Outward success does not directly correlate to inward peace. That has proven tragically true in the recent past, following the deaths of people like California pastor Jarrid Wilson and iconic fashion designer Kate Spade.
Our minds are powerful — filled with thoughts that make us and break us, stretch us and shape us, for better and for worse. Throughout the day, thousands of thoughts occur to us, and according to Psychology Today, 70 percent of them are negative. But we don’t have to let that pessimistic “mental chatter” keep us from thriving.
The struggle, though, isn’t unique. Jennie Allen, founder of the incredibly popular Christian conference, IF: Gathering, and author of the forthcoming book, “Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts,” told Faithwire that just because we “can’t see behind Instagram” to know what difficulties those around us are facing doesn’t mean we aren’t all fundamentally the same. Each of us is having to grapple with the negative thoughts clouding our minds.
“Everyone is seeing a glimpse into people’s lives, but we really aren’t seeing the difficult marriage they’re facing, or the difficult financial issue,” Allen said. “We can’t see what’s really going on behind Instagram with people. If we did, I think there’d be a lot more compassion and I think also there’d be a lot more eagerness to share what’s going on in our own lives.”
The first step toward finding freedom from our negative thoughts, she explained, is in seeking connection with other people because “it’s how our brains were built to survive and to thrive.” For some, addressing mental health means seeking clinical help — and that’s OK — and for others it means investing in community.
In this tech-driven era, we’re pacified by a false sense of connectedness — a flimsy facade of familiarity with those around us. We’re also able to drown out our negative thoughts, no matter how temporarily, by turning our attention to one of the many screens constantly beckoning for our attention. And in the end, we haven’t actually done the work of correcting our toxic thought patterns.
The average adult spends as much as 12 hours per day — that’s half of the entire day — in front of TV and computer screens. On top of that, we are consuming five times more information than our counterparts from 50 years ago. I looked at my own screen time averages, and I spend about 8 hours each day on my MacBook and 4.5 hours on my iPhone. That’s 12.5 hours keeping me distracted from actually engaging my own thoughts or spending face-to-face time with those around me.
How can we expect to change our thought patterns if we spend so much of the day distracting ourselves?
If we are willing to put down our devices, though, what Scripture says about the renewal of our minds — “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” — actually is possible.
There’s research to show negative thoughts aren’t just impacting how we feel; they are also affecting our health. The good news, according to Allen, is “the brain can change,” just like the Bible tells us.
“We aren’t victims to our thoughts,” she said.
In her book, “Get Out of Your Head,” Allen makes the case that there is one singular interrupting thought that can change the trajectory of the toxic junk floating around in our heads. That thought, she wrote, is this: “I have a choice.”
“If you have trusted in Jesus as your savior, you have the power of God in you to choose,” Allen wrote. “You are no longer a slave to passions, to lusts, to strongholds, to sin of any kind. You have a God-given, God-empowered, God-redeemed ability to choose what you think about.”
What is that choice?
She then stretched that statement — “I have a choice” — into seven distinct decisions believers can make each day. Here they are:
- I choose to be still with God instead of staying distracted
- I choose to be known instead of isolating myself in shame
- I choose to surrender my fears instead of being bound by anxiety
- I choose to delight in God instead of letting cynicism invade my headspace
- I choose to serve God and others instead of living in self-importance
- I choose to be grateful instead of believing I am a victim of my circumstances
- I choose to seek the good of others instead of focusing on my own comfort
Allen told Faithwire she developed those seven mantras after recently re-reading the late C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Screwtape Letters,” a novel comprising 31 messages written by senior demon Screwtape to his apprentice and nephew Wormwood, instructing him on how best to cause his “patient” — a recent convert to Christianity — to fall away from his faith.
“I was taking a walk, and I was praying, and I was thinking, ‘What is it today? What would Screwtape write today to us?’” Allen recalled. “And it was those seven things. When I look out at our world today, these are the seven enemies that I see as tempting us to derail us and to distract us and to cause us to miss the point.”
“We’ve got to be on guard against them,” she added. And choosing to take those negative thoughts captive by replacing them with one of these healthy, Bible-based thoughts is a major step in the right direction.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering Allen’s book, “Get Out of Your Head,” click here.