As I looked in the mirror this morning, my thought was “Well, finally. You can almost see a difference.”
Over the past four months, I’ve lost over 26 pounds. (You notice I didn’t just round down to a nice even 25. You don’t round down when you are trying to lose weight, am I right?)
I have gone for about three-and-a-half of those months without anyone noticing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. To be fair, maybe some noticed but didn’t say anything. I think most people have learned the hard way not to comment on someone’s weight. (I can just hear the “What are you saying, I looked fat before??”) It reminds me of my husband knocking on a door on his mission. The lady answered, and my sweet but naïve husband exclaimed,
“Oh, you’re pregnant!”
She scowled and answered, “No, no I’m not.”
He was quick though. “You don’t really want to talk to us now, do you?”
“No, no I don’t.”
Door slammed loudly. Lesson learned for life.
As I finished putting on my makeup in the mirror, I had this phrase come around the corner of my conscious mind and smack me in the forehead. The thought was something like,
“This is just an outward manifestation of an inward commitment.”
What??? Okay, I know I didn’t make that up, so where have I heard that before? It drove me a little crazy until I could sit down at the computer and do a search.
It’s from a First Presidency Letter, dated 10 Oct. 1988. The subject of that letter? The proper wearing of the LDS temple garment.
For the most part, the letter doesn’t set forth specific rules, but instead teaches correct principles, and then lets us govern ourselves. (Yep, I didn’t make that phrase up either).
So, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about governing myself, decision-making, change, and outward manifestations of inward commitments the last few weeks.
Specifically, how do we actually change in a positive way? Why is it that sometimes we can be successful in our attempts to change, and sometimes we fail? What’s the difference? How can we increase our abilities to change for the good?
Ether 12:27 is one of my favorite scriptures. It reads:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Sometimes we want to skip this part of life. We don’t WANT to have weakness. We forget that weakness is actually a gift from our Father to help us know Him, and learn to rely on Him. In fact, if we look at the scripture closely, if we are noticing a weakness in ourselves, it’s actually a good indication that we have “come unto” Him, because that’s how we know that there is something in our life that we want and need to change. As Dallin H. Oaks said,
“The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change . . . The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change.”
In law school, I took an interesting class called Neuroscience and the Law. We evaluated a lot of things having to do with culpability, or deciding how responsible someone was for their actions if some of their tendencies could be shown to be biological. I remember reading a very interesting article about decision-making. Using neural-imaging, some scientists have shown that several seconds before the test subjects made “conscious” decisions, the decision could be predicted from “unconscious” activity in the brain.
“Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without involvement of our consciousness. This prevents our mind from being overloaded by simple routine tasks. But when it comes to decisions we tend to assume they are made by our conscious mind. This is questioned by our current findings.”
Basically, the test subjects were free to decide whether to push a button with the right or left hand. They were to report the point in time where they made the decision. The purpose of the experiment was to consider what happens in the brain right BEFORE a conscious decision is made. Brain imaging showed that researchers could predict which decision would be made a full SEVEN SECONDS before the person was conscious of the decision.
This study was somewhat new, but not entirely groundbreaking. The article itself relates:
“More than 20 years ago the American brain scientist Benjamin Libet found a brain signal, the so-called “readiness-potential” that occurred a fraction of a second before a conscious decision. Libet’s experiments were highly controversial and sparked a huge debate. Many scientists argued that if our decisions are prepared unconsciously by the brain, then our feeling of “free will” must be an illusion. In this view, it is the brain that makes the decision, not a person’s conscious mind.”
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because I’m a nerd for one thing.
For another though, I find it interesting that this data is being used to say that “free will” does not exist. Even assuming the data is correct–and that something like a measurement issue or a delay required to form language to state that you have consciously decided something, or myriad other “sciency” explanations that are beyond my understanding, aren’t responsible for that seven seconds for example– perhaps there is more to decision-making than what happens in the organ that is our brain that we just don’t quite understand scientifically yet. And that doesn’t necessary mean that the decision wasn’t made by will. Maybe the manifestation of “will” is just found somewhere other than the brain. Another scripture comes to mind,
Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
How in the world does someone think with their heart?
How would thinking with your heart be different than thinking just with your brain?
What if subduing and training the natural man has to do with that “mighty change of heart” that we talk about, and what if our choices and the first steps to change begins with our heart.
What if when we change our heart, we can think with our heart, and then, and only then, can we change and do things that matter most? What if your heart’s beliefs actually govern your thoughts?
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
(Generally attributed to Mahatma Gandhi).
Perhaps when we have changed our hearts and our beliefs are grounded in being willing to use our “free will” to do whatever the Lord commands us, we allow our decisions to be governed by that change of heart in a real and vital way. Mosiah 5:2 describes it like this:
“[T]he Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
Or, as President Thomas S. Monson has explained,
“It has been said by one, years ago, that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny.”
Outward manifestations, whether it’s something simple like losing weight, pressing a button, putting down the electronics, overcoming addiction, or whatever your particular desire for change requires, are where we arrive. Where we begin is with an inward commitment to DO IT.
We began with Ether 12:27 and coming unto Him. The rest of the scripture is the recipe for the ultimate outward manifestation of change. When we humble ourselves, and have faith, we can and will succeed, with His help, and only through His grace, no matter how difficult the challenge we face. That doesn’t mean we are going to be perfect. [Perfectionism will be the topic for a future post, so stay tuned.]
President Monson has said,
“[D]o not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.”
We can do this. We can come unto Him, ask for help to know where to begin, and set goals to change with His help. Miracles are waiting in our lives, and we can each BECOME that miracle.
If this topic interests you and you want to learn more about making drastic changes, the LDS church is introducing a new video series called “12 Steps to Change” that details the Church’s Addiction Recovery program. The series shows real-life examples of overcoming addiction. The principles learned there can be applied to whatever goal you have in front of you. There will be twelve videos released throughout September, as part of National Recovery Month. Check out the trailer here:
YOUR TURN! I want to hear from you! What are your thoughts? Have you experienced a mighty change of heart? How have you been able to make an inward commitment for change? What helps you to keep trying when you fall short? What thoughts did this spark for you? What did you think of the trailer or the videos?
 [To gain insight about the perfection of that description and more about LDS temple garments, please go here: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/temple-garments]
 (Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, October 2003, at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2003/10/repentance-and-change?lang=eng).
 A more detailed explanation of the study can be found here: http://www.mpg.de/research/unconscious-decisions-in-the-brain
 (Nature Neuroscience, April 13th 2008).
 See Ezra Taft Benson, October 1989 First Presidency Message, at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/10/a-mighty-change-of-heart?lang=eng).
 Thomas S. Monson, New Era, November 1979, https://www.lds.org/new-era/1979/11/decisions-determine-destiny?lang=eng).
 Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, October 2007 at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/three-goals-to-guide-you?lang=eng