Thought Replacement


Last week we discussed observing our thoughts in order to come up with a “diagnosis” of how our thoughts can negatively affect us. This week, we are going to start talking about a “treatment process”. How does a person find this transformation Paul is talking about in Romans when he says “do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2 NKJV). I think we’ve established that you won’t achieve this change by trying to force yourself to stop unproductive thinking and be transformed! Real transformation is only made possible through the grace of God, kind of like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The caterpillar is a willing participant, but it’s not the agent of change.

So how do we readily participate in this thought transformation? There are a multitude of strategies we can use. We’ve already established the fact that our thoughts aren’t necessarily true, and you might have even identified some of your thoughts that aren’t actually true. It’s often helpful to get a little bit of distance from them, and one way you can do this is by naming them, like the “I’m a bad father story”, or “here’s the I’m an unorganized loser story”. It’s just wording, but it helps you to identify in your own mind that you’re not buying into the false belief that all of your thoughts are true.

One technique I really like is the idea of redirecting, like you might do with a wayward 2-year old who is doing something naughty – instead of punishing, you could just pick her up and set her down by a beloved toy or puzzle. Similarly, you can “pick up” a wayward thought and set it down on a thought you do want to be thinking. This is what Paul is getting at when he tells us in Philippians 4:8 (NLT):

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.

Paul knew that thoughts pop into our heads, unbidden. Do we really imagine that Paul never once thought about his horrible past and the things he’d done? Probably he did, but one thing we do know: he didn’t live in the past; he didn’t dwell on those things. If he had, he never would have been available to do God’s bidding. Instead, Paul replaced these thoughts with today’s truth – thoughts that were true, honorable and so on. And he encourages us to do the same. I often say to my clients, you can’t do anything about a bird landing on your head, but you can control how long it sits there! Thoughts will come unbidden, that’s true. But you get to choose which thoughts you will rest your mind on. And you can choose, like Paul did, thoughts that fall into this verse’s instruction from Philippians.

EXERCISE: Make a list of a couple of thoughts you struggle with and then come up with a replacement thought. These can be any sayings or verses, they don’t have to specifically relate. But as an example, here are a couple of mine:

 Untrue Thought: “I am fat”

Thought to use as a replacement: “I am God’s masterpiece” (Eph 2:10)

 [So I’m not trying to STOP thinking “I am fat” – I’m just trying to notice it, and every time I notice it, I say (maybe even out loud), “No, I’m God’s masterpiece”.]

 Dishonorable Thought: “I really don’t like my downstairs neighbor, she’s rude”

Thought to use as a replacement: “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you” Matt. 5:44

 Also, it’s important to understand that this is not “pop psychology” or “positive affirmation”. I acknowledge the painful nature of my thoughts without judgment, and that my experience has value. My downstairs neighbor might well have been very rude to me. I’m not attempting to “get rid” of that thought or convince myself she is really nice. I’m instead choosing where my mind finds its resting place in regard to that particular situation.

 *Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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2 thoughts on “Thought Replacement

  1. I love the idea of picking up a wayward thought and setting it down on what I do want to be thinking. We all have a past. Every single one of us has made decisions we regret or cringe at, at least I do. Thoughts appear suddenly, often with nothing that triggers them, other times because of something happening that takes them in a direction that has changed course long ago.

    The idea that I have a choice about whether to go down a particular thought path or not has made a huge difference in my life. Probably anyone with kids wishes they could go back for do over’s. The reality and truth is we can never go back, only forward from today.

    Just yesterday, I started down a path because an experience triggered an old story, something in the past. It is still hard to accept and believe I have a choice in these matters. I can’t control the thoughts that bubble up but I can choose how I respond to them. Sometimes the thoughts are despairing, and involve something that is true, but also something I can’t change, no matter how much I’d like them to be different. Should I wallow in these thoughts? Well, does it do me any good? No, it doesn’t change anything, only guarantees that I will feel terrible about myself.

    Redirecting thoughts is an effective tool. Yesterday I began focusing on something different. I shifted the conversation and began to talk about something else, unrelated in any way to the despairing thought that moments ago was controlling me. Better said, that I was allowing to control me.

    I do get to choose where my thoughts rest. My thoughts can only control me if I let them. Fixing my thoughts on something else and redirecting has been such a helpful tool. I live differently and am a better version of me when I remember I have a choice.

  2. Love this practical advice. I was just discussing something similar because the other day trying on Summer clothes triggered my habit of being mean to myself about my body shape and starting to feel really depressed about who I was. I recognized what was happening and called it out. I said no (out loud! 🙂 Thankfully no one was around), then asked the Lord for healing in that area and then told myself how dearly loved I was by the Lord and that no perfect outfit or perfect backside was going to make me more loved by Him. I just simply refused to dwell on those thoughts that in the past would have ruined my day. Instead I refocused my gaze on the Lord 😉 and then did some squats 🙂 LOL.

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