“Think on whatever is pure, right, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise.… let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Part of staying focused is being able to develop mastery over the quality of your thoughts. Thoughts lie—they lie a lot. It is often your uninvestigated thoughts that drive depression, anxiety, fear, and overeating that derail progress toward better health.
Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. Negative, angry, and hopeless thoughts produce negative chemicals that make your body and mind feel bad; by contrast, positive, happy, and hopeful thoughts produce a completely different set of chemicals that help you feel relaxed, happy, and in control of your impulses. We will explain several ways your mind distorts the truth. Knowing how to talk back to your negative thoughts is critical to being able to focus on the truth in God’s Word and helping you live in the fullness of mental and physical health that God wants for you.
In a similar way to disciplining your mind to have accurate, honest thoughts, it is also important to bring your attention each day to those things each day for which you are grateful. Modern medical research reveals that when you consistently focus on your blessings and what you are grateful for each day, it has positive effects on your physical and mental health. For example, psychologist Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania found that when people wrote down three things they were grateful for each day, within three weeks it significantly increased their level of happiness.1 As you will see, gratitude even helps your brain work better.
Often, attempts to improve your health or life fall flat or end too soon because your willpower is hard to build. You know that your willpower must rest on the power of God, but it also grows stronger with a clear mind and self-control. Think about how often you try to avoid something bad for you but fail because you cannot control your impulses. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? So, what if you could learn the two most important words in the English language when it comes to your health: then what.
Then what will happen if I eat this?
Then what will happen if I say this impulsive thing to my wife?
Then what will happen if I stay up at night on the computer and don’t get good sleep for tomorrow?
Keeping these two words at the top of your mind and engaging in the right habits, such as getting enough sleep and eating right, will make a dramatic difference in your mental and physical health, which in turn will help your friendships and your connection with God.
Clear focus and a healthy mind don’t preclude failure on this journey. Failure is a part of everyone’s journey. But it is your attitude toward failure that will determine your ultimate success. Focus and a healthy mind can help you have the right attitude toward failure. We are telling you now to expect both ups and downs on your journey toward better health. There will be highlights and setbacks.
Failure does not have to defeat or derail you. It can actually increase your chances of ultimate success. The Daniel Plan encourages you to turn bad days into good information and to study your failures. Learning from your mistakes helps to prevent them in the future.
One of Dr. Amen’s favorite exercises to help people get and stay healthy for a lifetime is called The Fork in the Road:
Vividly imagine a fork in the road with two paths:
To the left, imagine a future of pain. If you don’t care about your brain and body and just keep doing what you’ve always done, what will your life be like in a year … in five years … in ten years? Imagine your body continuing to get old and all that goes with that … brain fog, tiredness, depression, memory loss, and physical illness.
To the right, imagine a future of health. If you care about your body, which is a gift from God, and do The Daniel Plan, what will your life be like in forty days, in a year … in five years … in ten years? Imagine your body and spirit getting healthier and all that goes with that … mental clarity, better energy, a brighter mood, great memory, a trimmer, healthier body, healthier skin, and a healthier brain.
1Martin E. Seligman, Authentic Happiness (New York: The Free Press, 2002).