Spiritual Growth

Setpoints: Why Being Negative Will Make You Stable

You’re surrounded by setpoints every day.  They literally keep you alive.  One of them is your set body temperature.  If your body drops or rises a mere 15% beyond your core temperature, death occurs.  Think of a setpoint like a reference point, a sort of boundary.  Medically, it’s called homeostasis.  The body regulates internal functioning (temperature, blood flow, oxygen) despite external circumstances.  The body is always seeking homeostasis.  So is the brain.  And you can intentionally take charge for your mental, emotional, and relational health.


In our bodies, we break out in a fever when something is wrong- which is one way the body makes conditions unfavorable to viruses and bacteria- because they are temperature sensitive.  In addicts, their brains have faced an onslaught of dopamine rushes- and the brain counters it by producing less dopamine to balance out- even sometimes ELIMINATING dopamine receptors.  This is the brain naturally seeking to turn down a party that’s gotten too loud.

The system.

Balanced functioning (homeostasis), whether biological, technological, or psychological, will involve three interdependent elements that help reach homeostasis- all centered on a setpoint:

  1. Receptor– A sensing component that observes changes in the environment. The receptor then sends information to the Control Center.
  2. Control Center– determines an appropriate response, having a set range in place (setpoint).  Then the control center sends this information to an effector.
  3. Effector– Structures that receive signals from the control center and correct deviation by negative feedback, thus putting a system back into its normal range.

Remember from above how dopamine in the brain works with substance abuse?  But we can actually gain the upper hand by being active in our decisions- including making setpoints for ourselves.

Get negative.  

In order to bring a system back to normal, negative feedback is used to regulate it.  So when I say, “get negative,” or course I’m not telling you to have a negative outlook on life.  What I AM saying is that a system that is out of control will only be put back in control/order by it being regulated by setpoints, carried out by either an internal or external force- and this is negative feedback.

Okay, have I been sufficiently nerdy?  Let’s get practical!!


Samples.  Check out how William uses all three processes of homeostasis as a married entrepreneur with children, who is also dealing with some alcohol abuse (#2 in each is the setpoint).


1) Financial accounts are reconciled daily by William (outside help oversees them weekly).  2) The business plan was developed with a setpoint of no greater than $100,000 debt.  Crossing $50,000 debt signals a problem and requires meeting with the board.  3) If the setpoints are not honored, the board has full power and autonomy to enact established strategies.


1) William’s two year old, Thomas, is running a fever- revealed by his behavior, and then it was gauged with a thermometer.  2)  If 24 hours pass with a fever over 100 F- or at any point it goes beyond 103 F- the setpoint has been crossed.  3) Visit the doctor immediately.


1) Extra money was left over- discovered in the budget by William’s wife, Katie.  2)  They determine no more than $10,000 will be spent on a kitchen remodel.  The goal is $8,500; beyond the goal is a warning flag.  3) At the $8,500 mark, a conversation will be held with the contractor to hold to the budget.

Alcohol Use.

1) After running into various troubles with alcohol, William considered his personal/family values and health recommendations.  2) A setpoint was made: only 2 drinks or less daily.  3) If this line is crossed, the commitment is to have an entire month sober.  If this cannot be done, it is agreed on with his support team to increase treatment (e.g., go to a group, go to counseling).


Got the hang of it?  These steps can be applied to about anything, though I mostly use the Setpoints Exercise (click on the link below to access!) to help increase ownership and boundaries with addictions.  It’s a straightforward way to get honest with anything you are facing, the amount of help you need, and what supports can get you there.  This concept has helped assist many of my clients to face problems squarely, and in turn, to be more successful and realistic in addressing life challenges.  Give it a try!
Get your free SetPoint Worksheet, created for clients in my practice, by clicking here.


The Hurried Spiritual Life

“Gotta go!” Dave looks at his watch, kisses his wife, and walks out the door.  With just enough time to get ready and leave for work, Dave doesn’t have any time to reflect on the day and pray.  “I’ll do it later,” he thinks to himself.  At lunch, quickly bowing his head over his chicken casserole leftovers, he says a perfunctory, “Thanks, God.  Keep me focused today on what I need to get done.  Amen.”  As with most days, since the job is particularly tiring, once Dave gets home, he relaxes with some TV, dinner, and conversation with his wife.  Exhausted when he heads to bed, he says a prayer before he jumps under the covers, but he loses his train of thought.  “Goodnight.”  On to the next day.


Noted speaker, author, and pastor- John Ortberg- asked of his good friend and spiritual mentor, Dallas Willard, what he needed to do to be spiritually healthy.  Expecting some bullet points and great wisdom from this spiritual giant, Willard said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  After pausing and a re-emphasis of the same statement by Dallas, John wrote it down.  In a hurried fashion, then he asked what was next.  “There is nothing else,” said the wise man he spoke to.  “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.” (Find the story here.)

This hurry is the same thing that keeps us running around with just one more thing to do and one more place to go.  It is a problem of a hurried heart.  It is not the same as having many responsibilities.  Hurry is the rush of “one more thing,” being busy is having a lot to do.  The latter can be done with peace, a calm heart, rest, and love.  The former cannot.  It is not settled, is not content, and it does not rest.

How does hurry hurt us?  It keeps us thinking outside of the moment.  It requires another accomplishment to be satisfied.  It has no end.  It does not fulfill.  We cannot have a close relationship without spending time, without sitting and listening and being with someone.  The hurried spiritual life is as fallacious as the hurried relationship.  Sprinkle a few minutes in here or there, say some nice things, and be on your way.  It does not work.

Distractions abound.  Tasks require our attention.  There is a limitless ocean of needs.  But a healthy spiritual life requires slowing down.  It re-prioritizes.  It takes a breath.  To quote Psalm 46:10 (ESV): “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I am now closing my computer to do just that.

Yours truly,


Spiritual Growth For The New Year

Complacency is not befitting of spiritual growth.  That’s why I ask myself several questions that I hope you’ll consider asking yourself.  These are not new questions.  Philosophy and Theology have asked several core and BIG questions like these for centuries:

How do you know that what you know is true (epistemology)?

Where did I come from (ontology)?

What is my purpose (teleology)?

What happens to me when I die (eschatology)?

What if I’m wrong (humility)?

What am I willing to stake on it?  Can I afford to be wrong (risk)?

What has shaped my views- family, culture, practicality, spiritual transformation, comfort, hurt, success (influence)?

Could I be wrong (probability)?

Does what I believe in accomplish what it promises (congruency)?

Is there a Higher Being in the universe (theology)?

Am I being honest (honesty)?