Mental shadowboxing: when a person jabs at themself with an onslaught of negative and conflicting thoughts and emotions, soon becoming their own opponent.
How many times a day do we do it—shadowbox with ourselves? Mentally. We beat ourselves up with thoughts and negative perceptions we have about our self, others, and the world.
I’m too fat. I grumble too much. I should spend more time with my mother. Do they realize how much they’ve hurt me?
All these mental gyrations become internal jabs, punches we throw at ourselves until we’re exhausted. Frustrated. Spinning round and round in our heads.
C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters warns that this type of self-inflicted mental shadowboxing is one way we undermine our growth. Because our brains can only think one thought at time, the unholy one muddles our mind with a whirlwind of negative tapes and judgments so our focus is on them instead of on more positive thoughts.
I confess I’m a shadow boxer. I catch myself from time to time moaning and groaning, caught up in my head complaining about everything from the weather, to how I need to lose 10 pounds, to why the guy in front of me is driving like an idiot.
Yet, I’ve recently discovered two simple steps to end the negative mind chatter:
First, I catch myself, become aware of the moaning and groaning I’m entertaining in my head; and
Next, I ask myself, “What am I grateful for in this moment?”
That shift from shadowboxing to gratitude really works, I’ve found. My frown soon turns to a smile. My shoulders relax. My mind calms. A flood of positive energy flows throughout my body. I realize I can’t fix half the stuff that nags at me in my head, so I might as well focus on what’s good in my life and the world.
What if we put an end to our shadowboxing? What if we put the gloves down, stopped beating ourselves up mentally and turned our focus to gratitude or better yet, to God’s immense love for us? How would our perspective change if we turned our mind’s eye to the simple truth that God is love and we, along with all of his creation are the objects of his love? We are the original blessing of God, invited to be co-creators with him.
Suddenly everything changes. We accept our imperfections, and those of others. We learn to let them go, not by shadowboxing with them, but by shifting our focus to how good we really are and the blessings God has given us.
Those daily irritations soon slip away because we don’t give them our attention; we’re too busy developing an attitude of gratitude. And as we shift our focus from shadowboxing to gratitude, we open our hearts to embrace the original blessing of who we already are.
—brian j plachta
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Brian holds a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling, is a certified spiritual director through Dominican Center at Marywood Spiritual Life Center. He’s also a writer, teacher, and mentor. I’m now available for one-on-one individual or small group spiritual direction, as well talks and workshops on a number of spirituality topics for conferences, meetings, and workshops.
If you or a group you’re part of are looking to dive deeper, shoot me an email and schedule a free call: firstname.lastname@example.org.