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Friday, May 20, 2016

Climbing Out of the Pit of Negative Thinking

Credit: Tuomas_Lehtinen

Do you ever struggle with negative thinking? I do. Less now than a few years ago, yet still it pops up its ugly head and I have to remind myself to think differently.

Some days the negative thinking begins with the simplest word, look, action, or thought. A word of criticism, an embarrassing mistake, or a perceived slight is enough to start the downward spiral of negative thinking. Then, what started as a small thing becomes a mountain of discouragement and self-condemnation.

For years this cycle of thinking plagued my life. When my thinking had spiraled out of control into a pit of negativity, my emotions and my ability to cope with life, to be productive were all impacted. While I still struggle with negative thinking at times, I would no longer describe it as plaguing my life. I’d like to share with you some truths and techniques that helped me to climb out of the pit of negative thinking and turn that energy into something more positive.

The Apostle Paul teaches that we can control our thoughts and bring them into submission (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I came to this realization, it was life changing and thought changing. I learned I had the ability to recognize and choose between negative or healthy thoughts. With the help of the Holy Spirit, God had given me the power to bring my thoughts to a place of obedience to Christ, aligning them with those things that Christ asks of me.

At first it was very difficult. I had developed the habit of letting my thoughts go wherever they wished with little deliberate guidance. Learning to recognize what was happening and to pull in the reins required discipline, persistence, but most of all the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ways to Move from Negative to Positive Thinking

Recognize and Redirect My Thinking.
The sooner that I could see the negative thoughts had started a downward spiral, the easier it was to stop it and redirect my thoughts in more positive and healthy directions. If I let the negative thinking go unattended, the resulting discouragement made it difficult to fight back, to get out of the pit by redirecting my thinking. 

I found a few techniques to be helpful in redirection.
  • Memorizing Scripture. I noticed that my negative thinking could be grouped into a few specific categories, things I struggled with over and over again. As I identified these categories, I also identified verses that counteracted these thoughts. I began to memorize just one or two of these verses for each group and when I began to spiral downward in that area, I began to use these verses to redirect my thinking.
  • Choose creativity. Negative thinking and the resulting emotions expended a great deal of energy. However, this energy was expended on self-defeating, draining emotions and thoughts, resulting in no valuable action. By refocusing my thoughts on something positive, productive, or creative, my energy was concentrated on projects and relationships in a way that led to valuable results. 
  • Seeking Solutions. So often my negative thinking merely resulted in a critical, complaining attitude. Rather than continuing to complain or feed the frustration, I began to think in terms of solutions. What could I do to change the situation? What could I do to change my response to it? What could I do to improve the thing that was troubling me? This shift in perspective brought not only a move toward greater positivity, but also brought a sense of empowerment and more frequently being part of the solution.
  • Lies v. Truth. Many times my negative thoughts were based in a lie - a conclusion I had jumped to, a word or action I had misinterpreted or exaggerated by my own imagination. I began to ask myself if what I was thinking was true or my own interpretation, conclusion, or imagination. I also began to ask myself if there was another perspective, another interpretation for what I had heard or experienced. Did my perspective need an adjustment? I began to seek truth and flee from lies and misinterpretations. 
  • Journaling. Journaling also played a significant role in changing my thinking. My journal was a place where I could process these negative thoughts without judgment, a place I could think on related verses, seek solutions, identify lies and truth, and think creatively. The act of writing the positive, healthy, creative thoughts helped to cement them in my heart and mind.
What about you? 
How have you overcome negative thinking?

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