What is negative thinking and how can I stop it?

What is negative thinking and how can I stop it?

What do you say to yourself when you talk to yourself?

Don't be coy. We all do it.

I'm not talking about the day-to-day living stuff like, "Ah, we need more eggs," or, "Don't forget your wife's birthday is this week. Whatever you do, self, don't forget that birthday!"

What do you say when you talk to yourself?

If you're like many people, unfortunately, you get stuck in what some call a negative loop.

  • For example, if you're driving in traffic, you're not thinking, "Oh, God bless all these amazingly good drivers." Instead, you think something like, "Why do all the idiots decide to go on a drive when I do?"
  • In the morning, if you're like me you might think, "Oh, I've got too much to do today." And at the end of the day, you might think, "I didn't get much done today."
  • If you think about money, your negative self-talk might be, "I'm always gonna struggle."
  • If you think about relationships, you might think, "I can't trust anyone."
  • When you do something wrong you'll say something that's derogatory toward yourself, like, "You're an idiot; you're always gonna mess up."

And a negative loop goes on.

The question is, what do you say when you talk to yourself?

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I'm asking this question because what you say to yourself matters more than you could ever imagine.
Proverbs 4:23 says, "Be careful how you think because your thoughts shape your life."

It might sound a little ominous from the Bible, but psychologist have a name for this too.

This is known as the law of cognition: essentially, what you think influences what you believe, which influences how you feel and what you do.

Your life is always moving in the direction of your most powerful thoughts.

Author and preacher Paul David Tripp once said, "No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.”

Here's another good reason to pay attention to our thoughts: another Bible verse.

Romans 8:5-6, For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

If you find yourself hurting, if you find yourself feeling broken, if you find yourself often being discouraged, could it be that your mind is set on the things of this world instead of set on the things of God?

Have you asked that question yet?

I want to lay out to you my aggressive plan. Here are my goals:

  1. I will show you why negativity is not only hurting you but your family, your relationships, your marriage, your values, the direction in your life, your outlook, and on and on and on.
  2. I will to help you identify a specific area of negativity in your own mindset.
  3. I will show you how with the help of God, through his Word empowered by his Spirit, we can change from a mindset of negativity to positivity.

Why is negativity so toxic?

It's important to understand that we have what's known as a "negativity bias.”

This bias means that we are inherently inclined toward negative experiences.

Neuroscience research demonstrates that negative events have a stronger impact on our brains, and they tend to linger longer than positive ones.

It's as if our minds become glue with bad things and a brick wall with good things.

Bad sticks. Good bails.

  • What do you think spreads faster on social media? Is it something positive or something negative? Well, the answer is something negative.
  • The same is true on any news app. As they say, "If it bleeds, it leads."

When I had to defend my thesis I stood in front of five different people who questioned me and ripped through my paper.

By the end of it most of them were complimentary, "Wow, that was amazing! You crushed it. It was so powerful. I love what you did."

There was one professor who was not a big fan and ended up conceding with the rest to pass me through. At the end of the day, which do you think I found myself thinking about more—the 4 positive people or that one negative one?

It's time to 🥊 or ✈️

Chronic negativity pushes us into a constant state of fight or flight; our brains are wired this way.

When we encounter stressful situations, God designed our brains to release cortisol into our bloodstream. This hormone helps us become more alert, focused, and ready to tackle problems.

It serves us well, until it doesn't.

When we become chronically negative, trapped in an ongoing negative loop, we constantly feel as though we are in danger.

We sense a perpetual threat.

Reminder of what Paul said in Romans, "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the spirit is life and peace."

Here's what happens.

👉 When most of what you see online is negative

👉 When most of what your friends say is negative

👉 When most of what you say to yourself is negative

👉 When most of what you hear in the news is negative.

You end up creating negative neural pathways.

Neural pathways: the more you think a particular thought, the easier it becomes to think it again. So, when you fixate on the negative, continuously think about it, associate with negative people, embrace criticism, and always expect the worst rather than the best, you're essentially forming a negative highway in your brain.

Talk about a

Negativity becomes a habit; a default posture.

It's a belief that things will be bad and only worsen, that you can't trust anyone, that everyone will let you down, that all Christians are a certain way, that life is dreadful and getting worse, that your mental health is deteriorating, that you'll never progress or find happiness, and that your ministry and purpose in life are insignificant. yikes.

Your thoughts possess incredible power over the direction of your life.

The good news: you possess incredible power over where your thoughts lead you.

Let's identify where you are most prone to negativity.

Because we all are.

If you cannot define it, you cannot defeat it.

What is it that's holding you back from the 4 categories:

1️⃣ Cynicism—a general distrust of people and their motives.

  • It's a belief that you simply cannot trust others.
  • It's the thought that everyone is seeking to take advantage of you.
  • It's the conviction that people are inherently self-centered, looking out only for themselves.

We tend to generalize and label entire groups of people with negative traits, saying, "All those people are this way."

It's a mindset that questions the genuineness of generosity and benevolence. In short, cynicism leads us to conclude that we can't really trust people.

Some experts suggest that cynicism often reflects how we feel about ourselves.

It may be a bit uncomfortable to hear, but when we harbor distrust in the motives of others, it often unveils an inner struggle with our own motives and intentions.

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We project our own insecurities and doubts onto others, assuming that their intentions are as questionable as our own.

2️⃣ Negative Filtering—the act of solely focusing on what's wrong, completely overlooking what's good in a given situation.

  • Your kids are running late, and immediately your mind jumps to dead in a ditch. Interestingly, you've had this thought the last 18 times they were late, and they were never involved in any accident.
  • Or you send a text to a friend, and it takes them two hours to respond. Your immediate reaction is, "Oh my, i should have put a . not an !"
  • We go on vacation and focus on what's wrong with the destination or the accommodations.
  • We eat at a restaurant and nitpick and search for flaws in the establishment.
  • We meet new people, and our instinct is to immediately discover what's wrong with them.
  • We even attend church, and instead of embracing the blessings and spiritual growth it offers, we become experts at pinpointing what's wrong with the congregation or the ministry.

For some of us, negative filtering has become a familiar companion, a constant presence in our lives.

3️⃣ Absolute Thinking—polarized thoughts, where everything is seen in extremes, in all-or-nothing terms.

  • If a man hurts you, all men are bad.
  • If a woman lies to you, all women are liars.
  • If a politician does something we disagree with, they're all out to destroy the country.

It's a dangerous game of oversimplification.

Absolute thinking can infiltrate what we think about ourself.

If you make a mistake, you might quickly label ourselves as "dumb" or "stupid," disregarding the vast array of talents and capabilities you possess.

Sadly, in recent times, this type of thinking has become more prevalent than ever before.

We witness it in public discourse, social media interactions, and even within our personal relationships. The mindset of "if they don't agree with me, then they are against me" has become all too common.

We become so entrenched in our beliefs and perspectives that we close ourselves off to understanding, compassion, and growth.

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Let me make this clear: Just because you are right about something doesn't automatically make you righteous. Absolute thinking hinders our ability to extend grace, forgiveness, and empathy toward others.

4️⃣ Blaming—believing you’re always victim.

You're where you are because someone else did something and got in your plans way, or took your toy, or didn't give you a chance and you feel like you don't have any control over what's happening to you.

You're just a victim of life and circumstances.

And there's no way for you to get ahead because the world is stacked against you.

So, now what?

My wife has been out of town for over a week to be with her little sister, who is having a baby.

That means two year old and I have been . . . surviving. My son is in a funny (frustrating) stage of independence.

So everything is “Arlo’s turn,” or another phrase is, “no, daddy, stop. Arlo’s turn.”

And I’ve learned that if Arlo doesn’t want to do something, he simply does not want to do it. His mind is set. Locked in. Un-moveable.

That is, until fruit snacks come into the equation.

Do I bribe my child with fruit snacks to get him to do what I want? I absolutely do.

You can change your perspective, but to change from negative to positive, it is not natural and it is not accidental.

You might need a little supernatural help from God (or in Arlo’s case fruit snacks) and a little intentional work on your end, and it really, really matters because your thoughts are more powerful than you can imagine, and you have more power over your thoughts than you think you do.

Have you read this story?

Let's look at David's example of the human mind in the Old Testament, which is one of the most potent examples.

David shows us what to do when we find ourselves overwhelmed by an avalanche of negativity.

Find a Bible and turn to 1 Samuel 30.

Context: utter devastation. It was a day that defied imagination, far worse than any of us could fathom.

Picture David and his troops returning from battle, only to discover that their homes had been burned to the ground and their wives and children cruelly taken captive by the enemy.

Can you imagine the pain, the anguish that filled their hearts?

David, believing things couldn't get any worse, was soon faced with yet another blow. In their bitterness, his own men turned against him and contemplated stoning him.

"When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters."

Some of you may resonate deeply with this level of pain and darkness.

You may be hurting, burdened by anxiety and fear, feeling as if you've reached the end of your strength.

In the midst of his darkest hour, David did something extraordinary.

Scripture tells us that he found strength in the Lord his God.

The King James Version beautifully phrases it as follows: "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God."

What did David encourage himself with?

We don't have the detail in 1 Samuel 30, but we can look other places to see when David talked to himself.

  • In Psalm 103:1, David speaks to his soul, urging it to praise the Lord: "Praise the Lord, my soul," he declares. "He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. He satisfies your desires with good things."
  • Psalm 103:8, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

Take a moment to reflect on this profound example set by David. In the face of adversity and negativity, he turned to God, reminding himself of His character and faithfulness.

Take notes: allow His words to become ingrained in your heart, shaping your perspective and guiding your thoughts.

And when the storms of negativity threaten to overwhelm you, may you, like David, encourage yourself in the Lord, repeating His promises of compassion, grace, and abounding love.

Greatest Tool Against Negativity

And now I want to provide you with a valuable tool to encourage yourselves.

It may sound weird, but one of the greatest tools I can offer you is to act like a cow.

Yes, you read that right. Act like a cow.

One fascinating behavior of cows is called rumination.

They take a mouthful of grass, chew it thoroughly, swallow it, and then bring it back up to chew it again.

Then they repeat this process, extracting every bit of nutrition from the grass.

It's fascinating and, well, a little gross too.

But why does the cow do this? To maximize the benefits, to ruminate.

Did you know

The same Hebrew word in the Old Testament that is translated as "meditate" can also mean "ruminate"?

Yes, "ruminate" and "meditate" are interchangeable.

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Just like a cow, we are encouraged to ruminate on God's Word, to chew on it, to savor it, to extract every bit of spiritual nutrition from it. 

We repeat it over and over and over again.

We don't need to search for a verse when we find ourselves in challenging situations.

We have already hidden God's Word in our hearts.

Just like David, who said, "The Lord is slow to anger, compassionate, and gracious," because he had been meditating on it.

Close the negativity loop

Some of you may need a negative fast.

Whether it's the constant barrage of distressing news, the allure of social media that fosters feelings of inadequacy, or getting trapped in a YouTube rabbit hole that distorts your perspective, it's time to break free.

Or maybe it's the company you keep, always engaging in hateful criticism of others and everything around you.

Your thoughts are incredibly powerful, and you have the ability to control them.

Earlier, we discussed the four significant categories of thoughts. I want to give you a potential spiritual truth to ruminate on. I like to take scripture and turn it into power thoughts, words that encapsulate God's Word and that I can remember and repeat over and over again.

Last Tool: Reframing

I like to take negative soundtracks (repeating phrases) and turn them around with the truth of Scripture. I'll end with this.

Earlier, I gave you 4 categories of negativity.

If you struggle with the following form of negativity, repeat the following claims 2x-a-day:

Cynicism

With God’s help, I will get rid of all bitterness and skepticism. I choose to believe the best about others and be kind, compassionate, and loving. I will love and forgive others as Jesus has loved and forgiven me.

Negative Filtering

God, by your power, I take every thought captive and make it obedient to the truth of Christ. Because you are good, I choose to think about what’s good, right, true, helpful, and worthy of praise. As I trust in you, your peace will guard my heart, soul, and mind.

Absolute Thinking

As Jesus loved and accepted me, I will love and accept others. Rather than always being right, I’m called always to be loving. Rather than just making a point, I choose to make a difference. In humility, I choose to love others more than myself.

Blaming

God has given me a life and mind of my own. By His grace, I will own my choices and choose God’s best for me. I believe I have been given everything I need to accomplish everything God wants me to do today. In Christ, I will overcome.