I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I need coffee. Why is the dog already whining to go out?! This string of negative thoughts came out of my mouth as soon as I got out of bed, and the day had only just begun.
Maybe you can relate?
Have you noticed how complaining comes naturally to us, but being thankful can prove challenging?
One example I have seen of this is in meetings at work. During the first few minutes the objective is to share some good news. It never fails, it always takes everyone ten to twenty seconds longer to think of an example to celebrate. But it takes them no time to rattle off example after example of issues each of us are facing in our areas.
And many of us don’t like complaining. Heck, most of the time, we try hard not to, but it just keeps happening.
We want to stop the negativity.
We want to be happier.
We like being around positive people, and we want to be more like them.
But how do we remove all the negative thoughts?
Here are three ways we can remove negative thoughts.
Replace Negative Thoughts
Anytime we try to stop a certain behavior or thought pattern, it proves helpful to replace the behavior with a healthier one. This is precisely what Paul was communicating to the Philippian Church when he instructed them to not be anxious but instead to pray, thank God, and think about things that are pure, lovely, true, honorable, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4: 6-8, NLT).
This isn’t a prescription to follow to have a perfectly positive mind, but it shows us a few key actions that we can implement in place of our negative thoughts.
When we find ourselves starting to complain or think negatively, we can pray instead. Talk to God about what is happening. By acknowledging His presence alone, we feel comforted and seen. Next, Paul says to thank God. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to increase feel-good hormones in our brains lifting our moods with every thankful thought and word we entertain. Plus, as we begin to notice things to be thankful for our reticular activation system kicks in and we start noticing the good things Paul told God’s people to think about more often.
If you want to practice gratitude, I invite you to take my free five-day Gratitude Challenge.
Replace the negative thoughts with different behaviors such as prayer and gratitude, as you do you will find negative thoughts will become less frequent as you strengthen and add new neural connections leading to positive thoughts.
Focus on Others
Our family went downtown the other night to feed our city’s homeless neighbors. Many of them live on the street, are addicted to drugs, and often are estranged or far from any relatives or friends. As I left that night after serving, I surged with conviction from the Holy Spirit of my prayerlessness over the situation, but also of my constant grumbling and complaining.
When we are hyper-focused on ourselves, our lives, our agendas, our goals, and ambitions we can quickly forget how each one of those things is truly a blessing from God. I don’t say this to make anyone feel guilty, but to realize that many of us have way more to be thankful for than we do to complain about.
Focusing on others helps us to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on serving others. Jesus was the best example of this. When Jesus was about to be taken captive and crucified, He asked His disciples to keep watch and pray. We later find out that they weren’t praying because they fell asleep while Jesus sweated droplets of blood over what He was about to face. Even though Jesus had every reason to ignore the disciples and tend to His prayers for comfort, He rose from His despair, forgetting about what He had going on long enough to wake them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation (Luke 22:41-44, NLT).
Like Jesus, we can stop the spiral of self-pity and negative thoughts by thinking of and serving others. When we help to meet the needs of others, we go to war with negativity. Serving others brings us great joy by removing and replacing negativity.
On day two of the Gratitude Challenge, I share a practical tip you can try to start focusing on others today.
Respond Don’t React
Often, negative thoughts can come from our reactions to unexpected circumstances and unmet expectations. We get bent out of shape because things don’t happen exactly how we envisioned them going, and we find ourselves spiraling into negativity because of it.
One thing we can do is pre-decide that we aren’t going to allow ourselves to get upset about things that are out of our control.
For example, I can’t control what time the dog is going to decide it’s hungry and start whining in the morning. But I can decide how I will respond to that. I have a choice. I can snatch the covers off, charge out of the bedroom fussing and carrying on out the front door, and then stay in a sour mood all day about it. Or I can get up. Feed the dog and maybe even pet her on the head for a quick oxytocin release and then carry on about my day unphased by the abrupt wake-up call.
Everything doesn’t deserve a reaction. But how often do we wear ourselves out emotionally by the way we choose to react?
When I react like that to little things I am reminded of the verse in Proverbs. Proverbs 26:17 ESV says, whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ear. If you know anything about dogs, you know how dangerous it is to grab a stray dog by the ear. You are asking to get hurt!
That is what happens when we react to every single disappointing thing that happens to us. Eventually, negativity does hurt us. Negativity hurts our mindsets, our attitudes, and actions, and finally our relationships with others.
But we can make a better choice. Instead of reacting to our disappointment, we can respond. We can pre-decide that when things don’t go our way we will not react. We will respond by reminding ourselves to be committed to growth and being faithful to God. We can realize that He uses everything that happens to us to accomplish that purpose, and we can surrender to the process rather than fighting it with negative reactions and thoughts.
If you want to read more about responding rather than reacting and choosing everyday faithfulness and growth you can take the free Gratitude Challenge: 5 Days to Growing in Gratitude When You Don’t Like Where God Has You.
It doesn’t take much effort for us to get into a tailspin of negative thinking. But with some effort, we can remove negative thoughts. We can replace them with practices of gratitude and thanksgiving. We can focus on others rather than ourselves. And we can learn to respond to disappointments rather than reacting. With a little practice and intentionality, we can remove our negative thoughts.