Before we learn how to stop negative thoughts, we have to learn how to identify negative thought patterns.
At first glance, it seems a simple task to identify negative thoughts. However, negative thought patterns are shaped over the span of our lives beginning in childhood. Consequently, the way we think about things become second nature. We actually don’t really think about what we’re thinking about.
This is why learning how to stop negative thoughts can be a bit challenging. However, the joy restored to your life is worth every bit of effort.
You see, negative thoughts are sneaky little joy thieves. And here’s the kicker, we don’t even realize the joy is being taken a little bit at a time, because we get used to thinking negatively. We know no different.
God has a better plan for His people. He knows how influential our thinking can be in our lives. Philippians outlines where to fix our thoughts…
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” ~Philippians 4:8
Is it just me, or is anyone else falling short of a thought life that is described as lovely, delightful or worthy of praise?
If you raised your hand, I want to encourage you to grasp on to grace! There’s more than enough grace for me and you.
But, grasping onto grace doesn’t mean give up the fight for a better thought life! In fact, use that ample grace and learn how to stop negative thoughts in their tracks.
While negative thinking is a tough habit to break, it is possible. We have a choice in the thoughts we think. Let’s exercise that free will and choose God’s best for us.
Are you ready to learn a few common negative thought patterns that steal joy?
Common negative thoughts and how to stop them
1. Negative Assumptions
We make a lot of assumptions (more on that here). Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps of missing information. As a result, we tend to make negative assumptions about what people are thinking, how things will go in the future, and even about the motives of other’s actions.
I guess another way to say it… we walk around like a bunch of know-it-alls! The kicker is this… when I’m making negative assumptions about other people, I’m really making judgments about them. Then I treat these judgments like facts rather than guesses.
How do negative assumptions about others typically leave us feeling? Joyful? Not likely. My wrong assumptions leave me with feelings of frustration and resentment.
How to stop negative thoughts…
We do the vulnerable thing and ask the hard questions. Instead of filling in the gaps, we ask clarifying questions.
Full disclosure… I don’t always like voicing my assumptions and asking clarifying questions. So I give myself and either/or choice. Either I ask the question or I stop making the assumption. Sometimes it’s a tough choice. But in the end more joy is the wonderful consequence of not making negative assumptions.
2. Negative Filter
Often we get into the habit of viewing life with a keen eye for what is going wrong. This negative filter can be illustrated with the question, “is your glass half full or half empty?” (check out habits of positive thinkers here.)
Our brains are shaped by these negative thought patterns. As a result, this habit of finding what’s wrong becomes second nature. This means, it gets increasingly easy to find the negative and increasingly hard to find the good. Yet, part of God’s loving purpose for us is to give thanks in all circumstances.
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:18
Being joyful means we have to choose to find the good. As we practice finding the good, science shows physical changes taking place in our brains.
How to stop negative thoughts…
In order to stop these negative thoughts we have to be intentional in finding the good. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through counting your blessings is the antidote to the negative filter.
Practice gratitude in prayer by giving thanks for what God has done in your life. Another idea is beginning a gratitude journal, identifying your blessings in writing.
Whatever you do, make it a point to find the good. With practice, you will literally reshape your brain. Consequently, you will have more joy.
3. Dwelling on the Past
Dwelling on the past (check out this article) is much different than recalling the past. It’s different, because dwelling means we literally take up residence there. We set up camp and turn past hurts or regrets over and over in our mind.
When we don’t know how to stop these negative thoughts, we get stuck in the past, rather than living in the moment. Living in the past robs us of the joy of this present time. Furthermore, dwelling on the past doesn’t heal the past.
How to stop negative thoughts…
First, if there is more healing to be done from a past hurt – begin the work. Seek counsel if necessary or begin processing through journaling. Free forgiveness and healing journaling guide here.
Second, if the healing is done, then the next step is to shift the focus. Dwelling puts focus on what was lost. Rather, put focus on what was gained or learned from the past. God is purposeful and uses all things for our good (Romans 8:28), including things from the past. For more on purpose in the pain, check out this article.
Finally, use your two most powerful tools as a child of God. Endeavor to renew your mind with scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). And depend on God in prayer (Isaiah 41:13).
How to Stop Negative Thoughts Wrap Up
In our endeavor to stop negative thoughts, we must be intentional. Retraining our brain takes effort. Remember this… our thoughts are a choice, we are in control, and change takes time. Targeting these common negative thoughts is the best place to start:
First, stop making negative assumptions about what others are doing, how the future will turn out and the motives behind the actions of others. Second, make a point to find the good in all circumstances. It’s there, we must make a point to highlight it. Third, stop dwelling on the past. Dwelling on the past won’t heal it.
Now that we know how to stop negative thoughts, we must be purposeful, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Be patient, striving for progress rather than perfection.
What negative thoughts steal your joy? Any strategies you use to take negative thoughts captive? Leave a comment!