ROMANS 12:2 “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Thoughts are powerful
According to the Cleveland Clinic, experts estimate that individuals process between 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day. This averages about 2500-3000 thoughts per hour. During this process, our brains decide which thoughts are relevant enough for us to remember and which should be filtered out. The ones that are remembered form the basis of memories, thoughts and feelings. Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy, called these thoughts “automatic thoughts.” Often these thoughts are mental functions that occur without conscious awareness and can profoundly impact our emotions, which in turn influences the way we behave.
Have you ever noticed that you were feeling anxious, sad, or angry and you were not sure why? According to the Cognitive Behavioral Model, it is believed that this is related to automatic negative thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. Our brains have a tendency to have a negative bias. With all these negative thoughts in our minds, it is no wonder that many are left feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, and anxious.
The Bible tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” Proverbs 18:21. It is important that we are careful about the words we speak to others, but it is also important to be mindful of what we are speaking to ourselves via our thoughts. Being highly self critical or having negative self talk can be damaging to our sense of identity.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provides a framework for addressing these negative thinking patterns. This process is called Cognitive Restructuring, and begins first with learning to identify negative thinking. Once we are able to identify these negative thinking patterns, we need to challenge them (paying attention to cognitive distortions). Once we have challenged these thoughts, we need to reframe or replace these thoughts with what is true. This is a process that takes practice and needs to be engaged in daily.
An exercise I often have my client’s engage in, is a thought challenging exercise. I have have them write down 10 of the worst thoughts they think about themselves. Then I have them challenge these thoughts by asking themselves these questions. 1. Is it true? 2. Is it ABSOLUTELY true? 3. What evidence do I have that this is absolutely true? 4. How is this thought making me feel? 5. How would I be or feel different without this thought? I then have them replace the thought with something that is true.
Telling Ourselves the Truth
Thought replacement is extremely important. The human mind struggles to comprehend a negative action. Take for example a downhill skier. If I tell the skier “Don’t hit a tree,” the thing they will focus on are the trees. It is all they will see. If instead I tell the skier, “Focus on the path,” the path is what their brain will focus on. This is the same concept that applies when it comes to thought replacement. If I tell myself simply to stop thinking about something, it is going to be exactly what I think about. I have to choose to fill my mind with something beneficial.
Philippians 4:8 states, “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is our, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worth of praise, dwell on these things.” This verse is not saying that we should ignore any hard or negative thought by having rose colored glasses. It it simply stating that we have a choice in what we focus or dwell on.
When we find ourselves being highly critical of ourselves or having negative self talk, we need to replace it with truth. The Bible is full of truths about who we are in Christ.
Ephesians chapter 1 says we are blessed, chosen, redeemed, loved, adopted, forgiven, given an inheritance, and sealed with the Holy Spirit.
John 1:12 says we are the children of God.
1 John 4:9 says that we are loved.
Ephesians 3:11 says that we have a purpose.
Hebrews 13:5 says that we are not alone.
Psalm 139 says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
1 John 5:4 says that we are victorious.
The next time you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, fearful, or angry. Ask yourself what you are thinking about, and how you can restructure those thoughts and replace them with something beneficial and true.