Understanding and Changing Harmful Thinking

Our thoughts have immense power.

What we think about and dwell on has an impact on our feelings. And then our feelings have an impact on our actions, which then produce consequences (good or bad) in our daily living.

Much of what we experience on a daily basis or how we regularly manage life can really be traced back to our minds – what we think, how we think, or what we allow to take up residence in our mental space.

For many people, problems arise from negative ways of thinking that are known as “Cognitive Distortions” – thought patterns and habits of our minds that aren’t true or healthy. These distorted thoughts (things that we convince ourselves are true, but really have no basis in reality) cause us mental and emotional disturbances, which then affect the ways we behave and the way we respond to life.

Here are some examples of some cognitive distortions that, if left unchecked, can affect our feelings and behaviors:

“I always fail at everything I try. I’m just a failure at life.”

“Every time I talk to my wife, we end up fighting. I’m just a terrible husband.”

“My friend hasn’t replied to my text. She must be mad at me. What could I have done?”

“My boss didn’t smile and say hello to me today. She must be unhappy with me.”

“I made a mistake and ruined everything for everyone. Everything is my fault.”

Do any of these sound familiar? We have all had trouble with distortions like these in the past. For some the thoughts are stronger and last longer. When that happens, they cause greater problems with feelings and actions. We fixate on these thoughts, allow them to become “true” to us, and then our feelings and actions are based off of them.

The point is this: our thoughts have the potential to negatively influence more than just what we spend time thinking about. What we choose to dwell on can have significant impact on our emotions, as well as our behaviors. And all of these things combined can have an effect on the way we go about our lives.

So, what do we need to do?

We need to gain control of our thoughts. We need to be able to understand the power that our thought patterns have on the rest of life. And we need to remember that a “simple negative thought” isn’t something harmless. It can create a wave of damage if we fail to tend to it properly.

Here are 3 things you can do to curb those thoughts, keep your emotions healthy, and make sure your life is being lived as normally as possible.

IDENTIFY THE DISTORTION
Call the thought what it is – a negative pattern (a “distortion”) that is wreaking havoc on your mood. Before you can label it, though, you have to determine what it is.

Think about the way you’ve been acting lately – temperamental? Negative? Moody? Unwilling to try new things? Apprehensive? Anti-social? Now, think about what feelings are driving those behaviors. Have you ben feeling irritable? Angry? Fearful? Anxious? Finally, try to determine what thought patterns have been leading you to feel that emotion. What stream of thought runs through your mind that disturbs your emotoins and then afects your actions? What are you dwelling on?

Are you constantly thinking about what could go wrong?

Do you think you are a failure because of some mistakes you’ve made?

Are you thinking that someone must be mad at you simply because they aren’t communicating with you?

You need to be able to identify the distortion beore you can do anything about it. Label that negative thought pattern that you’ve convinced yourself is true and then you can start to tackle it.

REFUTE THE THOUGHT
Once you have identified the distortion, you can attack it. Start dismantling it. Call it a lie. Increase your awareness that it’s probabaly not based on reality.

“My friend hasn’t been talking to me as much. There can be a number of reasons for that.”

“My boss didn’t greet me cheerfully. She might be having a bad day.”

“I made some mistakes. Failure is a natural part of life.”

Refute those thoughts and convince yourself, instead of things that are actually true. This is an important step, because you can label your negative thought patterns all day long but if you never shut them down they won’t go away.

CHANGE THE HABIT
When you’ve identified the harmful thoughts and have started refuting them with truth, you can then begin to change the habit. And the best way to get rid of bad habits is to replace them with a better one.

This is why people who are trying to quit smoking often chew lots of gum!

So, instead of allowing yourself to dwell on the thought patterns that are causing your trouble, counteract them by developing healthy thought patterns that will drown out those negative ones.

“I am not a failure. I make mistakes, like every human being.”

“I am not the source of everyone’s troubles.”

“People don’t think about me as much as I think they do.”

Let these healthy thoughts become like positive mantras that take up residence in your mind. When you do this, better habits are developed and the cognitive distortions are soon replaced.

For those who read the Bible, there is a good verse for this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

God knows that our thoughts are powerful. And His recommendation is to dwell on things that are TRUE, things that are HONORABLE, things that are PURE. To “think on these things” means to meditate on them, to dwell on them, to give these things your attention and affection.

Living a thriving and abundant life involves way more than our behaviors and lifestyle. It starts within. Start with the mind, and everything else will begin to flow.

Published by John Guerrero

I'm a follower of Jesus, a husband, and a father of three. I love helping people and I'm passionate about experiencing abundant and full life in Christ. In the last twelve years, I've served as a mentor, a pastor, a counselor, and an educator and I'm driven every day by a calling to impact the world with compassion and purpose.

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