Wilderness Mentalities: 10 Common Negative Mindsets

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Battlefield of the Mind" by Joyce Meyer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are “wilderness mentalities”? Which ones might you be stuck in?

When Satan’s negativity goes unchecked, it can derail our lives. Joyce Meyer explains that, if negative thinking becomes habitual, we can become so lost in unhealthy patterns that a positive life becomes impossible. Meyer calls this being stuck in a “wilderness mentality” because no matter what our actual circumstances are like, a negative mind can make life feel like an unnavigable wilderness.

Here are 10 different wilderness mentalities (negative mindsets) and some ways to get unstuck.

10 Common Negative Mindsets

Satan attacks our minds with negative thoughts and have reviewed signs that he is succeeding. Meyer describes a mind lost in negativity as lost in the “wilderness.” If we’re trapped in a negative mindset, our lives can feel chaotic and unnavigable, even if our circumstances aren’t actually terrible. She uses the term “wilderness mentality” as a reference to the Israelites, who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years on what should have been an 11 day trip to the promised land (we’ll call “wilderness mentalities” negative mindsets). 

Meyer argues that if the devil can lure us into a negative mindset, he can keep us lost in a cycle of negativity indefinitely, impeding our ability to move forward in our relationship with God, relationships with other people, and our goals in life. She outlines 10 common negative mindsets that can trap people and some insights on how to escape them. 

A Negative Thought, or Negative Thinking?

There’s a difference between having negative thoughts and becoming trapped in a cycle of negative thinking. Instead of viewing every negative thought as an attack from the devil, experts urge us to remember that negative thoughts are a normal part of the human experience. In fact, some negative thoughts are justified and can help us process our experiences. However, if we realize that most of our thoughts are negative or that being positive is starting to become difficult, we may be entering a cycle of negativity (what Meyer would call a “wilderness mentality”).

The following strategies can help us break a cycle of negativity:

Accept negative thoughts (don’t tell yourself that having them is wrong) and then let them go. (We can use the analogy of a thought as a balloon that floats away once we’ve acknowledged it.)

Practice being grateful.

Avoid thinking in absolute terms like “never” and “always.”

Have realistic (and flexible) expectations. If we have unrealistic expectations about something we cannot control, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Keeping a flexible mindset about the future can help us take successes and setbacks as they come. 

#1: Allowing the Past and Present to Determine the Future 

Satan will try to convince us that the positive future God has in store for us is unattainable. To avoid becoming discouraged by his suggestions, we should let our spirit rather than our rational minds inform our view of the future. 

(Shortform note: Our brains are evolutionarily predisposed to weigh negative experiences more heavily than positive ones, which helps explain why a negative past/present can make it hard to be optimistic.) 

#2: Avoiding Responsibility

It’s our responsibility to take ownership of a positive future. Responsibility means using our talents, skills, and opportunities to serve God to the best of our ability. Satan will try to convince us to pass up opportunities for self-improvement.

(Shortform note: Research has shown that giving back to others in an area we feel passionately about (what Meyer might call an area where we have taken responsibility) is a powerful way to add happiness and meaning to our lives.)

#3: A Self-Defeating Attitude

Satan tries to get us to focus on how hard everything is so that we give up. Using positive language when we talk to ourselves can help us stay positive and faithful during hard times.

(Shortform note: Research supports the idea that a self-defeating attitude negatively impacts our health. Multiple studies have shown that a “negative emotional style” can even make us more prone to both getting sick and feeling sicker when we do.)

#4: Being Indignant

Satan will try to convince us that we shouldn’t have to suffer at all, and that something is going wrong in our lives if we do. It is important to remember that God expects us to endure some suffering and that we can use it as a crucible to strengthen our faith.

(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson also suggests that there is utility in suffering. According to Manson, humans are biologically hardwired for suffering and dissatisfaction, and these feelings can actually be useful because they fuel a desire for self-improvement.)

#5: Being Impatient

Satan will tell us that we shouldn’t have to wait for anything in our lives and tries to make us indignant about not having what we want right now. Humility can help remind us that we will be ready for God’s blessings when He says we are.

(Shortform note: Impatience and indignation combined can be a particularly destructive force in our lives. When we experience a setback that feels unfair, we’re prone to making rash, self-destructive decisions.)

#6: Making Excuses

Satan wants us to believe that other people are the source of our bad behavior so that we blame them rather than focus on self-improvement. While it can be painful, we need to acknowledge that we are responsible for our choices.

(Shortform note: While Meyer argues that blame stems from an attack by the devil, experts explain that blame comes from our desire to avoid painful feelings such as shame and regret.)

#7: Pitying Ourselves

If Satan can convince us that we are victims rather than protagonists, he can stop us from taking control of our lives. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, we can remember that our relationship with God makes us powerful.

(Shortform note: One way to tackle self-pity is to frame negative thoughts as a challenge. For example, if we think we could never run a 10-minute mile, then a 10-minute mile would become our goal.) 

#8: Feeling Unworthy

Satan tries to convince us that we are unworthy, unlikeable, and unloveable. But God loves us unconditionally, as we are.

(Shortform note: Unlike self-esteem, which is based on external factors like our appearance, performance at work, and so on, our self-worth concerns our perception of our existential value. Basically, our self-worth is a measure of how entitled we feel to “take up space” in the world. While self-esteem can fluctuate based on external metrics of success, our self-worth is more deeply rooted and thus more constant.) 

#9: Being Envious 

Envy comes from comparing ourselves to others, which is unnecessary. Satan uses our insecurities to fuel our envy. While being “better” than someone else may increase our value in our eyes, it does not increase our value in God’s eyes.

(Shortform note: Studies show that technology and social media exacerbate our insecurity and envy. This happens because people generally only post the very best moments and details of their lives online so that when we scroll through social media, it looks like everyone else’s lives are better than ours.) 

#10: Being Disobedient 

Satan will try to lure us off the path that God has laid for us. When things in our life are going well, it is tempting to ignore God’s messages and keep doing what we want to do. But honoring God and having a positive life means obeying His will.

(Shortform note: Obedience to God in the Christian theological tradition does not mean following a specific, predetermined plan for our lives the way Meyer describes it. In fact, experts explain that believing that God has a specific plan for our lives is “theologically flawed.”)

Wilderness Mentalities: 10 Common Negative Mindsets

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  • How the Devil makes it his mission to corrupt our minds with negative thoughts
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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