Is there anything more wonderful than a mind at rest and a heart at peace? In a broken world full of stress and worry that can feel like an impossible feat, yet the Bible tells us to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). For those who deal with trauma, anxiety or depression, capturing thoughts is as easy as lassoing a runaway bull or herding cats- overwhelming and frustrating! Many of us have a tendency to think in unproductive ways that produce a variety of negative emotions. For example: Worry is negatively imagining the future. Ruminating is dwelling on a negative event from the past. And then there are sinful thoughts like envy, lust, hate and self loathing. These patterns of thought become so automatic we don’t recognize we are in them until our emotions swell up, leaving us anxious, depressed, angry or hopeless. But there is hope! Paul tells us in Phillipians 4:8 to think about things which are true, noble, right, good, admiarable, lovely, excellent and praise worthy. But when your mind is engaged in the other kinds of thoughts what do you do?
Thought stopping is a way to disengage from unproductive thinking and move toward healthy Phillipians 4:8 kind of thinking. Here are the three steps:
1- Notice and name the unproductive thought. Oh, I’m ruminating about the bad conversation with my boss from last week.
2- Say “STOP” in your head (or out loud if you feel really feisty!) and mentally picture a giant stop sign. This is moving your mind one step- from a negative thought to a nuetral one. This step is important because you can only hold one thought at a time so picturing the stop sign disengages you and allows you to shift to the last step.
3- move on to one of three pre decided positive good thoughts. These are thoughts you have chosen you like thinking about. It can be a beautiful sunset, a happy memory or making a grocery list- they just need to be thoughts that are easy to camp out on in your mind. If your mind goes back to the negative thought, simply go through step 2 and 3 again picking another alternate thought.
Sometimes this technique feels a bit like tug-of-war in your brain but practice causes it to get easier. Once you learn how to shift away from unproductive thought loops there are great opportunities to look at underlying lies you might believe or unresolved hurts that need healing that may cause those loops to occur. This technique is simply a tool to capture the bad- replacing it with good may take more work and more time but thought stopping can be a helpful tool in getting there.