Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps of missing information with information. The brain wants everything to make sense with logical connections. The problem is sometimes we “fill in the gaps” and make connections with inaccurate information. This inaccurate information is drawn from patterns of thinking and belief systems that can be negative. These patterns of thinking are set up based on childhood and life experiences. These are the thoughts we must take captive. There’s more…
The scary part is the thinking errors are not based in reality. And worse yet, they are “automatic”. That means, they just happen without consciously realizing it. Example: I think it’s a good time to do the dishes now. Then I do the dishes. When I engage in thinking errors, I don’t think to myself: “I’m going to think negatively now and it will not be based in reality at all”. Instead these thoughts just happen and since they’re in my head-they go unchecked by anyone else.
These cognitive distortions or thinking errors seem harmless. After all, they’re just in my head. But they affect you and those around you. These thoughts do damage. Damage to our relationships and damage to ourselves. These lies we tell ourselves diminish the life God intends for His people. This is why we must take these thoughts captive! So what are these thoughts that steal our joy and peace?
Thoughts to be Taken Captive (Distorted Thinking)
- Personalization:Taking responsibility for things out of your control whether good or bad.
- Minimizing: Downplaying an emotion or event.
- Catastrophizing: Dramatizing an emotion or event.
- Emotional Reasoning: View emotions as facts.
- Mind Reading: Making assumptions about what another is thinking.
- Fortune telling: Making assumptions about what may happen in the future.
- Black and White: There is no room for grey areas. Everything is categorized in the extremes.
- Mental Filter: Focusing in on one negative and ignoring all the positives.
- Arbitrary Inference: Drawing conclusions with little to no evidence.
- Disqualifying the Positive: Rejecting the positive.
- Should Statements: Connecting “should”, “ought” and “must” to self and others. Connection of “should” to self leads to feelings of guilt. Connection of “should” to others, results in disappointment when expectations aren’t reached.
- Overgeneralizing: Sweeping statements, negative in nature, about self/others.
- Labeling/Mislabeling: Praising or condemning self and others based on one event/example.
- Fallacy of Fairness: Everything should be fair and just.
- Control Fallacy: Twofold-a.) Believing we have no control over our own lives, engages in victim mentality. b.) Believing we are in complete control of ourselves and surroundings. The reality is sometimes things just happen to us.
- Fallacy of Change: Thinking others will change if we pressure or encourage enough. Often accompanied by thinking our happiness is dependent upon others and their change will deliver the happiness (or other emotion) we desire.
- Always Being Right: Sometimes referred to as perfectionism-the belief we must always be right and will argue the point to the end. Being wrong is unacceptable.
Thoughts CAN be Changed!
As you read over the list, think of it as a continuum rather than a yes/no. We all engage in this kind of thinking to varying degrees. Changing our thought patterns can feel like an impossible undertaking, but you can do this with God (Matthew 19:26)! God has given you a Spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) living inside of you. You can change your thinking because Christ has given you everything you need for a Godly life (2 Peter 1:3). Not to mention His grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 2:9).
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~2 Corinthians 5:4-5
3 Tools to Take Your Thoughts Captive (Change Your Thinking)
Prayer: Charles Spurgeon said, “I rarely pray for more than 5 minutes, but I never go 5 minutes without praying”. God is listening to your prayers and will answer your prayers in the affirmative if your prayers are His will for your life (1 John 5:14-15). His will for your life is a great thought life (Philippians 4:8). Depend on Him prayerfully.
Bible Study: Everything we think, say and do flows from our heart (Proverbs 4:23, Matthew 15:19). Hide His Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11), let His Word change you from the inside out (Romans 12:2). Thinking errors are lies. Lies are best battled with the truth. The bible is the plumbline for truth and sheds light on darkness and deceit. Many verses talk about not being led astray and we picture a specific person lying. But it’s so much more subtle than that. Deceit is requires a lot of discernment. For instance, the way we think about events, self and others are so automatic and under the radar that we often don’t even realize we are buying into a lie. A lie that we are telling ourselves that breaks down joy and peace. It also breaks down relationships and intimacy.
Holy Spirit: We are told to do all things in His strength (Philippians 4:13). All too often in Christian circles, we take on the “Just do it” mentality. The Holy Spirit heals, guides, helps, and transforms. Why would we try to “Just do it” on our own?! We know what we need to stop. We know what we need to do. The Holy Spirit is the bridge covering the gap. He is the power and wisdom that catapults us from what we’re doing to what we need to be doing. Don’t go rogue!
Now that we’ve covered the non-negotiable tools-prayer, bible study and Holy Spirit. Let’s get down to logistics and practical application for taking thoughts captive (changing your thoughts).
- Self awareness is the first key step. Identify thinking errors that need to be changed. You can’t change what you don’t know.
- Keep track of what you’re thinking. I know, it sounds like a lot! I’m not suggesting you dictate everything you think in a day. Journal the thoughts you want to change. When a situation arises and you sense one of the listed thought errors-begin journaling. Journal what happened, your thoughts, responses, feelings. Create an alternative thought. I suggest truth…God’s truth.
- Also, I want to remind you to avoid the “Just do it” mentality. In your journaling, give some thought to “why” your thinking this way. Is there a pattern that was developed in the distant past? Is this a recent development? Is there some healing that needs to happen in a specific relationship where these thoughts keep popping up? What do you think led to these kinds of thoughts. The “why” speeds up change.
- Challenge any assumptions. This is where you have to sort out what you actually know for sure and dismiss what you don’t actually know for sure. This is literally separating fact from fiction. We don’t actually always know what’s going to happen or what someone is thinking. Assumptions can lead us astray and break down trust in relationships.
- Use “what if?” statements. What if I’m wrong? What if this isn’t a big deal? What if things turn out differently this time? What if my thoughts aren’t facts? What if the other guy was just having a bad day? What if? My day goes a lot better when I assume the best. My joy and peace cups overflow.
Changing thought patterns takes time. I know… not what we want to hear. The freedom you’ll experience as you identify and change your thinking is worth every minute of effort. Be patient with yourself as new thought patterns are developed.