Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Red Thoughts, Green Thoughts

Philippians 4:8

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Our thoughts can affect us more than we realise sometimes. I often find myself in a dark and depressed place when I allow negative thoughts to consume me. Negative thoughts can hold us back and weigh us down; they may even cause physical symptoms like stomach ulcers, headaches and other stress related illnesses.

Our oldest son, now 10, can be quite an anxious boy who worries about all sorts of things. Today is the first day of school for 2012 and he has been anxious for days. Back in 2009 his anxiety was causing many problems and my husband and I had run out of strategies to help him so we took him to a child psychologist. 6 sessions later, he was a new boy! I just wanted to share with you today the biggest strategy we learnt as it's helpful for adults too.
Consider your worries and concerns as 'red thoughts'. They are thoughts like, 'I can't', 'I'm no good at...', I'm hopeless’. Red thoughts are all the negative things we think about when faced with an issue or event. Our son used to be so worried about some aspects of his schooling he would be physically ill some mornings.

Is there anything you worry about that causes a physical reaction as well as the emotional reactions? Next time you face that worry, here's what to do.....

Change the red thoughts into green thoughts.

Once you have identified exactly what the red thought is, take some really deep/slow breaths to calm you down (which also reduces any physical reactions) and try to think about all the positive or 'green' things about your worry. As my son was younger at the time of his counselling the Psychologist used the terms red and green to explain his thoughts, but for older children/adults we can refer to them as 'rational' and irrational' thoughts.

Here's an example to explain what I mean. My son is so worried about starting school tomorrow. We can easily identify this as his BIG read thought but we then ask him to tell us some 'green' thoughts about starting school, like the fact that he knows his teacher, he has some friends in class with him, the school is not new to him, he knows most of the teachers in the school as well as where everything is in the school..... Breaking down the worry and doing some deep breathing helps our son deal with his worry in a rational way. Sometimes finding the 'green' thoughts can be tricky but they are there and it just helps us shift to more positive thinking. It doesn’t take the worry away entirely either but it certainly helps.

Now when faced with a problem, instead of saying 'I can't do that', our son also has the skills to break it down and deal with one step at a time until the problem is solved. He is training his mind to see positives instead of negatives that make him sick and stop him from trying or participating.

These simple techniques have made the world of difference to our son – even though he needs a refresher every now and then. Hubby and I even find ourselves using them when we face a stress or issue. I should also add, that as a Christian family we always emphasise the importance of prayer in combating worry.

The verses above from Philippians instruct us to think about things that are pure, noble, lovely and true. I don't know about you, but thinking about those things is easier for me if I aim to keep my mind full of positive thoughts.

We may not know what a new year at school holds for our children, but we face it head on, with positive thoughts and God on our side!
Blessings to you,
Narelle Nettelbeck


  1. Thanks Narelle. I can identify with you as I have one child who worries a lot - lots of sore tummies. I will try to remember this strategy the next time it occurs.

    1. I'm convinced that thoughts have far more power for either good or evil than many of us give them credit for. Lots of my reading material lately has supported this. It's good that we're in the position to teach our children such strategies at a young age, as I didn't have them to draw on in my childhood. It was much harder to attempt setting good thinking habits as an adult.

  2. Thanks Narelle. It's my first 'writing day'for a long time and I've been worrying about red thoughts all morning. BUT, your reminder has helped put things in perspective.
    Green thoughts and productive writing here I come!

  3. That is a great strategy, Narelle. Worry can be debilitating if it isn't put in perspective. It comes out differently in each one of us. I worked out long ago, that positive reinforcement works better than negative.

  4. Useful information, Narelle. Thanks.

  5. Thanks so much Narelle. I needed to read that today. Some days I drown in red. Like Penny, my writing schedule is gearing up now the summer holidays have ended. And I needed some green to get me thinking the right way! Such a simple, yet powerful way to sort out the good from the ugly :)

  6. Thanks Narelle! I do like the idea of red and green thoughts - colour somehow makes something come alive, doesn't it? It's only too easy to go down the wrong path once a negative thought or attitude creeps in so I agree that we need to watch our thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

    I found your post very encouraging so thanks very much. And I do love Philippians 4:8 too.

  7. Simple. Clear. Tools I can use. I might throw in a 'slow-down' amber light too. Thanks Narelle.

  8. This is a simplified version of an aspect of Cognitive [Behavioural] Therapy. They're starting to teach it in some schools now. The present and future worlds provide kids with a lot to worry about, so this is, methinks, a good thing.

  9. Fantastic! Can't wait to try it out myself!

  10. Wonderful strategy for everyday living and straight from the Bible!
    Thanks Narelle!

  11. I'm always amazed at how much my thoughts change my perspectve on everything in my life! I find it hard to be positive so this is very much a work in progress for me too. I'm glad this has been an encouragement :)

  12. Thank you for sharing this. So simple - and yet so powerful.