Kendra Burrows

"...be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (Romans 12:2)

How to Conquer Your Negative Automatic Thoughts

Do you beat yourself up with words? Apply these 8 strategies to change your negative automatic thinking.

6:30 already? Ugh.

The boys hijack the groceries faster than I can put them away, bombarding me with questions between mouthfuls. Chief among them: What’s for dinner?

“Beef stroganoff.”

The piranhas aren’t deterred.

As I gather ingredients, bobbing and weaving through the obstacle course of moving bodies in my compact kitchen, I realize my error.

No sour cream? Ugh.

I’m so stupid.

As I scan the fridge for a substitute, my negative automatic thoughts take over.

How did I forget the one ingredient I need? My memory stinks.

Do I drag myself back to the store, order pizza, or pretend the boys are scarfing nutritious food?

I sink into the couch, shoulders slumped, weary from the strain of a hectic day.


woman with negative automatic thoughts

 

I’m a failure as a mom!

Automatic Negative Thoughts

I strive for optimism, but when I’m tired (or crabby, or stressed, or hormonal), I flounder in negative thinking patterns.

Do you mutter negative comments about yourself, too?

Words you wouldn’t say to friends flow through your mind.

  • What a klutz.
  • I’m so fat.
  • I’ll never understand this.

What go-to negative thoughts do you employ?

Maybe you don’t mean them. They’re filler words. The mindless internal chatter of everyday life.

But your brain hears what you say.

And as much as we like to believe our problems and stressors cause our pessimistic thoughts, it’s often our negative thoughts that lead to our troubles.

The Bible reminds us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5b)

But how? Our negative thoughts feel automatic — we think them before we have a chance to think.

Tools for Change

Don’t ignore negative thoughts or give yourself a pass. Instead, implement one or more of these strategies:

1. Doubt them before they debut

You’ve heard the adage: Before you speak, determine if the words are true, kind, and necessary.

  • Are the words you think about yourself true?

Maybe. But are they “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ”?

  • Are the words you think about yourself kind?

If your spouse forgets to buy sour cream, you may be disappointed  — or frustrated — but not unkind.

  • Are the words you think about yourself necessary?

Are you in danger of forgetting your negative qualities? I didn’t think so.

2. Focus on the facts

Restate the truth about the situation.

  • Are you clumsy?
  • Or did you trip because your brain can’t think about planning dinner and visiting grandma and adding toothpaste to the grocery list — and still walk at the same time?
  • Or because the kids left their toys in the middle of the room (again)?

Accurate language helps us avoid unnecessary frustration and offers the possibility of real change.

If your clumsiness is hereditary, bad names won’t alter it.

But if you tripped because the stack of towels you’re carrying obstructed your view of the shoes your youngest left in the middle of the room — well, those issues can be worked on so they happen less frequently.

3. Neutralize the negative

Each time you say (or think) something negative about yourself, verbalize three positive attributes.

You’ll train your brain to stop saying negative things about yourself — if only because it’s annoying to have to think of three positives each time.

4. Phone a friend

Enlist a trusted companion to point out your muttered self-condemnation, and to hold you accountable for stating three positives. It’s doubly impactful when you realize others hear your negative words.  

Friends delight in the opportunity to help us become better versions of ourselves. Plus, your time together will be more positive.

5. Search the Scriptures

Do you think Almighty God is stupid or fat or clumsy?

Of course not! In fact, I looked for lightning bolts as I typed the words.

Well, the Bible tells us that “God went on to create the man in his image” (Genesis 1:27; bold added)

God made us like Him, and proclaimed us “very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

The Bible even warns:

The tongue “is unruly and injurious, full of deadly poison. With it we praise Jehovah, the Father, and yet with it we curse men who have come into existence “in the likeness of  God.” (James 3:8-9; bold added)

Let’s not offend God by saying mean things about ourselves, His prized creations.

6. Practice praise

King David wrote, “I praise you because in an awe-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know this very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Let’s praise the wonderful qualities and positive characteristics our Heavenly Father granted us.

  • Feel clumsy? Praise God for functional legs.
  • Forgot an appointment? Praise the LORD for your good memory most of the time.
  • Grumbled at your teenager? Thank God He endowed you with enough patience to resist strangling the big goober.

7. Ask the Almighty

Do you find it difficult to recognize your positive characteristics? Pray for God to reveal them to you.

The Bible tells us, “if any of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep asking God, for he gives generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

God points out the amazing qualities He’s created in you if you ask Him.

8. Watch your words

Do your negative automatic thoughts relate to your (lack of) skills and abilities?

We hear kiddos say:

  • I’m not good at math.
  • I can’t hit a baseball.
  • I can’t keep my room clean — okay, this one might be true.

And we have our grown-up versions:

  • I can’t figure out this computer program.
  • I don’t know how to get along with her.
  • I can’t keep my house clean — well, if you have teenagers…

The problem with these sentences: they signal to our brains that we’ve quit.

“I’m not good at math.” The story’s over. The end.

But add one little word and our brains get excited.

“I’m not good at math… yet.”

“Yet” packs encouragement, hope, and potential in three small letters. When you say “yet,” your brain hears, “but I’ll get there someday,” and shouts, “We can do this!” (It isn’t just me saying this. There’s science to back it up.)

We’re Not Alone

God’s Word reminds us to “take captive every thought.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

Even when we’re collapsed on the couch, with no dinner ideas, no sour cream, and insatiable omnivores circling.

Perhaps especially then.

Thankfully, we’re not expected to do it on our own. God said:

For I am the LORD who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’ (Isaiah 41:13)

The One who gave us these amazing brains, our Heavenly Father, will help us “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).

Because He isn’t finished with us… yet.

How do you take captive every thought? What particular areas do you need help with in renewing your mind?

11 Replies

  1. Great tips and encouragement Kendra! So often we can let the negative cloud our vision of ourselves and the Truth. Thank you for these helpful reminders to be gentle with ourselves!

    1. Kendra Burrows

      You’re so right, Liana! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Pat

    I love all of these, but especially adding the word “yet”. It absolutely gets me pointing toward the future.

    1. Kendra Burrows

      It’s so powerful, right?!

  3. Kendra, Thanks for sharing this wisdom. I love this: ““Yet” packs encouragement, hope, and potential in three small letters.”

    1. Kendra Burrows

      So glad it was useful, Bethany!

  4. Yeah, this is a horrible plague to catch. It’s what Tim Ferris is describing when he says “Don’t retreat into story.” It’s when we tell stories on or about ourselves, saying stuff like, “Ugh! I’m so ____” or “I can never ____” or “I always _____” These are bad sentences for us. Indeed, sister! Take every thought captive…

    1. Kendra Burrows

      You’re so right, Damon! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Kendra, great read and words I needed to hear. I recently have been trying to capture affirmations in a note book to remind myself how I can replace the negative talk and replace with truth. I’ll let you know how it goes. I liked this sentence: Accurate language helps us avoid unnecessary frustration and offers the possibility of real change.

    1. Kendra Burrows

      Negative talk can be so invasive. I look forward to hearing how your experiment turns out!

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