Winning the War in Your Mind - Critical summary review - Craig Groeschel

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Winning the War in Your Mind - critical summary review

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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Winning the War in Your Mind: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0310362725; 978-0310362722

Publisher: Zondervan

Critical summary review

There is an old quote that states, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Senior pastor Craig Groeschel doesn’t think this is an exaggeration nor does he think that he’s alone in this belief. “Our lives do follow the direction of our thoughts,” he writes in his 2021 book “Winning the War in Your Mind,” throughout which he selects verses from the Bible and points to relevant scientific research to provide evidence for his claim. So, get ready to do some Scripture sleuthing and prepare to discover how you can change your life solely by changing your ways of thinking! 

Where are your thoughts taking you?

In Philippians 4:8–9, the apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” In these three sentences, comments Groeschel, Paul moves from thought (“think about such things”) to action (“put it into practice”) to experience and destiny (“And the God of peace will be with you”). In other words, Paul tells us what many self-help books have reiterated millions of times since – namely, that our thoughts turn into actions and that our actions become our destiny.

This may sound like a bold claim, but it is actually backed by modern science. Case in point, in recent years we have witnessed the development of an entire discipline of modern psychology firmly rooted in the premise that our thoughts, feelings and behavior are interconnected. Called cognitive behavioral therapy – or CBT, for short – this discipline aims to improve mental health by challenging and changing cognitive distortions (such as thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes) and by improving emotional regulation. Essentially a talk therapy, CBT helps people recognize and alter their negative or unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns, which is why it is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. However, its uses have been greatly expanded of late to address not only other mental health conditions but also marital problems, eating disorders, and even alcohol and drug abuse.

According to Groeschel, “What science is demonstrating today is what God told us through Solomon almost three thousand years ago: ‘For as he thinks in his heart, so is he’ (Proverbs 23:7).” But even if you’re not a Christian, you may find useful and enlightening Groeschel’s 4-step guide to changing your life for the better by way of changing your thoughts for the more positive. Distilled into active, imperative verbs, the four steps of the program are the following: replace, rewire, reframe, and rejoice. Allow us to delve deeper into each of them, adding a Bible quote here or there and an exercise when necessary.

The replacement principle: remove the lies, replace with truth

If you are old enough to remember the 80s, you probably remember Pat Benatar’s power ballad, “Love is a Battlefield.” If you’re younger, you may have learned the same lesson from Jordin Sparks’ similarly titled song. Well, says Groeschel, there’s a bigger battlefield inside you, and it’s your mind. “The battle for your life,” he writes, “is always won or lost in your mind.”

Becoming aware of this fight is the first thing you must do if you want to change your life. Visualize it if necessary. Take it literally or metaphorically, there are angels and there are demons in this world. Both are interested in your mind and both need your help to prevail. Apostle Paul said it best when he wrote the following in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians: “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

In other words, your adversary isn’t your boss, your spouse, your ex, your child or your neighbor – it’s actually Satan. The greatest trick he pulled, they say, was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. Well, he does and he is constantly trying to steer you away from the right path. How does he do it? By lying. “There is no truth in him,” said Jesus in the Gospel of John. So, don’t believe him. How are you supposed to recognize him? Again, it’s not that difficult: he is the negative principle, the force that tells you that you are less than you are. If you’ve ever felt you can’t change, that’s Satan talking, not you. Of course you can. We all can.

But in order to achieve this, you must engage – there is no other way to defeat evil other than by confronting it. Remove the lies, replace them with the truth. That’s the essence of the replacement principle, the first of Groeschel’s four. “If Satan’s primary weapon is lies,” he explains, “then our greatest counterweapon is the truth of God’s word.” The truth – and nothing other than the truth – shall set you free. Define your truth. Declare it loudly. If you are a believer, find solace in the fact that God is always beside you. 

The rewire principle: rewire your brain, renew your mind

In the twelfth chapter of his Epistle to Romans, St. Paul advises the following: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” At least as far as the first part of his advice is concerned, both science and philosophy back him profoundly. 

For example, French thinker Jean-Paul Sartre once famously remarked that hell is other people. What he meant by that was that most of us are unsuccessful in our attempts to live authentic lives because we are imprisoned by the gaze of others. We reduce our entire selves to what others think about us. One day, driving home in his car and feeling dejected, Groeschel heard some heavenly voice saying something similar to him. “You are not who others say you are: you are who I say you are.” He considers this one of the most powerful moments in his life. He realized in his vision that God was offering him an opportunity to redefine himself.

Indeed, everyone can do that. By turning inwardly – or allowing God to be the master of our mind –  not only do we shield ourselves from the opinions of others, but we also allow ourselves to rewire our thought patterns and our brains. “Unless we decide to break the pattern,” writes Groeschel, “our lives will continue moving in the wrong direction.” So, he advises that you make a list of all the lies that might have crossed the wires in your brain and possibly created ruts in your thinking. 

To understand better why that is necessary, think of the following words that can be seen on one Alaskan road sign: “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next sixty miles.” Indeed, when the weather gets warm in the summer, the snow melts in Alaska, and the cars create long ruts in the dirt road. Some of them make driving easier; others make it harder. By choosing the wrong rut, you risk remaining entrenched on a muddy, rugged backroad, in one direction, with no options to get out or get off until the rut finally ends.

The reframe principle: reframe your mind, restore your perspective

Whenever you have a thought, it inevitably produces a slight neurochemical change in your mind. So, quite literally, your brain redesigns itself around that thought, creating a connection between the neurons the thought has activated. However, when you have the same thought over and over again, the connection deepens. As scientists say, neurons that fire together, wire together. That’s how we learn and that’s how our habits are created. Put simply, the more you repeat something, the easier it gets to repeat it. The reason is that the connection between the activated neurons gets deeper and more entrenched inside your brain. Unfortunately, that’s also the reason why we fall into neurological ruts.

If you want to free yourself from them, Groeschel says, you must try to reframe your thinking and restore your authentic perspective. Put in even simpler terms, you must change the glasses through which you see the world. It’s not a metaphor: we all have them. Psychologists call them cognitive biases and define them as selectivity in perception, attention, decision making and motivation based on the biological state of the body. You’ve probably experienced them many times in life. You receive some good news and suddenly you’re kinder to everybody! Someone tells you something you never wanted to hear and swiftly, your mood changes and everyone and everything irritates you.

Of course, it gets deeper than that, but no need to delve further. The point is that reframing happens when you “unbias” your bias. There are two ways to achieve this. The scientific way is advocated by psychotherapists who advise that you always counter your automatic thoughts with objective supportive evidence so as to prevent the neurological ruts from forming inside your brain. Groeschel, however, claims that the spiritual way to reframe your mind is even better. That’s because simply by choosing the way of God, you are choosing “a different, more godly, more productive way of thinking.” Think of it this way: believers always have somebody to count on and trust in, even when everything else fails. Unfortunately, science isn’t as kind as God.

The rejoice principle: revive your soul, reclaim your life

There is a famous German song of unknown origin, titled in the original, “Die Gedanken sind frei,” or, in translation, “Thoughts are free.” “Even if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,” says the song in one of its stanzas, “it wouldn’t matter one bit, because my thoughts can tear all gates and walls apart, because my thoughts, whatever may befall me, will always be free!” 

To what extent thoughts are free is perhaps best illustrated by St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, written while he was locked up under house arrest in Rome. Even so, he didn’t hesitate to write the following to the Philippians (4:4-5): “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” 

The Lord, reiterates Groeschel, is always near, especially when it’s difficult. Unfortunately, that’s when most of us forget him, even biblical prophets. Remember Job? If you read carefully, you’ll notice that even he renounces God, spurred on by his wife. And what about Elijah? When his life was in danger, he prayed to God for salvation in death. “I have had enough, Lord,” he says in the First Book of Kings (19:4). “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

We’ve all been there, remarks Groeschel. We’ve all felt so spent and broken at occasions that we’ve stopped thinking clearly. Elijah’s thoughts, after all, are irrational: he was so afraid of being killed that he asked for, well, death. It doesn’t make sense! But our thinking often doesn’t. We are, after all, human beings with frailties and weaknesses. Even prophets are. Knowing this, God appeared to both Job and Elijah in their moments of temptation and despair to remind them of his presence. To remind them to be grateful they are alive. 

The way he appears to Elijah is indeed very beautiful. The Bible says there was a wind, an earthquake and then a fire. But God, it says afterward, was in none of them. He was instead in the gentle whisper that came after the fire. “When you are overwhelmed and feeling anxious,” says Groeschel, “if you listen for his voice, you’ll find that God is whispering to you.” Revive your soul through his whispers. Experience his presence. And through it, reclaim your life.

Final notes

Described as “a must-read for those who want to identify patterns of unhealthy thinking” by Christian writer Lysa TerKeurst, “Winning the War in Your Mind” is a smart, simple, and sharply structured attempt to reframe some relatively common self-help ideas in a dominantly Christian perspective.

However, despite Groeschel’s encouragement to stay open-minded, if you’re not religious, you’re likely to be put off by the numerous quotes from the Bible and especially by the author’s insistence to consider them as legitimate and authoritative arguments as modern scientific research.

On the other hand, if you are a Christian, then – to quote bestselling author Christine Caine – “this book will give you tools to renew your mind through the power of God’s Word so you can live a passionate, purpose-filled life and fulfill your destiny.”

12min tip

Your life is always moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts. So, to quote Groeschel, “The journey to your destiny starts with your thoughts. The right thoughts lead to the right life. Automatically.”

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Who wrote the book?

Craig Groeschel is an American pastor and New York Times bestselling author. He is best known as the senior pastor of the first fully digital church, Life.Church, which he founded with his wife in the... (Read more)

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