Do you have negative thoughts that play over-and-over in your mind? Many people experience painful, repeating, racing, negative, intrusive thoughts. They can be haunting reminders of past wounds, lies, and sad, scary, or anxious events. The thoughts can range from annoying to debilitating. They can’t be seen, but they can cause great damage.
Racing thoughts can also be caused by fear of the unknown, fear of other people’s opinion, or troubling predictions about the future. Your mind may be full of thoughts like:
- Things will never get better.
- No one cares for me. I am unlovable.
- I need to keep my mouth shut because nothing good will ever happen if I speak my thoughts or feelings.
- Everyone is smarter than me.
- I can’t try because I will fail or feel discomfort.
- Why can’t I ever do things right?
- What if I make a fool of myself?
- God can’t or won’t help me through this difficulty.
Why do those negative thoughts get to grab “a microphone” in your mind and become so loud and insistent?
As a physical therapist for over 40 years, I know that physical, mental, emotional, and relational pain can come from negative thinking, deep-rooted lies, and invisible, internal wounds resulting from abuse, abandonment, and trauma. Comprehensive Physical Therapy treats and retrains body, mind, emotions, and spirit to build healthy life skills, and for lasting healing, freedom, peace, and joy.
Haunting negative thoughts and messages can blow things out of proportion in your mind. They have a pattern and consume time and energy with no rational conclusion. These punishing, racing thoughts can be even more exhausting than lacing up your shoes and running around a track.
Take the racing thought, “What if I mess up?” This thought is not helpful because it is fear-based and foreshadows a bad result. But you can see how it sets up residence in your mind. It has a kernel of truth. When we attempt something, most anything, we might make a mistake.
But what about the flip side of that coin? Can you feel the difference of “hearing” your mind asks, “What if this goes GREAT?!” Both are possibilities. This question is helpful because it opens your mind to problem-solving, preparation, and success! Success and mistakes are the lessons of life. One is life-giving and generates optimism and energy while the other throws rocks on an ever-growing mountain of overwhelming limitation and impossibility. Which thought is more likely to run through your mind?
An interesting discovery I made early in my PT career was the relationship between physical and non-physical pain. The two are very often directly related. What your mind believes can help or harm your body and the pain in your body can affect your mind.
But the Word of God encourages us to take every thought captive to our Lord’s will.
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 10:5 (NIV)
Notice it doesn’t command us to “stop thinking”. It might be tempting to wish for that. But a blank mind is not what God intends. He knows we have active minds. He created us. We are to be mindful of what goes through our minds. ☺
Take Thoughts Captive
Take captive your thoughts. Stop. Think. Evaluate and bring into obedience your thoughts by knowing God’s Word and intentionally transforming those self-limiting and God-limiting lies into the truth that He knows you, cares for you more than you can imagine, and is sufficient for all of your needs.
Over the years I’ve helped patients to identify and remove lies, replace accusing thoughts, and heal harbored past wounds, bringing physical healing and stopping the related non-physical pain and symptoms.
I have six initial ways to help you take charge of your thoughts.
1. Write down your negative, intrusive thoughts as soon as they enter your mind.
To begin taking your thoughts captive you will need a place to record those racing thoughts. I recommend a small, spiral notebook—small enough to fit into your purse or pocket—and just the right size to keep with you constantly.
You can do this exercise in a note on your phone or use an audio recorder, but there is a great deal of scientific evidence that shows we are far more likely to remember something when we write it out longhand instead of typing it.
Write down every negative intrusion in the front of your little notebook as soon as it happens. Listen to what your mind is telling you and jot down each negative message. At first it may feel like you’re at a greased pig contest, trying to take hold of something that’s trying to get away. But don’t let it. “Grab” that slippery thought and write it down.
Try not to sort or “edit”. Write it down as you receive it. Every. Single. One.
2. Number each thought.
If you’re like me, you will have more than one racing, repetitive thought. So, the next step is to assign a number to each thought. The numbering is important to connect the limiting, negative message to the replacement message that will counter that crippling perception.
You’re not being graded on how many or how few. This exercise is to help you nail down that mental intruder before it gets away.
3. Match each negative, intrusive thought with scripture.
Oh, this gets fun! In the back of your notebook, working toward the front, write a corresponding number for the captured messages in the front of your notebook and assign a scripture passage that refutes the message that you wrote in the front of your little notebook.
Take your time. The clock is not ticking. This is not a race. Flip through the pages of your Bible or use devotionals or other resources to help you find a great verse that touches your heart and mind and stands in the face of that untrue thought!
4. Add a personal experience after each scripture.
Once you have picked a powerful passage for the numbered negative thought, add a personal experience statement. I typically write down an experience where I saw or felt God’s care, protection, provision, rescue, healing, or other event that reminds me how much God cares, and how He pulled me through impossible situations before.
For example, if my number one thought is “I can never get this all done.” I might write down Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” This scripture verse reminds me that if this is what God wants me to do, He will provide time, strength, help, and everything I need to accomplish the task. And the personal experience I might jot down is how God brought a certain, specific, God-loving person into my life right when I needed someone to assist or guide me to get it all done. In other words, I have consistently found that where God guides, He provides. I need to remember that.
In the back of my spiral notebook, I have a record of God’s promises and all He has done for me personally. I make it my own by remembering, as God commands. (Psalm 77:11-12; 143:5; Deuteronomy 8:11-18) Reflecting on the facts that I am breathing, the sun is shining, and how God has brought me through tough times in the past gives strength, hope, and resilience through current challenges, problems, and trials.
5. Seek professional help if you are stuck or want to dig deeper.
Asking for assistance is a sign of strength not weakness. It is difficult to see our own wounds. And sometimes we need someone else to ask helpful questions, remind us of who God is and what He is doing through our suffering, or help us see and correct deep, hidden sources of pain and problems.
Enlist the help of a God-honoring professional to show you proven tools, ask pertinent questions, listen, and guide you into living truth as you eliminate and replace lies.
6. Ask God in prayer.
A powerful tool that is easily forgotten is to go to God first. Talk to your Creator. He made you, has great plans for you, and wants the best for you.
It doesn’t need to look fancy. You can walk and talk, run and talk, sit and listen. You can sing, whisper, or just groan. He knows your heart and the words can come later. God is always there for you. Go to Him in prayer.
In psychology they use a term called “cognitive distancing”. It is when you take intentional action of countering negative messages and lies with truth. I recommend you do this by talking and listening to our Creator God.
Don’t let your mind convince you of something that is not true. Your mind prompts you to worry, overthink, and craft stories of bad outcomes—all the “what if’s”. Wherever your mind guides you, positive or negative thoughts will follow. You must choose the mental company you want to keep.
Now you are ready for them! You have a tool to trap them and tie them down until you can attach a truth and an example of God’s care to it. What we believe is how we live. Let’s be encouraged by the One who designed us and has purpose, fulfillment, and joy planned for us. You can find ways to be your best, inside and out, with positive, affirming truth. God’s truth. Live it!