In 1546, Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro proposed a theory that epidemic diseases are caused by transferable tiny particles or “spores” that could transmit infection by direct or indirect contact or even without contact over long distances. This was an entirely revolutionary idea.
His theory laid the groundwork for germ theory, which revolutionized science and medicine 300 years later. In the intervening three centuries, the predominant view of disease was “miasma theory,” the idea that diseases were caused by foul or poisoned air or sometimes water. When people in close contact became infected, it was because they were breathing the same noxious air–diseases were not transmitted from person to person.
A few scientists and physicians persisted in studying the true causes of disease and disease transmission, and their experiments led to important discoveries. What these discoveries suggested, though, was not widely accepted. That is, until the work of Louis Pasteur finally convinced people to look at everything in a new way. He provided visual and scientific proof of germ activity. Within 20 years, nearly all scientists had abandoned “miasma theory” in favor of germ theory. With this new perspective, modern medicine was born.
Even a little new evidence can completely change your perspective. And a change in perspective can be powerful. It can change history. It certainly can change your personal history.
One of the great frontiers in science and medicine today is the brain. Neuroscientists are rapidly making new discoveries. The more scientists understand about the brain, the more we can understand how our beliefs shape us. We now understand that we have the power to literally change our minds. I write quite a bit about this in my book Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. In that book, my focus was on emotional habits like worry, but this power of a change in perspective applies to every area of life.
My husband is a counselor, and he often uses techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy. I’m also trained to use cognitive-behavioral techniques in my coaching. This kind of work is based on the idea that our feelings and behaviors are caused not by what’s happening around us, but by our own thoughts. So if a person’s feelings and behaviors need to change, first a change may need to happen in the way that person thinks. And it really does work. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Our behavior shapes our thoughts. And ultimately, those new thoughts will shape our behavior and our feelings—it’s a cycle.
We now see that this is supported by science. In the past, scientists believed changing the structure of our brains was possible only in the first few years of life. They now know it is possible throughout life, thanks to neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brains to change and form new connections, and even abandon old connections, as our thought patterns change. What we think about, what we believe, and the ways we process information change the structure and function of our brains.
Perspective is one of the things that can produce this kind of change for us. It can be life-transforming to look at a situation, problem, or question in a new way. Gaining a new perspective on life can move us from unproductive ruminating to a place of meaningful thought and action. It can produce a new kind of creativity. It can help us shift from hopelessness or feeling “stuck” to problem-solving. I help coaching clients do this–not just stop behaviors or stop harmful beliefs, but embrace a new set of beliefs! I’ve seen many times how powerful this can be.
Coaching, counseling, reading, even casual conversations can change our perspective and produce results in any aspect of our lives. But for many of us, what we need most is to see God in a different way. A new perspective on God can entirely change our lives. It can help us reject false beliefs, hold onto hope, love more, and live differently.
The most powerful tool for changing our perspective–and physically changing our brains–is God’s truth. Just look at the many examples of when God gave people new perspectives throughout the Bible; Bible Gateway is a great place to look for this. Among my favorites: God corrects Elijah’s entrenched belief that he is the only God-fearing prophet left in Israel (1 Kings 19:18) and reminds Job of God’s unknowable power and plans (Job 40-41). Believing what God says, rather than empty philosophies or our fears, can change our minds. And changing our minds changes our habits–including our emotional and mental habits.
Ultimately this change in perspective doesn’t come from us. It comes through the process of sanctification, the process of becoming more holy, more like Jesus and more like the people we were created to be, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us. But we can work with or against this transformation. If we want to work with it and welcome God’s change in us, we can start by believing what God tells us, shows us, and teaches us. We can listen to those who are willing to challenge our ways of thinking with wisdom from the one who created our minds and thought itself. And we can invite him to transform us through the renewing of our minds.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.