Your mindset is a vital part of who you are, what you believe, and how you live. Mindset has to do with the beliefs and thought patterns that help you make sense of life, learn and grow, make and accomplish goals, and much more. Learn how to identify and overcome negative thinking patterns that hold you back. Are you ready to stop stinkin’ thinkin’ in your life?
What is Mindset and Why Does it Matter?
Different from personality and attitude, mindset impacts how we feel about ourselves and others. How we think and what we believe impacts every area of life including health, relationships, work, habits, beliefs, and faith.
Have you ever tried to turn off your mind when your thoughts are racing faster than a dog chasing a squirrel? Some scientists report that the average person thinks 48.6 thoughts per minute, and around 70,000 thoughts a day. Mercy that’s a lot of thoughts, isn’t it! Your mindset is more than the total thoughts that run through your mind.
Mindset is formed by the general focus, quality, and character of your thoughts. It is vital to understand that we have a choice about what we set our minds on. The Bible tells us to set our mind on things above, to not loose sight of the eternal when we live in the temporal.
This instruction is so easy to just pass right over. Too often I give it a mental nod, and then keep getting wrapped up in what’s going on around me. To set our minds takes intention, effort, and faith. It doesn’t happen by accident. When we keep God‘s perspective in view, we see today differently.
We see others differently.
We see ourselves differently.
Think About What You are Thinking About
What has been your overall mindset lately? What do you think about most? Are your thoughts generally positive or negative? I’m not talking about the onsie’s and the twosie’s. I’m referring to the thought patterns that have become habitual.
What is the default setting that is the first to show up unless you intentionally reset your thought? When we pay attention to our mindset we can see the general direction our thoughts take us:
- Self or others?
- Focusing on problems or resting in faith?
- Frustrated or joyful?
- Complaining or content?
- Depending on self or relying on God?
- Listening to lies or holding fast to truth?
- Worldly or godly?
- Toxic or healthy?
- Critical or kind?
For me, this is an “ouchy” subject. I have to admit that my thoughts veer negative in the default settings of my brain in several of these areas. How about you?
Pray for God to Help You Identify Your Thought Patterns
As you reflect on the trend of your thoughts, what is God highlighting to you? If you’re not sure, here are a few verses that are helpful to pray for God to help you see what’s really going on in your head and your heart:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
Put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”–Psalm 139:23-24
Have you ever invited God to help you go deeper into what you’re thinking and why? It’s so important to remember the truth that God loves and forgives you. There’s so much to say about how we view God, that I’ll save that for another day. For now, just grab hold of this truth and don’t let go:
“See how great a love the Father has given us, that we would be called children of God.” –1 John 3:1
Consider how Romans 12:2 relates to the importance of our mindset.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”–Romans 12:2 ESV
There is a reason Paul gave this instruction to the Roman church–they were struggling with their mindset.
The philosophies, values, and shifting trends of our culture can shape our thinking if we aren’t careful. With the explosion of information and public discourse in this digital age, we are more vulnerable than ever for our thinking to be shaped by the world around us.
God transforms our minds, but we have an important part of the process.
One of my favorite quotes on mindset is from Watchman Nee. He wrote, “No life can be truly changed apart from a change of mind.”
Are you seeking change, improvement, progress, or healing in some area of your life? Transformation will not bypass your mind.If we want to behave differently, we need to begin to think differently. #mindsetmatters Click To Tweet
How to Identify Negative Thought Patterns
A pattern is a trend, a tendency, or a habit. We’ve just talked about recognizing whether our general mindset is positive or negative. Learning to stop negative thinking takes time.
Let’s take this deeper. How do we identify negative thinking that has become a pattern in our lives? For me, learning a little vocabulary expands my understanding to be able to identify types of distorted thinking.
10 Common Negative Thinking Patterns
Rita Schulte’s book, Think This, Not That provides a valuable list of thought patterns that distort our perspective and ignite difficult emotions. I also shared this list in the post “Strategies and Scriptures to Combat Negative Thinking.”
- Should, must, ought to be, and have to be statements: These inflexible beliefs are based on misperceptions and can lead to anxiety, depression, self pity, anger, and guilt.
- Jumping to conclusions, mind reading, and fortune telling (thinking we know what will happen): These patterns interpret situations and outcomes based on distortions, fears, and beliefs.
- Overgeneralization: This cognitive distortion happens when we assume that because something happened one way it will always happen that way. We can recognize this thinking pattern by words like never, always, and everyone.
- Personalization: When we see things as our fault without recognizing other contributing factors, we are personalizing. People who personalize see the issue as something wrong with themselves, a character flaw or deficit. It often cycles into personal name calling (I’m an idiot, I’m a loser, I’m unloveable) and self-condemnation.
- Disqualifying the positive: Schulte explains this pattern, “Disqualifying the positive is a way we overestimate a negative outcome and minimize our ability to cope with difficult situations. We reject our positive experiences, or our strengths, and we focus instead on the negative aspects of our situation or our character” (p.97).
- Catastrophizing: Imagining the worst and blowing things out of proportion are typical of catastrophizing thoughts. This kind of thinking provokes anxiety, focusing on what if’s and fears.
- Emotional reasoning: Interpreting negative feelings as truth is a destructive pattern of unhealthy thinking. I feel unworthy becomes a belief that I am unworthy. I wrote a lot about this pattern in Holy in the Moment.
- All or nothing thinking. This pattern moves from one extreme to another, not recognizing the middle ground between. For example, feeling inadequate may lead to the belief I must be perfect or I’m a total failure.
- Externalizing: The opposite of personalizing, externalizing blames others or situations without acknowledging any role or responsibility in the issue. We find a biblical example of externalizing when Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
- Magnifying/minimizing: Making a mountain out of a molehill is a type of magnifying thoughts. On the opposite extreme is minimizing situations, feelings, pain, problems, offenses. Again, Dr. Schulte helpfully explains the problem with minimizing: “Here you shrink the importance of things, such as your feelings when you’re hurt, saying they don’t really matter, for one reason or the other. This is often known as the martyr complex. Comparing yourself or what you’re going through with what someone else is feeling is another way to open the door for minimizing. It’s healthy to feel your feelings when you have them. Minimizing does your pain a disservice” (p.101).
Is your brain exploding yet? I know this is a lot to take in. Stay with me because it is worth the effort to identify and overcome negative thinking patterns that keep us stuck and hold us back for the healthy and holy life God has for us! It’s worth the effort and you are worth the effort.Don't let toxic thinking patterns derail you from living in the freedom and wholeness of your identity in Christ. Click To Tweet
How to Break Negative Thinking Patterns
Choose one thought pattern to address.
Identifying the toxic patterns that shape our mindset is important. It is the first step on the path of change and transformation. But here’s the thing–taking the first step doesn’t get us to the destination.
Maybe the first step is all you’ve got bandwidth for today. That’s okay, friend. I’ve been there. If that’s you, do yourself a favor. Save this post and come back to it when you are ready to move forward.
Steps to Healthy and Positive Thinking
- Ask God to help you choose one negative thinking pattern to address. Transformation is God’s specialty, and it doesn’t happen unless he is part of the process. (Romans 12:1-2).
- Write the healthy pattern you want to practice, and post your reminder where you will see it frequently.
- Schedule a time with God to pray and reflect on the root and the why of this pattern. Here are a few questions to pray about: What do you want for me to know about this? When did I begin to have this type of thought? What emotions and behaviors does this pattern lead me to? What kinds of response do I usually have to this kind of thought? How is this pattern impacting my physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you catch yourself in the moment when you slip into this one pattern. Don’t try to address them all at once. Keep it simple with small steps forward. Awareness opens the door to making a better choice.
- Begin the holy habit of bringing your thought to Christ and ask him to help you. “We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Evaluate what is really true rather than jumping to conclusions. Look at the bigger picture in the situation. Give time to see the situation or thought in light of what is true according to God’s Word. Is it really true that you “always get it wrong”? Is it true that the situation is 100% the other person’s fault? Is it true that things “never” work out for you?
- Choose not to dwell on the negative thought. A thought may come to the door of your mind, but that doesn’t mean you have to invite it in. And you certainly don’t have to serve it dinner or let it move in! In Holy in the Moment, I wrote that you are the doorkeeper of your mind. God has given you the ability to reject a thought. Sometime’s I think and pray: “I don’t want to think this negative thought. I shut the door on it. Lord, please help me choose to think about this in a healthier and more positive way.”
- Practice choosing a better thought pattern when you aren’t under pressure. When you’ve got some down time, practice better ways to reframe a negative thought pattern. Then begin practicing in the moment the Holy Spirit brings a negative thought pattern to your awareness.
- Trust God to do the work of transforming your mind as you cooperate in the process. Be patient with yourself. Renewing your mind takes time. Rely on the Holy Spirit’s help to do what you can’t do. Overtime, you will build new patterns of healthy thinking.
Consider what life will look like when you overcome this negative thought pattern.
You can do this, friend! I believe in you and so does God. Are you ready to get started? The very best place to start is in prayer. Invite God to go through the steps in this post and begin today. What negative thinking pattern do you need to address today?
If negative thinking is a challenge for you, I’ve got a free resource for you in my Subscriber Library. Overcome Negative Thinking for a Deeper Life features more strategies, encouragement, and 50 Scriptures to combat toxic thoughts in your life. Reflect and pray about one verse each day as you practice the strategies in the book and in this post.
A Few of the Spiritual Growth Resources in the Subscriber Library.
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