The Steps

by Rhonda, September 12, 2022

I've talked before about one thing that has been life-changing for me when it comes to recovering from the trauma of my son's cancer, divorce, and really just the trauma of living everyday life.  I read a book by Dr. Caroline Leaf called Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.  I just can't recommend her enough if you're serious about needing to heal your mind using sound principles proven through research.

I try to do the five steps she teaches on a daily basis.  I have a journal that's completely dedicated to my five steps.  Once I started doing five steps, I've found a noticeable difference when I go several days without doing it.  It has been healing for me, and it has brought me closer to the Lord.  I've modified her five steps slightly to center it more around a conversation with the Lord and this method works wells for me.  Here's how it works:

1.  Set your timer for five minutes and write down "Step One" in your journal.  Use these five minutes to write down every wrong thought in your mind.  It might be a worry, a complaint, or a memory that's hurtful.  Whatever it is, write it down.  Get it all out, and let your mind just explode with all of the worries and fears that are causing you anxiety.  When the timer goes off, stop writing.  

2.  Write down "Step Two and Step Three" in your journal.  I've modified this one slightly from Dr. Leaf, but I approach both of these steps together.  Set your timer for ten minutes.  After re-reading your worries from Step One, write down God's answers to all of these worries.  You're afraid your boss will be mad at you?  Write down how God grants you favor and how your reputation is in His hands.  Angry over something someone said to you?  Write down God's perspective on the situation, and remind yourself not to be easily offended and to not let someone else steal your joy.  You see how this works, you continue to correct all of the wrong thoughts in your mind with God's truth.  If you're not sure what God thinks, take a moment to pray and ask Him.  You'll be surprised by how quickly the ten minutes flies by. 

3.  Write down "Step Four" in your journal.  Reread what you wrote down in Step Two and Step Three.  Are there still things that need correcting?  Are there more things you need to write down to remind you of God's truth?  Set your timer for five minutes, and re-read the truth from Step Two and Step Three and continue to write any further truths you need to clarify.  I've used this step to find applicable Bible verses as well.  This step is used to further cement the truths in Step Two and Step Three.

4.  Write down "Step Five" in your journal.  Re-read Step Two, Three, and Four again.  Set your timer for two minutes and write down your key learnings, and what you can do to stay on the right track.  What did you learn from your Five Step?  Dr. Leaf calls this "Active Reach".  What can I actively do?  My Active Reach today is to allow my mind to rest from worry by staying away from news, media, etc that might trigger anxiety and rest in God and His truth.  I've has past Active Reaches around watching my negative words, or about trying to compete other people, etc.  God's never shy about what we can do to improve our lives and our situation. 

The first few days you do five steps (mine are actually four), you won't notice much of a difference.  Dr. Leaf says it takes 63 days to get the full benefits from doing the five step neurocycle.  She also advises to focus it on one specific issue you need to work through.  I did that for my first few neurocycles, but now I use it simply to get through the difficulty of day to day life.  I can tell you that after 63 days of doing this, you will be amazed at the changes in your thinking.  It has truly been life-changing for me and it has allowed me to manage and deal with my life.  I still struggle with anxiety, but this is a critical tool for managing it.

Now, when something really difficult happens, I notice I find myself less reactive in the moment - particularly if something makes me really angry.  Instead, I'll think to myself I'm going to need to work this through five steps with God later.  I am going to need to know what He thinks about this.  I love that I can share even the dumbest of my hurt feelings with Him and work through them.  It releases me from ponding the same problems over and over, without any resolution.  

I also do five steps with my kids.  They became curious about what I was doing with my timer and when I told them, they asked if they could join as well.  Now, we all do it together, and particularly for the first few neurocycles, I found it helpful to have your family join with you if possible.  We all just worked quietly writing things down in our own journals. Having someone else starting it with you keeps you on track and forces you to make the time to do it daily, and before you know it, it will become a habit.  When we find that we're really getting off track as a family, one of the first questions we ask is when's the last time we've done five step?  Then, we grab our journals.

Best of luck on your journey, and I hope this is helpful for you.  Healing from trauma is quite the difficult process, and having some Christ-centered tools is critical for progress.  

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