That title is a bit misleading (but it sure is catchy isn’t it?). You can’t actually “control” your thoughts – at least not in the same way that you can control other things, like a blender or a remote control car or a group of dancing robots.
It would be great if you could, but you can’t. You can’t control every thought that comes into your head. Thoughts will creep in that you have no control over. For example:
Insecure thoughts: “I’m not good enough and ______ probably thinks I’m annoying.”
Fearful thoughts: “I'll never be able to fix this or get to that point in my career, marriage, etc.”
Negative thoughts: “My life is so difficult and everything is working against me.”
Impure thoughts: (no explanation needed for this one)
Dealing with thoughts like these isn’t easy. It can be debilitating at times. It feels like you’re in round 4 of a 15-round sumo wrestling match with this guy. No matter what you do, the thoughts just keep coming and coming and coming…
Is there a solution? Is there anything we can do? Or are we destined to be slaves to our thoughts forever?
Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
The solution to your thought problem is often the exact opposite of what you might think. The solution isn’t to REMOVE those pesky old thoughts, but rather to REPLACE them.
Imagine you have a 1,000 gallon tank of water. Imagine that it's full to the brim and you want to empty the water of it. How would you do it?
You have two options:
Option A: try to pick up the pool and dump the water out (aka, the dumb way)
Option B: throw a rock in (aka, the smart/I-obviously-listen-to-Fr.-Anthony way)
What would happen if you tried the first option – to pick it up and dump the water out? YOU WILL FAIL. You will fail and you will be exhausted as well. That's because trying to REMOVE the water doesn’t work.
But what would happen if you tried the second option – throw a rock in? A little water would splash out. And if you threw another rock in? A little more would splash out. And what would happen if you continued to throw rocks in there – one a day every day for 10 years?
ALL THE WATER WOULD BE GONE!
The same is true for your thoughts. Stop trying to remove your old thoughts and instead seek to replace them. How?
Below are four ways (or rocks) that you can use to replace those negative thought patterns.
1) Talk it out
As long as your thoughts remain hidden inside your head, they have power over you. But once you let them out, they somehow become a lot easier to deal with.
2) Read A LOT!
Reading is the fastest way to put new thoughts in your head. For me personally, there is no more important habit than this. I believe that reading will bring more fruit into life – when done consistently – than just about any other spiritual practice. It certainly has for me.
3) Pray, but not a lot
There’s a good way to pray about your thought problem – “Lord, I surrender my thoughts to You and ask Your Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts this day.”
And then there’s a not-so-good way to pray: “please God help me to stop remembering my mistakes and thinking that I’m a bad person. I know I made mistakes but please help me to stop remembering them all the time – especially that one mistake that was just so awful. Please please please help me stop thinking about that mistake and how awful I am…”
Prayer is good, but obsessive prayer is not good. The kind of prayer you need is the kind that a) is THANKFUL, b) is TRUSTING, and c) PRAISING.
4) Just say NO!
Learn to reject thoughts that you KNOW are not true and from the devil. JUST SAY NO! Say what Jesus said when His disciple Peter introduced a thought that He didn’t want/need to hear, “GET BEHIND ME SATAN! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23)
Trust me, if you struggle with your thought life, you are not alone. It is something that everyone struggles with to some degree. Believe me, there's help for you. You don’t need to live as a slave to your thoughts forever. But you must be committed to taking small steps every single day and being patient as those small steps add up to major changes in your way of thinking.