Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

How to Declare War on Your Negative Thoughts and Win

  • Levi Lusko Author
How to Declare War on Your Negative Thoughts and Win

Can you even imagine how much of a game changer it would be if, as you drove the kids to soccer, did laundry, walked to third period, led a staff meeting, ran on the treadmill,or waited to fall asleep, you allowed into your mind “only the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly” (Phil. 4:8 MSG)?

Would you even recognize the peace-filled person you had become?

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Intrusive thoughts happen.

Intrusive thoughts happen.

A study back in the 1980s revealed that people have on average 500 intrusive thoughts every 16 hours, each lasting an average of 14 seconds.

Many of these intrusions are just worries or anxious thoughts; 18 percent are mean, unacceptable, or politically incorrect—and 13 percent are ugly or downright shocking: shoving a stranger off the subway platform, running over a pedestrian, stabbing a partner, raping or strangling someone, smothering an elderly parent, or driving your car off a bridge.

That amounts to 116 minutes a day of some sort of unwanted, unwelcome, unhelpful thoughts stealing our joy and neutralizing our effectiveness.

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The difference is what we do with our intrusive thoughts.

The difference is what we do with our intrusive thoughts.

To be clear, the problem isn’t that these thoughts show up.

The problem is that we let them pull out the sofa bed and spend the night.

An old saying warns us that you can’t stop birds from flying around your head, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair. This is why it is so essential to install a checkpoint in your mind. Without such a filter, you risk two hours of thoughts sneaking through and causing untold amounts of terror and damage to your peace and your God-given power.

When you force each thought to go through this screening before you allow it to remain, you can take back control from fear, shame, jealousy, guilt, and doubt. You’ll find that being so alert to what you’re thinking will have a huge impact on your emotions.

Remember, you can change the way you feel by changing the way you think. Where the head goes the body must follow.

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Don’t let negative thoughts control your feelings or actions.

Don’t let negative thoughts control your feelings or actions.

I am a big baby, and also a control freak. When things aren’t going my way or when my plans are being changed or misunderstood, I find myself bristling. I feel like a bird whose feathers are being rubbed the wrong direction. I sense Evil Levi rising.

But when I remember to put those negative thoughts through the scanner, I can clearly see that I am thinking only about myself.

If I take the time to articulate why I’m unhappy and what is causing me to act out (yelling at my kids, being short with my wife, being overly harsh with someone at work, or being mad at a complete stranger who I think is being a jerk), I can trace those actions to feelings, and the feelings back to thoughts I never should have allowed in my head in the first place.

Think about a time you did something you regretted: cutting off someone while driving, sending a mean text, chewing someone out. (If you can’t think of anything, feel free to borrow an example from my life; I have an abundance of mistakes for you to work with.) Now think of the feelings you were having that led to that decision. Behind those feelings were probably thoughts that didn’t belong.

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Understand that your thought patterns are like city trains.

Understand that your thought patterns are like city trains.

I love visiting New York City. It’s like no other place on earth.

The buzz is contagious, and you can’t help but feel your heart quicken just being there. I love waking up early and walking the streets of SoHo before things get humming.

New York might be the city that never sleeps, but on the weekends, it is definitely the city that sleeps in. If you get up at the right time, you can have the place virtually to yourself. Watching the sunrise while walking the cobblestone streets by yourself is spectacular.

Despite the many times I have been to New York, I am still an absolute amateur at navigating the subway. Complete rookie noob status times 10,000. Even if I can figure out which train I need to take, I absolutely stink at figuring out which side of the street to enter the subway platform from, which has everything to do with whether the train is heading uptown or downtown.

More times than I care to admit, I have gotten on the subway going the opposite direction I need to go. The feeling of the little lights on the subway map moving in the wrong direction is the worst.

My friend Kevin Gerald likes to say that “thoughts are like trains—they take you somewhere.” 

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Activate your power to choo-choo-choose a different thought.

Activate your power to choo-choo-choose a different thought.

When a train of thought shows up, don’t just get on!

Slow down before you board it to make sure it’s heading in the right direction. Ask each one:

Where are you taking me?

Are we headed to Lovelyville, Virtuetown, Good Report Station? Boomsauce!

Wait, this train is going to Jealousy, USA? Rage City? Gossip Central?

I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable going where you are headed. Unlike Lisa Simpson, I don’t choo-choo-choose you!

This is an obvious strategy when you’re staring down a shocking or a perverted thought. Thoughts of murder, for example, can pretty quickly be spotted as trains you don’t want to get on.

But you can also avoid boarding trains like these:

• You’ll never top this success; you’ve peaked.

• You’ll never escape your past.

• You’ll never achieve your dreams.

• You’ll never make it out of this alive.

• You don’t have what it takes.

• You won’t get to see your kids grow up.

• You’re defined by the difficult things you have been through.

• You don’t deserve anything good.

• Nobody loves you, and you should just die.


Sometimes, though, it’s harder to spot trains headed to negative destinations.

Watch out for thoughts like these:

• being suspicious of people’s motives

• wondering what went wrong

• feeling guilty

• doubting and questioning God

• worrying

• obsessing about why you weren’t invited

• fearing someone you love being harmed

• secretly being happy when something bad happens to someone you don’t like

• stressing about your future

• stewing over something that was done to you


The point is, you have a choice.

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Take thoughts captive, and don’t get on board.

Take thoughts captive, and don’t get on board.

You can avoid a train that’s headed to a dangerous destination by not boarding it in the first place. What do you do when you identify a thought that doesn’t pass inspection?

The same thing TSA would do to you if the X-ray Machine showed a weapon in your carry-on:

You take it captive.

Detain it.

Don’t let it into your mind for a minute.

Show it no mercy.

Give it no quarter.

Send that thought to the pit of despair.

Don’t be kind. Remember, this is war.

Levi Lusko, author of the bestelling books Through the Eyes of a Lion and Swipe Right, is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah. He and his wife, Jennie, have one son, Lennox, and four daughters, Alivia, Daisy, Clover, and Lenya, who is in heaven. Levi travels around the world speaking about Jesus.

This excerpt was taken from I Declare War by Levi Lusko ©2018. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.

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