Our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts. The life you have today directly reflects the thoughts you think most. That’s why it’s critically important to think about what we are actually thinking.
Solomon articulated this idea almost 3,000 years ago in the book of Proverbs, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Our thoughts eventually become beliefs, our beliefs held long enough become our identities, and who we always act and live out of what we believe ourselves to be.
Thoughts -> Beliefs -> Identities -> Actions
Think about the types of harmful thoughts present in your thinking. Here are four of the most common you may see in yourself.
1. Cynicism: Suspicious and questioning motives, never fully trusting.
2. Negativity: Finding the bad in anything.
3. Absolutism: All-or-nothing thinking. Black and white.
4. Victimhood: Shows up as blaming.
In Philippians 4:8 we find the keys to help us overcome these harmful thought patterns. The author Paul says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Using the scripture above as our guide, let’s break it down into three filters that we should put every thought through to help improve our beliefs, identities, and actions ultimately.
1. Is the thought true?
One of the greatest mistakes you can make is assuming all your thoughts are true. We tend to believe that it must be accurate if it’s in our heads. If we think it's real, it must be accurate.
- Are they ALWAYS late?
- Does he NEVER clean his room?
- Do you mess things up ALL the time?
2. Is the thought helpful?
Does it move you forward or keep you stuck? Does it lead to a decision or limit a decision? Does it generate action or apathy?
If you have a harmful thought pattern of “don’t trust others, they’ll only hurt you.” It could convince you that it was true because of the experiences you had when you were younger, but ultimately it’s not helpful because our relationships need to be built on trust.
3. Is the thought kind?
One great way of getting at this is to ask yourself, “would I say to someone else what I just said to myself?” If the answer is “probably not,” that means you know it’s not kind and not serving you. Kind thoughts aren’t condemning and judgmental, don’t speak in absolutes, and don’t remind you of everything you’re not.
We get to choose what we fix our thoughts on. As powerful as our thoughts are, we have power over our thoughts.
Paul goes on to say in the next verse, Phillipians 4:9 “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me - everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Look what Paul says will happen when we change and transform our thoughts from working against us to empowering us and moving us forward to live in ways that are true, honorable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
After you finish reading this, try it out! This week, think about what you are thinking at each moment. Are your thoughts true? Helpful? Kind? If not, stop, write your thought down, put it through these three filters, and challenge it. Wait expectantly for your results to change over time and for the harmful thought patterns slowly fade.
For some of us those harmful thoughts run deep, and you may do your very best to fix your thoughts on what’s true, helpful, and kind and yet you still find yourself stuck. We created a page filled with additional resources like articles, books, podcast, and counseling services that may help.
If you’re looking for additional resources on mental health check out:
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