Episode 89 – Jennie Allen, Changing our Mind

Today, author and passionate leader Jennie Allen is getting into our brains – and helping us to do the opposite. In her new book, “Get Out of Your Head,” Jennie explores why we all have certain thought patterns, the science behind where they come from, and how we can overcome negative thinking. Spend time with longtime friends Jennie and Jessica as they go deep and get honest about the thought patterns that influence their decisions and what it’s meant for them to focus on the parts of life that are true, joyful, and just lovely!


Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Today’s guest is one of my best friends in the whole world, Jennie Allen. She actually interviewed me when I launched my book, Imperfect Courage. I would love for you to go check out this episode because that’s when I’m on the other side of the microphone getting interviewed, and it was a really rich conversation. Today, I am getting to interview her about the launch of her newest book called, Get Out of Your Head. That’s right, Get Out of Your Head challenges women to transform their outlook and their lives by interrupting their spiraling thoughts and realizing their God-given power to think differently.

Mindset is something that I love thinking about, reading about, talking about. So, we talk a lot in today’s conversation about how what you focus on becomes what you are. So, what you think about eventually becomes who you are. And the wonderful thing, the good news of today’s show, is that we can control what we think about. We can actually control what we pay attention to. We have the power to control our thoughts. And the more we’re able to control our thoughts and focus on what’s good and right and beautiful and lovely, the more freedom and joy and love and connection we get to experience. Tune in as Jennie and I have an intimate conversation all about our minds.

Jessica: Jennie Allen, one of my best friends in the whole world. And Jennie is the third in our wellness series in the new year. We had on a food wellness expert, Fed and Fit, so much fun. She is amazing. Jennie, oh my God, she would be one of our best friends for sure, this girl. Amazing. And then we had an interview with Dr. Laurie Santos, professor at Yale, studies happiness. Her podcast is my all-time favorite, love her podcast. And now, Jennie, we have you. I’m introducing you as our mindset expert because you just launched a book all about the mind, the mind.

Jennie: Yes.

When Toxic Thoughts Spiral

Jessica: So, I wanna know … there’s a million things you could’ve written a book about and you have written a million books. What inspired this? Is there a moment … where were you when you thought, “This is it. This is what my next book is about?”

Jennie: Well, it was walking through a season of pretty intense doubt in the middle of the night where I look back and just … it was super subtle and I don’t even think most of that time I was thinking much of it, but it really turned into a very toxic spiral that began to affect every part of my life, and it was just one of those things that I didn’t even notice. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to tell my friends like, “Hey, I’m going through this.” I just genuinely didn’t think it was that big a deal. Yet, over time, it began to erode my faith and my hope, and I remember beginning to develop a pretty intense fear of death, which never has been a struggle for me.
“I don’t even think most of that time I was thinking much of it, but it really turned into a very toxic spiral that began to affect every part of my life. … Over time, it began to erode my faith and my hope.” Jennie Allen

And so, it just started to have all these implications in my life that I finally did say it out loud, and I experienced a ton of freedom, but that was, from beginning to end, 18 months later. And I realized that all of us are battling different toxic thoughts that I don’t think I realized, one, how much our minds are holding that are negative. When I did the research, it said that 70% of our thoughts in general are negative every day and that 85% of our thought lives are repetitive every day. So, there are thoughts that you had yesterday and…

Jessica: Say that again. That’s a big deal.

Jennie: Yeah. Seventy percent of our thoughts are negative every day and 85% of those thoughts are repetitive every day. So, we’re thinking the same negative thoughts again, and again, and again. And I think what rose up in me as I began to study this … now, there were a few primers to me being interested in this. One is my own battle, two is a daughter that came home in seventh grade and is now 17, 18 years old, and she came home and said, “I wanna be a neuro researcher.” And so, together, we began listening to TED Talks and reading books and articles, and so I was indoctrinated pretty quickly into the way the mind works through her and her research. And so, I began to see some things that I wasn’t believing and I wasn’t living which were that we didn’t have to continue down these negative, toxic thought patterns, that there was a way to interrupt our minds, and that’s true. Spiritually speaking, the Bible is what I have always lived by and it has said that to me, yet I’ve never really believed it. I’ve never really taken those thoughts captive, it tells me I can, but it’s also true when you look at the science. You can rebuild and retrain your mind.

A third primer to this was my good friend having a massive stroke and being around a lot of neurologists and realizing that what we know about the brain today is more than we’ve ever known. And, specifically the last 20 years, we have learned more about the brain than the last 2000, and so there’s a lot we know today that we didn’t know when we were 25, not that long ago. And so, I do think that this is something that all of us struggle with. It’s at the root of most of our struggles emotionally, most of our struggles relationally and behaviorally. We’re trying to fix things without going to the source

Jessica: It’s interesting to me that you did not name adoption because that is what sent me down this whole growth path of trying to understand the brain, because you and I, we’ve both adopted kids from Rwanda. They were friends before we knew them, they grew up in the same orphanage. They were a little bit older when we brought them home, I mean, each was under 5, and that was my intro to the topic because I began to learn about connection and how the brain can be rewired. So, did adoption play a part in this journey as well?

Jennie: Well, certainly watching our sons struggle and watching our sons begin to heal over the years … Yeah, absolutely, it gives me great hope. And having a child that age where you really see … I think we get better at masking our toxic spirals, right, is what I call them, and we get better at that, we get better at putting … I actually don’t think we ever really truly mask them because they come out sideways in a million different ways. But an 11-year-old boy that was in an orphanage until he was 4, he doesn’t mask them at all. He shows everything he feels, and so, absolutely, I feel like that was part of my motivation, and it’s been so full of hope.

So, what I see about … is just this latent view of what our thoughts are doing because, for him, because he’s so verbal, Jess, he just says it all. He just says everything. He’s thinking everything he’s feeling, and it’s not all that different from me. I mean, usually, it’s just that mine’s a little bit more … it’s tame, I’m not as out there with it. But, yeah, he is this constant picture of what our minds look like when they spin and are out of control.

Taking a Thought Life Inventory

Jessica: And you said you went through this period of doubt, which I found out about lately and got really mad at you. Because I am a big believer and not being one of those friends that’s like, “Oh, I was really struggling with this but now it has a bow on top so now I’m gonna tell you about it.” But that’s OK, I forgive you, and now we are … I pushed you towards vulnerability. But I wanted to ask about this. There are usually situations where we are more vulnerable that set us into this toxic way of thinking. So, when you look back on your life in that period, what sort of things would have triggered that? What was the environment that created this space for you to spin into this dark hole?

Jennie: Well, I think you just nailed it. I was not talking to people. And I think that is one of my hopes with this book is that, one, I wasn’t thinking about my thoughts. I was thinking about my behaviors, I was thinking about my relationships, I was thinking about my actions in places that I was growing or not growing. I was not putting my thought life in the same category as those things. I was not taking inventory. I was not noticing what I was thinking about. So, I think that was probably the greatest detriment to that season of my life where I could’ve had freedom so much sooner. And so, I’ve learned to pay attention to that, to constantly be taking inventory of what I’m thinking about, to notice.

“I wasn’t thinking about my thoughts. I was thinking about my behaviors, I was thinking about my relationships, I was thinking about my actions. … I was not putting my thought life in the same category as those things. I was not taking inventory. … So, I think that was probably the greatest detriment to that season of my life.” Jennie Allen

I hope that’s one of the big breakthroughs people have with this book is that they notice, “Hey, I’ve got all of these negative thoughts I’ve never even noticed, I’ve never even noticed.” For me, it was spiritual things, but for other people, it might be insecure thoughts or fears that have literally held you captive. And I think that’s what’s so scary is I’m looking around at women, specifically, because that’s largely who I work with, although I think men have read this book already and have said, “This is for men, too.” But, largely, I am constantly in relationships and ministering to women, so, when I see them, what I say constantly to them is, “I see something that you’re stuck in. What is it?” I can physically almost feel it or see it in them, and so many times, they don’t even know, because what we do, especially when we feel stuck in something, is we cope and we keep ourselves busy and we don’t think about it.

But freedom always comes when we can diagnose it and we actually realize what it is that has this. When I said it out loud for the first time very vulnerably, Jess, you just weren’t there, it was in Uganda and I was with Anne, and Latasha, and Esther, and it was just the right series of events that happened that day. And I broke, and I wept, and I said it, I said, “I’m scared I’m losing my faith. This is what I’ve been under for months.” And it was so obvious that I was under attack, right? This was just a dark, dark season for me. But in saying it out loud, immediately, my first thought was, “You know what? This isn’t me. This isn’t true.” I actually do believe God and I actually do have this very vibrant faith.

So, I think when we let people in, it immediately kind of brings to light what’s a lie and what’s true, even for ourselves. Sometimes, just saying it out loud, you’ll know, like, “You know what? That’s a lot,” but sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you will have made yourself believe it so deeply and for so long that when you say it out loud, you will need people to fight for you for a long time. So, I think bringing people in and, one, taking inventory, two, confessing those thoughts and saying them out loud to people that love you that are trustworthy and will tell you truth, and I think that’s what you always are to me, by the way. If you would’ve been there, you would’ve…

Jessica: I know, I know.

“Don’t Believe Everything You Think”

Jennie: And it went on. There were several weeks after that where there was just a lot of fighting and just a lot of fighting to quit believing this, to not be under this anymore. It had been so regular. It was the middle of the night for me, which is always a vulnerable time for people in their thought lives is if you wake up … I’m someone who wakes up often at 3 a.m., and so I’ve just had to replace that time with different thoughts.

Jessica: I read this quote the other day on Instagram that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Jennie: Yeah. And that is…

Jessica: You know?

Jennie: That is it. I think that’s the power of what I learned both from a ton of research and from what the Bible says, which backs it up, which says you can train your thoughts. You don’t have to … Now, I’m not talking about chemical imbalance and mental illness. I do believe there are a lot of things that are completely out of our control like that. However, I don’t think these ideas of interrupting our thoughts and these patterns of shifting the way we think would hurt anyone with mental illness. I think it would help. I think medicine is a powerful tool and is needed for sure, counsel and medicine, but, ultimately, this helps to retrain our thoughts.

I look back in my 20s when I had an eating disorder and I look at that season and I did not know that I could take my thoughts captive. I didn’t know I could shift my thoughts. And so, that season, I was totally at the mercy of whatever my brain told me, and that’s really exhausting because you’re thinking about food all the time, you’re thinking about working out all the time. It’s like you didn’t even have mind space for other people or other things. And so, when I read that verse, it was the first time it occurred to me, and I remember highlighting it and thinking to myself, “Can I change the channel here? Could I actually change the way I think?” And it was the beginning of freedom for me. It certainly wasn’t overnight then and it wasn’t recently, either, but it is the beginning I think if we realize we do have power over our thoughts.

“In my 20s when I had an eating disorder … I did not know that I could take my thoughts captive. I didn’t know I could shift my thoughts. … I was totally at the mercy of whatever my brain told me.” Jennie Allen

Jessica: We attended a little leadership retreat together out at my parents’ ranch, there were nine of us, and I invited Curt Thompson, who I know has now been formative for you even as you wrote this book because he talks so much about the power of the mind and studies neuroscience. He’s a psychiatrist. But that weekend is when he presented this whole mountain analogy, and he talked about how mountains have their own weather system and how we are not the weather, we are the mountain. And just you sharing how we’re not our thoughts, don’t believe everything that you think, don’t believe everything that you feel. You’re not your feelings, you are not your thoughts, you are the mountain.

The weather system is just happening around you, the clouds are happening around you. And it becomes very powerful. It was a powerful image for me to imagine myself as this mountain, this strong, secure, beautiful mountain, and I could just watch the clouds pass by, I could see the thunderstorms come. But, again, it’s like you almost become an observer of yourself and you realize, “I am not that thought, I am not that belief. I’m the mountain.” That was a huge takeaway for me from that weekend. When you revisit that weekend, how has that played into this journey of you taking control over your thoughts?

Mind Over Mountain

Jennie: And I would add to that just a little bit that Scripture says, “As a man thinketh, so he is.” So, you do begin to lose that strength, and that steadiness, and that power if you do not rein in your thoughts. And I think, yes, there is some separation but there’s probably not as much as that analogy leads us to believe because we do … I mean, who are we if you strip away our thoughts? So much of who we are is actually in our mind. So much of what we love, what we do, how we do it, why we do it, everything about that is housed in our thoughts.

So, I wanna give a little more weight to it, maybe even Curt did, and Curt would probably have the bright comeback for me right now, but I do think we have to be careful. I think what I want people to take away is I want to be the boss of my thoughts. I wanna guard them, I wanna protect them, I don’t want them to come in and out. I want to arrest them. I want to stop that negative thought that’s circling. A mountain cannot grab the weather and say, “Stop,” and I think that’s where I wanna give people more authority than that is we are in charge.

And so now, I look back at that season, and now I wake up and I preach at my thoughts. I tell the truth to my thoughts. I don’t just sit there and passively think about darkness, and fear, and all the things that I thought about in the middle of the night. Now, I fight for my mind to not go there, and I think it’s such an active fight that it isn’t just … we’re not at the whim of even thinking those thoughts. We don’t have to do it. But what I took away from that weekend was the vulnerability piece.

“Now I wake up and I preach at my thoughts. I tell the truth to my thoughts. I don’t just sit there and passively think about darkness, and fear, and all the things that I thought about in the middle of the night. Now, I fight for my mind to not go there.” Jennie Allen

You remember, I don’t even have to tell you this, but I’ll tell everybody else, I was a brat that weekend. I had my arms crossed. I did not want Curt. I just wanted to be with y’all. I wanted to be with my friends, and I wanted to hang out and have fun, and he made us all weep, and sad, and … He kept looking at me or other people saying, “How does that make you feel?” And I was like, “I don’t know. Don’t ask me that.” And every time he would get to me, I’d be like, “I’m good. I’m fine.” I just did not want counseling. I didn’t wanna go there.

And then he kept doing this stuff with art, and this actually ended up in the book because one of the whole chapters is on cynicism and the enemy of cynicism in our minds and our culture, and he was saying how beauty disrupts and changes you. It actually can take you from folded arms crossed, cynical, to fully engaged, emotional, connected. And I remember making fun of him. You remember this? He was talking about that piece of art and I was like, “And that’s why you shouldn’t look at art so long,” because it began to stare back at him and he had all this deep meaning about the art and I was just making fun of him. That’s … you know? I was not buying it, even though I love art. I was not buying it. And it was later in…

Jessica: You were Cynical Jennie.

Jennie: Totally. That side of me was coming in strong on that weekend. And by the end, I don’t know if you remember this, but Mica May read that poem. Do you remember this?

Jessica: Yes, of course.

Breaking Spirals Through Connection

Jennie: And she read it, and I start weeping. And, of course, Curt … it’s like the last hour of our retreat and Curt has his hands together like, “I got her, I got her.” But the irony was it was art. It was exactly what he’d been saying to us, that art and beauty can penetrate our defenses and our right-brain … I think it’s our right-brain side that says, “Hey, I’m good, I’m protected, I’m practical, I’m pragmatic, I’m fine,” and, I mean, that’s exactly what happened, that stinker. And that’s why I love him so much because he absolutely diagnosed me, and he knew what I needed, and it was just the unexpected way that that poem came that it hit something in me that I was wrestling with at the time.

And so, I think just living less guarded and bringing people into what I feel … because I think at that point in my life, and that was just a couple years ago, I think at that point in my life, I still thought to myself, “What’s the point?” And I tell you this. You’ll be like, “Jennie, talk about it,” and I’ll be like, “I don’t know.” And my daughter does this to me now, come to think of it, but I will be thinking to myself, “What’s the point? Why does it really help or matter?”

Jessica: I think because you’re so forward-thinking and you are a reframer so “all suffering has a purpose.” And, yeah, there has been a little bit of that like, “Pull yourself up in bootstraps. We don’t need to sit and wallow in our feelings. Who cares about feelings?”

Jennie: Yeah.

Jessica: It’s just, “Get over yourself.” “Get over it and move on.”

Jennie: Yeah. And I think that’s pushing away the very things God’s given us for healing, right? So, it’s assuming that connection doesn’t contain power. And connection does contain power, and it is the way God’s built us to live in an integrated life with other people to live known, and seen, and loved, and I think that that is what we’re all craving and it does bring healing. And, I mean, science … it wasn’t just Scripture that taught me that, it wasn’t just Curt. I mean, you do the work and again, and again, and again scientists are discovering how connected people live healthier thought lives and it’s because we don’t … The book is called Get Out of Your Head, and it’s because we’re alone with our thoughts all the time, but when we bring it into the light and bring it to other people, it’s the beginning of freedom.

“Connection does contain power, and it is the way God’s built us to live in an integrated life with other people to live known, and seen, and loved, and I think that that is what we’re all craving and it does bring healing. … Scientists are discovering how connected people live healthier thought lives.” Jennie Allen

Jessica: Last night, we were having a little hot tub night with the family and Jack has been a lot more open lately just talking about how he has crazy thoughts and has some stuff going on in his head. And, he is my kid that usually shuts down when he is not doing OK and he doesn’t often share kind of his own emotional landscape thoughts and what’s going on in his mind. He’s only 10. But last night, we were hanging out with a friend who recently lost her mom and has been going through grief, and we were just kind of talking about our thought lives, and he said, “You know what? You know what you should do? You just need to go to SeaWorld. You just need to SeaWorld and you need to ride a rollercoaster. Because I get all up in my head but if I just go ride a rollercoaster, if I could just go do something like that, I get out of my head.” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s really wise.”

Jennie: Yeah. I think that that is how our brains work. I mean, it’s what I do for Cooper all the time. It’s like, “OK, he’s spiraling,” and I’m like, “Hey, let’s go get a Fanta Slush,” or “I’m gonna pull you out of that anxiety. I’m gonna pull you out.”

Jessica: So, let’s talk about that because you are so, so good at practicalities, and it’s the beginning of the year and we know that our … We talk about our food landscape and our body landscape and maybe how we can Marie Kondo our houses and what goals we’re gonna set, but we often don’t say, “What’s our mind health and how can we do a Marie Kondo our brains so that we can go into this year with a new mindset that is gonna help us live into connection?”

From Thoughts to Choices

Jennie: OK. So, the first thing is that you have to realize that you have a choice. When I read Scriptures, it said, “Take every thought captive.” When I read science, I realized that I had 9,000 … just everybody has 9,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day, 9,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. It made that verse feel impossible. How could I possibly…? So, how on earth, if we have 60,000 thoughts a day or even more, how on earth do we rein those in and take them captive? And so, where we had to start was … in my own mind, where I had to start was that I had to take one thought captive. What if we just took one thought captive? Would that be possible? Yes, that feels possible. What is that thought?

And that thought that I believe can interrupt … and it did it for me today, Jess, it did it for me today, that can interrupt any spiral … So, first, you gotta identify the thoughts that you’re having. So, you have to be aware that you’re in a spiral, that you need to interrupt that thought, but then you interrupt it, and the one thing you interrupt it with that I think has changed the way I think more than any other thing is, “I have a choice. I do not have to spiral down this thing into a week of negative thinking into a month or a year.” Some of you, years, plural, of negative thinking where it’s repetitive and negative, over and over again. I don’t have to spiral into this. I have a choice.

“So, first, you gotta identify the thoughts that you’re having. So, you have to be aware that you’re in a spiral, that you need to interrupt that thought. … I don’t have to spiral into this. I have a choice.” Jennie Allen

So, I’ll tell you what it looked like today. I’m in my car, I think of my friend, I think, “Gosh, did that offend that person? Are they still thinking about this?” We do this. We analyze. I hadn’t thought about it in a day. It would’ve been something that I’d done that offended that person weeks ago. But I start to think about it, and then I start to worry, and then I start to be afraid that I wonder if this whole time is … they’ve been angry or upset with … And then I’m starting to go down and I start to think, “Gosh, I always hurt people.” I really did.

I started going into this really negative thought spiral about myself and about how I’m not thoughtful, and how could I do that, and why do I do that. And, I mean, I am just … and this is between my daughter’s school and my house, this is when that happened. And, literally, I stopped, and I noticed that I was having these thoughts, one, and then, two, I told myself, “I have a choice. I’m not gonna go here.” Now, that is not me in denial. I also thought to myself, “Next time I talk to them, I’m gonna check in on how we are.”

But I literally was building an entire narrative that was likely and is likely pretend, that they’re not upset. I have no evidence that they’re upset with me, just one little thought triggered me to continue, and to continue, and to continue until I was now beating up myself as a friend, calling myself unthoughtful, telling myself I don’t have … there’s a reason that I’m the way I am. And all it took was me saying, “You know what? I’m not going here. I have a choice about what I think about. I’m not gonna give this energy. I’m not going to spiral out of control here.”

And, I’m telling you, it has shifted me. Now, it’s not that I’ll be unthoughtful, or it’s not a denial thing. It is just a, “This is not healthy or helpful.” So, it’s not just everything negative and just quit thinking about it. That’s not what I’m talking about. But there are times that I will be thinking something and I’m like, “You know what? That is something I need to pay attention to, but I’m gonna do it with people. I’m gonna put it on a shelf and pull it off when it’s helpful and useful so I can talk to Zach about it or I can talk to that friend about it and say, ‘Hey, did that hurt you when I did that?'”

I’m not talking about denial. I’m talking about doing this at a productive time where we actually deal with our stuff, but we don’t deal with it in our own minds by ourselves while we’re driving carpool. That is not the place to analyze and beat myself up as a friend. That is not helpful or useful. So, to pull that off in a moment that’s helpful and useful is also a choice, and it’s me being the captain of my own mind rather than being controlled by my mind.

Jessica: Well, and I think you just went one step further because you just told us that whole story out loud, and I think that disrupts it even more. I had the craziest thought … and I think also just knowing we are all crazy, because I think we all have these really crazy, crazy thoughts but we think that we’re crazy, we think that they’re so extreme. I was … I just said, “Unpacking the dishwasher,” that shows you how much I’ve been traveling. I was unloading the dishwasher … that also shows you how little I unload the dishwasher.

So, I’m unloading the dishwasher and I’m getting the big old knife out, and I’m turning around to put it in the knife drawer and Joe is standing right there. And in 30 seconds, I’m imagining Joe, he steps forward to me, he accidentally stabs himself with a knife. Amelie runs in, she sees her dad bleeding, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, where’s my phone?” I would need to call 911. Oh, my God, Amelie’s gonna just see Joe bleeding to death. That can’t happen. I mean, we’re talking the story is sealed, the deal is done, and it’s crazy. And, actually, in that moment, I just said, “Joe, I don’t know how to tell you one of the craziest things that I just thought.”

And I am not gonna say that I … I can think these things with frequency, OK? I can find myself in the car, suddenly I’m crying because I’m imagining some horrible thing can happen to one of my children, you know? And I just said it out loud … and he kinda does think I’m crazy because he does not have this kind of thoughts, so he’s like, “Babe, your mind is one in a million, it really is.” But even last night, my hot tub night with the kids, we were talking. It was a breezy night, and we started talking about different things that make us scared and we were kind of letting out all of these crazy thoughts about like, “You know when that gate creeks? Doesn’t that freak you out?” And Jack is like, “I just think there’s a guy over there with a gun and…”

But it’s just there is something helpful about not stirring in your head, so becoming suddenly an observer. And I think that’s what I meant about the mountain. You become an observer of the weather. You are not the weather. You didn’t become your thought today that you are a mean person that no one likes and that’s why you live a lonely disconnected life or whatever crazy thing you were thinking. You realize, “I am not my thought. I’m the mountain. I’m not gonna observe the weather, and that weather does not control me.”

And so, you become this observer of your thought pattern and you interrupted the thought saying, “I have a choice. I don’t need to think this.” But now because you had podcast interviews today, you actually got to take it a step further and you got to actually say, “Hey, here’s this crazy thought,” and that interrupts it even more because you said the story. I’m able to say, “I love you. I don’t think you’re crazy. In fact, I just imagined myself stabbing my husband in the stomach the other night.” And that is where the connection comes in, when we can all kinda go, “You know what? We can have these crazy thoughts because you can start to tell yourself and you start to isolate yourself in your head.”

Negative Neurology

Jennie: Well, and that’s why I wrote a book about it, right? All of us go through different things. We don’t necessarily write books about it all. Why I wrote a book about this one was because I thought, “I don’t want everybody sitting on their islands in their own thoughts like I did for 18 months and think that they’re alone.” This is something where I wanna fight for people. I want people to think about their thoughts and to realize like, “Gosh, I’m largely thinking negative thoughts.” I think just that knowledge, I mean, that’s life-changing, right?

I mean, just starting to notice and go, “Gosh, I’ve been thinking the same thing over and over again,” the knowledge that you have power over your thoughts, that you’re not a victim to them, that is life-changing. So many people don’t know that. So many people don’t know that. They think that the thoughts they think are totally … there’s no control. Whatever you think about, that’s what you’ve gotta think about. And so, I think these ideas that are true, that are real, they help, and they start to change things.

Now, mental illness is different. There are chemical things we cannot control, and some of you are stuck in toxic patterns that are chemical that it’s not as simple as just thinking new thoughts and interrupting those thoughts. And I would say to that like, “Praise God for medicine. Praise God for counseling.” I’ve used both and I’m grateful for both, but what I believe is true is that as we think better thoughts, we heal. Now, that’s not to say our chemistry heals, but science would also tell you that you will begin to see chemistry shift because what we’re doing when we think a thought is a very physical thing that happens in our brain.

“There are chemical things we cannot control … toxic patterns that are chemical. … But science would also tell you that you will begin to see chemistry shift because what we’re doing when we think a thought is a very physical thing that happens in our brain.” Jennie Allen

And so, when I think a thought, it takes 10 minutes for microtubules, which are little brains of our cells within our brain, to build a city. They physically assemble. They structure around a thought. So, I’ll think a thought and then 10 minutes later, a little city exists in my brain from that thought. So, we are physically very connected to what we’re thinking about. Those thoughts are actually having a physical impact on our brain, and that’s a negative and a positive.

It’s a negative in that we need to arrest the thoughts. We need to quit having all of these negative thoughts because it’s physically altering our brain. But the positive is you can change it in 10 minutes, too. You can start to arrest thoughts and think on what is lovely, and what is true, and what is good, which is what Scripture tells us to think about. And as you do that, your brain starts to shift and you build new cities, and those cities are healthier and more whole.

So, I’ve always believed there was a pretty big connection between our spirit, and our mind, and our body … these are all connected. That’s never weirded me out. I’ve just always known it’s true. I get anxious, I have a thought, I have an emotion from that thought, I feel a lot of anxiety. That physically manifests itself pretty quickly for me, and I think, innately, we all know that’s true. And as I did the science, I could see why it was true, that this is holistic. We’re not just talking … on your first podcast, you didn’t just talk about your body, and on this one, we’re not just talking about our mind. These are all connected.

Jessica: Totally. I also love this whole concept of you become what you pay attention to. What are you paying attention to? Let’s move from not just stopping negative thoughts, right? That’s one thing, interrupting the negative thought. But then you brought up, “Think about what’s true and lovely,” and there is this whole idea of you become what you pay attention to.

Jennie: Right. And so, one of the stories in the book, we talk about if you go to a party and you sit next to people that are unhappy and don’t like the food, and all this, and you listen to it the whole time, or you go to the same party and you sit next to people that loved it, and you loved the music and everything about the party, you’re gonna walk out of that and you’re gonna feel like, “Gosh, that was an incredible party,” or, “Gosh, I hated that party. That was…” And it’s all based on what you’re listening to, right? It’s based on who you’re sitting next to. So, I think that’s how we are with life when we’re … our inputs, which we have more inputs in this generation, in this year, in this decade than anybody before us. We have greater input starting from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, and then sometimes in the middle of the night as well.

So, our inputs are gonna matter here because we cannot think well, healthy, full thoughts if our inputs are always negative, and most inputs are negative. Most shows you watch, most things you listen to, even just people around you complaining at work, whatever, most of our inputs are negative, and so it’s not surprising that so many of our thoughts are negative. And so, how do you retrain your mind and how do you set your mind on different things? And it is a fight and you have to be careful who you surround yourself with. One of the things I talk about in the book is, yes, connection facilitates greater freedom, but you better find those healthy people. You can’t just open your heart to anybody. You’ve gotta feel safe and there’s gotta be truth given. It can’t just be empathy, it’s gotta be what’s true because that’s part of what we’re fighting for here is the truth. So much of what has caused these negative spirals for us is believing lies.

“Our inputs are gonna matter here because we cannot think well, healthy, full thoughts if our inputs are always negative, and most inputs are negative. … So it’s not surprising that so many of our thoughts are negative.” Jennie Allen

Unbelieving Lifechanging Lies

So, one of my friends, Christina, who is a neurobehavioral therapist, which means that she believes, one, that the mind can change, so she’s working on that, changing thoughts, and she believes behaviors can change. And most of her clients are under the age of 14, so she’s largely working with young kids. I mean, it’s heartbreaking to think that at how young we start believing lies. But she said that we all believe one of three lies, and I was like, “That’s not true. I believe 800 in a day. That’s not true.” And she goes like, “No, it’s true.” It’s actually a psychology or a psychiatry 101 thing that you read it in the first book, and every counselor or psychiatrist that I’ve talked to since is like, “Yeah, that’s true.”

And the three lies are this, I am helpless, I am worthless, I am unlovable. Almost every other lie that you believe or think is found in one of those three lies. And most of us are prone to believe one of those lies more often than others, and most of that comes from things that happen. Childhood, it’s why when you go to therapy, they’ll start with when you were 5 years old, and it’s such a bugger but you’ve gotta do it. And the reason why is because somewhere along the way, you have picked up these lies and they’ve truly become part of our thinking.

“We all believe one of three lies. … And the three lies are this, I am helpless, I am worthless, I am unlovable. Almost every other lie that you believe or think is found in one of those three lies.” Jennie Allen

And so, when you look at that and you start to realize so much of our negative thoughts are reinforcing these lies that we really picked up in childhood. And if you think back hard enough, you probably can even think back to the first time you believed that lie. But yeah, we’ve built our lives around them and that we built these narratives and they’re hard to break. And so, one thing I don’t wanna say is that you can just change your thoughts instantly. When you’ve thought negative thoughts and then it toxic spirals for years upon years, that takes a retraining of your mind truly, and it might take counseling, and it certainly will take longer than a few conversations with friends. However, it is still possible, and we can believe truth, and so what we need most from people is to fight for us to believe the truth.

And I think, that’s why we’re good friends, Jess, is because you do that for me all the time. You fight for me. And I think it’s one of the things that people that know us love about our friendship and want. When I’ve heard … I’ve had other friends say, “I want a friendship like you and Jess have,” it’s because of this thing that we do which is we fight for each other, we share our truths to share the lies we’re believing, and then we fight for each other to believe truth.

Jessica: What we focus on becomes important. I was thinking about this recently as I was looking for an outfit to wear to an event. And I became obsessed because I have a little bit of an obsessive personality. And before you knew it, I was nitpicking on myself, I was noticing myself in the mirror more, and I seriously think it’s because I was just over focusing my mind on an outfit and on how I was going to look in it. And so, I stopped. I just picked something out, I quit thinking about how I would be perceived, and I embraced contentment and appreciation for exactly what I have.

That’s just one minor little thing, but it is powerful when you begin to think and list all of the things you think about that actually might not be accurate, and they actually might be the wrong thing to focus on. So, I hope today’s episode encouraged you to understand where you’re putting your attention and the power you have to change that.

I would love for you to pop on over to iTunes and leave a review. And come find me on Instagram, tell me what you thought about this conversation. It’s @jessicahonegger—that is two Gs and one N. I can’t wait to chat with you.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.