Anyone remember wearing a mood ring? So groovy how it would change colors based on your feelings. As a tween, I had something like a mood ring. It was a sticker you put on your hand to monitor your stress. If you felt calm and relaxed, the color was brown. The more stressed you were, the more purple or blue the color of the sticker became.
I remember sitting on my bed as an all-knowing pre-teen and thinking this sticker was a fraud. The sticker was brown, which meant I was relaxed. I decided to trick this dot and put it to the test. I started imagining having tons of tests, quizzes, projects, and papers all due the next day. I spoke my worries out loud to make it more real to me. As I conjured up imagined stress, the dot turned blue within a minute or so.
From this colorful dot, I learned that I was in charge of my emotions. I could make myself stressed or relaxed if I wanted. There are times when we do not ask for stress or worry, and our minds start to react that way. However, I do think many of us have some control over the amount and the duration of the stress that we allow into our mind. (This is, of course, with the exception of those with mental illness. I admire those with this kind of struggle because they have learned to cope with intrusive thoughts and feelings.)
Choosing to move on in faith instead of fear is difficult. When we consider our fears, we think about all that could go wrong. But there is also so much that could go right! Most of our decisions or circumstances have things that could go wrong and right. We cannot control all the consequences or our situations, but we can control how we react to our emotions. We can control what we think about and, therefore, which emotions arise from those thoughts.
“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves,” (D&C 58:27–28).
Years after I discarded the mood-reading sticker, I had lots of experiences where I chose to have a positive outlook — to focus on the positive outcomes. I learned to simplify a stressor by breaking it down into manageable parts in order to keep that worry or fear from getting to me.
For example, speaking in front of people used to terrify me. I would feel like I was going to pass out. I would break it down into smaller, less-threatening truths, such as: I speak in front of friends, most people don’t listen to church speeches anyway, I only talk for ten minutes, I know what I’m talking about and won’t say anything stupid, people are rooting for me, I prayed for help, and I don’t even have to look up from my paper.
I learned to think about other things to keep myself from getting more afraid. If I could distract myself from my worries and fears, I would be fine and would not feel terrified. I tried to focus on what needed to be done instead of on the fears I imagined. When I was not focusing on my worries, fears, and all that could go wrong, then there was room in my mind and heart to feel confident and peaceful.
It is a constant effort for me to have a positive perspective and not feed my fears. During some seasons of my life it comes easier to me. For a few years during my undergraduate study, choosing faith over fear was difficult. Thankfully, I learned some helpful skills to focus on faith.
Training Your Mind to Expel Fear
While studying at Brigham Young University, I took a mental strength class. My classmates and I learned how to train our minds to focus on the positive as well as specific tasks to help us perform well in whatever we did. My professor, Dr. Craig Manning, taught us to use mental cue’s to focus our mind in stressful situations.
Cues are one to three words of action to repeat in your mind (or out loud) to help you perform well in a stressful situation. You can have a set of cue’s for one day, one event, or for a period of time.
So, for a soccer player “move feet fast” is a good cue, whereas “be agile” is not. “Move feet fast” is specific, direct and action-oriented — your mind doesn’t have to think of a next step after the cue to get to the action. “Be agile” is too broad, and from there you have to define agility, think of an action to be agile, and then do it. All of that takes too long, which gives fear the chance to seep into your thoughts. Some cues tell you what to do and others are like positive affirmations to tell you what to remember.
My cues helped me to eliminate mounting mental stress. Here are some of mine:
- Breathe deeply
- Remember Jesus
- I am awesome
From this class, I learned that much of how people think, react, and perceive themselves is based on their self-talk, or what they tell themselves about a situation. Dr. Manning spoke at a BYU Devotional about using self-talk and faith to overcome doubt and fear.
“Doubt is a mental habit and does not stay contained in one area of your life, it can and does spread to other areas of your life. Once it takes a hold of an individual . . . action is halted. I believe doubt to be one, if not the greatest, of the adversary’s tools. It is the antithesis to faith.”
Manning also said every time he thought in a negative way, he would tell himself positive things. It is not enough to stop a bad habit. To permanently change, you have to replace the bad with a good habit, action, or thought.
To change from a habit of focussing on fear, we should replace it with thoughts of our faith in Jesus Christ.
“Our reliance must be upon the Savior Jesus Christ as we find the power not just to turn away from sin, but to turn toward Him,” said Elder Neil L. Anderson in his book The Divine Gift of Forgiveness (p. 138). Part of repentance is turning towards Christ, and to truly repent we replace our negative thoughts and actions to become more like Christ.
Manning explained that it is a constant work in progress, a constant battle to apply the Lord’s lessons. “What is potentially the greatest lesson the Lord has taught me is that faith begins with how you talk to yourself.”
It is okay that we are still working to develop our faith so we don’t act in fear. I feel like I have been doing that my whole life. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That is why the scriptures teach that we are to constantly nourish our faith, like a growing plant. Faith does not stop growing; it keeps getting stronger.
As a person is strengthening their faith, the adversary could be targeting them. So doubts will still come up, but Manning taught another way to expel them.
“A power statement is a tool to use when the doubt comes at critical moments. It floods the mind with positive, strong thoughts and instantly squeezes out any negative thoughts and emotions.”
One of my favorite power statements is this: Jesus Christ is with me and helping me. I believe that with my whole soul, even if I sometimes forget it during fearful thoughts. There are many gospel truths, quotes, and scriptures that would also make excellent power statements.
Developing a Sound Mind
The New Testament offers a perspective on how our mind relates to conquering fear:
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
One of the tools God gave each of us to combat fear is a “sound mind.” But what does that mean? Here is Dictionary.com’s definition:
Adjective: sounder, soundest.
1.free from injury, damage, defect, disease, etc.; in good condition; healthy; robust: a sound heart; a sound mind.
2. financially strong, secure, or reliable: a sound business; sound investments.
3. competent, sensible, or valid: sound judgment.
4. having no defect as to truth, justice, wisdom, or reason: sound advice.
5. of substantial or enduring character: sound moral values.
6. following in a systematic pattern without any apparent defect in logic: sound reasoning.
7. uninterrupted and untroubled; deep: sound sleep.
This definition, along with other verses, makes me think a sound mind could mean correct, working correctly, functioning well, calm, or reliable.
During a Relief Society lesson I attended, the teacher spoke exactly on how to overcome fear with faith. God definitely answered my prayers through the teacher and those who commented.
I learned that gaining intelligence and knowledge can help me to have a sound mind. The scriptures compare knowledge and intelligence to light, and light is compared to God. So the light of knowledge can expel the darkness of the unknown, which causes fear. Some of this knowledge can come from getting answers from God, called revelation. For me, when I know the outcome or process of something my fear is lessened because there is less of the “unknown.”
Of course, with many of the things we fear, we cannot know the outcome with surety. Our faith in Jesus Christ’s love for us can fill our minds and hearts instead of the fear of the unknown. Jesus Christ has promised that we will be blessed and things will work out as we continue to rely on Him.
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven,” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36-37).
Much of the fear, worry, and doubt we suffocate under is not from God because it does not edify us, as taught in Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-24. We can choose to stop thinking about unedifying things and replace those thoughts with thoughts of Christ’s love for us and how He is helping us. These uplifting thoughts could also be mental cues.
Another thing I learned from my fellow Relief Society sisters is that sometimes we define fear by this acronym: False Expectations Appearing Real. Is the thing I am afraid of very likely to happen? Am I trying to live up to an impossible expectation? Am I not focusing on what is actually expected from me and what is true reality? God gave me a sound mind to be able to keep situations and fears into perspective.
Using mental cues, positive affirmations, remembering Christ, and putting our fears into perspective can help us to move on instead of being paralyzed by fear.
Choosing Faith Instead of Dwelling on Fear
Elder Ronald A. Rasband spoke about having faith in Christ over fear:
“Take heart, brothers and sisters. Yes, we live in perilous times, but as we stay on the covenant path, we need not fear. I bless you that as you do so, you will not be troubled by the times in which we live or the troubles that come your way. I bless you to choose to stand in holy places and be not moved. I bless you to believe in the promises of Jesus Christ, that He lives and that He is watching over us, caring for us and standing by us.”
Each of us is powerful and in control of ourselves. It is your mind, your heart, and your body. God gave us the ability and power to choose, as well as a sound mind, so let’s choose optimism, faith, hope, and happiness. When our abilities and circumstances make expelling fear more difficult, let us remember Jesus Christ. Christ has experienced the fears we feel. He has already figured out how to live in faith instead of fear. He has figured out how to do that for each of us in our individual struggles.
This is, in part, what Christ is teaching us when He says that He is the way: He knows the way each of us can stop living and thinking in fear, and it is to remember His love and power is on our side. He is with us.