calls it, sin.  First, Tan Jiang Wei’s friend said we must admit we have done wrong before God. Again he turned to a place in the Bible which said, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).’  All of us have sinned, that is every person in all of the world who has every lived. Thus sin has separated us from God and we cannot get there on our own.

Tan Jiang Wei’s friend went onto show him another place which said, ‘the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6.23).’  His friend told him that our payment for continued sin is spiritual death to God now and eternal separation from God in the future. However, God has given us Jesus Christ which allows us to have life now and forever. His friend went on to show him another place in the Bible which read, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (II Corinthians 5.21).’ Tan Jiang Wei’s friend said that this person was Jesus. He became our sin on the cross so that we would be right before God.

All we have to do is believe in Jesus and we can have eternal life. The Bible says, if we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved (Romans 10.9).’ Tan Jiang Wei’s friend said that this means if we confess and believe that because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and then believe that after he died he arose from the dead to show his victory over the dead then we will be saved. Saved now to have a new life in Jesus Christ and eternal life with him.

Tan Jiang Wei’s friend told Tan Jiang Wei that it was believing in Jesus like this that changed his life.  The person of Jesus Christ then gave him the power to change his thinking. He showed him another place in the Bible which said, ‘and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.7-19).’ Tan Jiang Wei wanted this power and love. How could he get it, he asked his friend?

Tan Jiang Wei’s friend asked him to pray the following prayer after him. ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I know that you died for my sins. I also know that I did not deserve this salvation. I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and that after you died you rose from the dead to show your victory over sin and death. I ask you to come into my life to save me from my sins. Thank you for becoming my Savior and the Lord of my life. Amen.’ 

Tan Jiang Wei was a new man and he also began to think new thoughts as a result of being saved from his sins by Jesus Christ and as a result given the power to have these new thoughts.  Over time his distracted thinking gave way to clearer thinking.

You too can have a new life in Jesus Christ if you will believe and then pray the same prayer Tan Jiang Wei did.