I bet you’ve experienced something similar with your thoughts as well. The way we think about things will determine whether we live peaceful lives, or whether we live in a busy rush to prove ourselves, please others, and strive to be and do more. So how do we break our own pattern of destructive thinking?
1. Abide in Christ: The most important way to battle negative thoughts is with the power of Christ. We do battle by using the weapons given to us all as believers: abiding (staying) in the Word of God and keeping a relationship with him through prayer and through worship.
I’ve learned through the years that no matter how bad I feel, no matter how negative my thoughts, if I spend time in the Word, in prayer, and in worship, I can get my thoughts right.
I may be stretching the truth, but I believe it’s physically impossible to be bummed while singing “10,000 Reasons.” (That’s my go-to song to remember God’s presence each day. Apologies to the songwriter, Matt Redman, for how I butcher it when I sing it!)
2. Stay mindful: A great way to break the impact that negative thought pat- terns have on you is to be aware of them. Being mindful of our own “special” thought patterns helps to remove their power in our lives.
For example, I know that I have an issue with feeling not good enough because I focus on myself too much instead of focusing on what God wants to do to me and through me. When I start focusing on my weaknesses instead of his goodness, I have to catch myself.
Think of it like this: You know those mirrors at carnivals that distort your shape and make you look crazy? They make you taller, shorter, super thin, or super heavy? We could look in those mirrors and feel depressed or confused by what we see in them (especially the ones that make us heavier!). But as adults, we realize that what we see in those mirrors is just an illusion. Our reflection has no power over us because it’s not the truth. In the same way, when we stay mindfully aware of our own illu- sions (fears, anxieties, shame, and worries), they lose their power over us.
3. Surround yourself with positive friends: The term emotional contagion means that our emotions are so contagious that emotions between people can actually converge. Scientists recently proved that even the emotions of our social media friends can affect us.14 If emotional contagion happens via social media, just imagine how powerful it is in real life!
The negative emotions, thoughts, and words from others are like secondhand smoke. You may not be the one smoking (or doing the negative thinking), but you suffer from the toxic effects all the same.
Toxic people breathe toxic results into your life. Positive people breathe positive results. Of course in real life you will find yourself with people who can be difficult to get along with. You may have coworkers and family members who tend to be negative. Obviously you can’t just write those people out of your life. But you can be wise with relationships and the people you give your time and emotional energy to.
4. Focus on the discipline of gratitude: A discipline is a focused practice that brings about a positive behavioral change. (Yes, I know that was geeky and scientific, but hang in there with me.) Therefore, the discipline of gratitude is the focused practice of being grateful in order to change our behavior for the better.
My friend Jeff Goins wrote:
One of the curses of living in such a fast-paced society is that we tend to take things for granted. We overlook everyday blessings, oblivious to the fact that life itself is a gift. And if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves rushing through each day, less and less grateful, which is no way to live.
He goes on to compare this curse as the sickness of ingrati- tude, which eventually “takes root in our hearts, where it can be hard to shake.”
Training ourselves to be grateful is a discipline. Make no mistake about that. It takes time and loads of practice to develop gratitude. I have my time in the evenings with the boys to think of things I’m grateful for, but during the day I also take time to think of three people I can show gratitude or love for. I will then text or write a short email (just two to four sentences) to say how much I appreciate them, or I’ll have a short conversation with them expressing thanks. The whole process takes less than fifteen minutes, but it is one of the happiest things (for me and everyone else!) that I do all day.
What if you regularly told people how grateful you are for them or something they have done? My guess is it would trans- form your life. It did mine!
Practicing gratitude can be a battle (much like any other dis- cipline). The Bible is very clear that this war is not fought on a physical plane, but is a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 says:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against prin- cipalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (KJ21)
Learning to take our thoughts captive and focus them on the One who has control of our lives is a discipline worth developing.