How to Fight the Negative Thoughts When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Emma Sharma, founder of Swallowtail Group, shares what she has learned to do when life gets confusing or disappointing. If you’re in a season of wondering if you’re on the right path or made the right decision, keep reading!

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“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”

Proverbs 19:21

I’m sure most of us have experienced the disappointment of life not always turning out exactly as we’d planned. Maybe we’re wrestling with grief when, despite many prayers, we just lost a loved one to cancer. Perhaps we’re in a friendship that is deteriorating after a few months, or our spouse seems to not be the person we thought we had married. Is it a new job that seemed so promising and yet, after a few weeks, we realize the company is in disarray or has a toxic culture? Perhaps we took a brave step of faith into something new and it’s proving much harder than we’d imagined. 

I somewhat blame Cinderella, Ariel and Belle for fueling our disappointment. After all, aren’t we promised that the heroine will live “happily ever after?” Yet, life is far more complicated than this simple, if wonderful, ending implies. God’s word encourages us that nevertheless He “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love” Him (Romans 8:28). Despite the victorious ending in Revelation, there is a lot of apocalypse to endure first. 

So what do we do when life kicks us in the gut or a big transition we’ve made does not play out as we’d anticipated? What do we do when we want to give up, or fear we’ve made an irreparable mistake?

First (after asking God to lead you through the situation), know that you have permission to feel all the feels. I was raised by a stoic British family who had survived World War II. We were raised to bury absolutely every feeling and emotion, to Keep Calm and Carry On. Don’t try this way of life—it’s a recipe for your mental health to deteriorate. God intentionally created us with a Body, Spirit, and Mind. We’re supposed to have emotions and acknowledging how it feels when life sucks is not only fine, it’s actually healthy! We can only move on productively once we have processed our emotions, especially heavy emotions such as despair, hopelessness, grief, and anger. The key is to process them well enough that you can let them go!

Now the hard work starts. 

When we find ourselves in an unexpected place, it’s helpful to pause and ask, “What did I hear God say?” I find going back to my journal and revisiting old words, promises, and prayers can be super helpful to remind myself of how I made a decision, and the steps I took to verify that I was hearing God correctly. Scriptures remind me that He IS good and wants the very best for me. He doesn’t plan to harm me but to see my life turn out well (Jeremiah 29:11). Just because the journey is taking an unexpected turn, it doesn’t mean I started out on the wrong path!

It’s also critical to fight hard against a negative mindset. As I continue my own personal battle to retrain my mind after recovering from C-PTSD, I am learning to really lean into the instruction given to us in Philippians 4:8: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” When we intentionally concentrate our thoughts in this way, negativity has no room to breathe. It won’t always be easy to do this, especially when we have experienced deep grief; however, with practice, I can testify that it does become easier. 

It’s also important to positively decide not to remain in a place of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. I suspect we all know people who carry misery as an identity or exist in an almost permanent state of hopelessness. They complain about life and yet seem to do nothing proactive about it. I’m not talking about people struggling with medical depression; I’m talking about the people who are perpetually “glass half empty.” Nothing will keep you trapped in the wrong place more than the wrong mindset. Decide to listen to God and do what it takes to move forward. Seek wise counsel regarding what that looks like and when you pray, declare your intention boldly. When we do this, we actually get help from the Holy Spirit and from angels.  

Finally, I’d encourage reflection. Write down every possible blessing you can find in your new situation and seek reasons to be thankful. I travel a great deal for work and every time a flight is canceled or missed, I thank God that He is at work in hidden ways. Earlier this year, my flight was rescheduled to the next day and the only available hotel room was across the border in Mississippi. That evening, I met an amazing Christian woman in the restaurant (her flight had also been canceled) and our growing friendship is one of the Lord’s greatest gifts to me in this season. As I’ve started my new business this year, I’ve had a string of unexpected occurrences, each of which has taught me something valuable about who to trust and how to make better decisions in the future. My business (and I) is already better for these painful lessons. 

When life seems confusing or disappointing, that’s also the time to lean into your support network. The proverb says, “Walk with the wise and become wise” (Proverbs 13:20), and we all need more wisdom when life doesn’t work out as we’d expected. Our 4word community is full of wonderful, wise women, many of whom have found themselves navigating unpredictable moments in their lives and who can testify to God’s goodness in all of it even the unexpected bits. No: especially in the unexpected bits. We’re here for you. 

Emma is the Founder and Principal of Swallowtail Group and a global business executive known for her entrepreneurship, strong empathetic leadership style, courage and skill in taking on messy challenges. Emma has a proven track record in complex organizational transformations and a natural talent for pulling together high value creation teams. Additionally, Emma’s passion for organizational design, psychology, and development led her to pioneer mentoring and leadership development initiatives for fellow executives and senior managers throughout her career. Emma has a growing reputation as a solid and passionate advocate on mental health issues that impact the workforce, especially at executive leadership levels.

Emma is very active in the community, both nationally and locally. Recently, Emma was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, serving as a thought leader on industry matters. Emma serves actively on the Board of 4word, a national, faith-based non-profit that supports women in the marketplace in growing with confidence to meet their full potential. Previously Emma served as the President of the Board of Trustees of an influential non-profit in Northern Virginia for six years and worked for several years as an ambassador for two global non-profits providing micro-financing for women in developing nations and addressing human trafficking issues.

Outside of work, Emma is a devoted wife and mom to two young children and an active member of Holy Trinity Church, McLean. Her hobbies include a passion for travel, learning about great food and wine, music (she is a classically trained soprano), movies, and reading.

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