When it comes to making big decisions, finding answers to questions, or searching for solutions, we know that seeking revelation is vital. But sometimes as we are pondering and seeking, we find that instead we are overthinking and worrying. Our fears and anxieties dominate our thoughts, and worries spiral to the point that we are unable to receive the heavenly direction we need.
But this whirlwind of overthinking was not what pondering was intended to be. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “Pondering, which means to weigh mentally, to deliberate, to meditate, can achieve the opening of the spiritual eyes of one’s understanding” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life,” Ensign, May 1982). Instead of the anxiety that comes from hyper-focusing on our questions and concerns, pondering leads to peace and understanding as we approach those questions and concerns with a faith-filled perspective.
Pondering truly can open our eyes to receive the direction the Lord wants to give us, but in order for that to be possible, we have to learn to keep our thoughts and concerns from spiraling out of control. Here are a few insights that might help you transfer the energy you spend on overthinking to truly pondering and receiving revelation more effectively.
1. Get your thoughts out on paper.
It’s easy to let our thoughts get out of control when they are wreaking havoc in our minds. So get your thoughts out! Write them down. Once your worries are out on paper, it is often easier to process and address them.
As you ponder, writing down your impressions in moments of clarity will also help you—especially if feelings of worry or anxiety come back later. For example, you will be less likely to second guess a decision you made if you can revisit the peaceful thoughts and feelings you recorded when you came to that conclusion.
2. Focus on one question or concern at a time.
If you find yourself overthinking, your worries and thoughts can build on each other, causing you to panic and feel more overwhelmed. Focusing on one question or concern at a time will help you think more clearly about what you are struggling with and what specifically you should ask Heavenly Father for direction on or help with.
You might try listing out all of your questions or concerns and choosing one to focus on. Having one specific question in mind will give you more direction as you ponder. You can always come back to the other questions on your list later. And don’t forget to record the impressions you have as you ponder your single question!
3. Set a specific time to ponder.
Instead of letting yourself focus on a question or concern 24/7, set aside some time every day, or as often as you need, to ponder. Give yourself ample time to think through things and write down your thoughts, and when that time is over, don’t let yourself worry about it for the rest of the day—this can lead to second-guessing and overthinking. As more questions and concerns arise, you can jot them down so you don’t forget to come back to them in your next pondering session—but don’t allow yourself to dwell on them.
This practice can be particularly useful when you are preparing for a spiritual event, such as visiting the temple, listening to general conference, or attending church. Pondering can put you in a better frame of mind to receive inspiration and revelation, and to receive it more clearly.
4. Don’t give deadlines to revelation.
Occasionally we panic and feel like we need to receive revelation now. This can cause us to overthink things and sometimes even make up our own revelation. As you ponder, remember to be patient—more often than not, answers and understanding come gradually over time, not all at once. Trust in the Lord’s timing, and keep in mind that receiving revelation is not something that can be forced.
5. Identify and correct unhelpful thoughts.
Sometimes when you are pondering, your mind can start throwing out irrational thoughts that can prevent you from thinking clearly and coming to a solution. These thoughts may deter you from acting on your inspiration or from having confidence in your ability to make good decisions and hear the voice of the Lord.
One strategy that might help is writing down your negative thoughts and then rewriting them to be more helpful (see Adjusting to Missionary Life, p. 20-21). For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed with doubts about the Church, thoughts like “I’m losing my faith” or “I can’t believe anymore” can be reworded to something like, “I have a lot of questions right now that I need to work through, but that doesn’t mean I have to abandon the things I do know.” Talking back to negative thinking in this way can help you to manage your questions and stay positive as you honestly acknowledge and address them instead of following every wandering thought that might try to override your resolve.
6. Pray for help.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but prayer is essential to pondering effectively. In fact, beginning with prayer might be what makes the biggest difference between truly pondering and just thinking.
As you pray, ask the Lord to bless you with His Spirit. Pray for the gift of discernment, and ask for feelings of comfort and peace. Talk to Heavenly Father about your concerns, and ask Him your specific questions. Have faith that God hears and understands you, and remember that, as President Boyd K. Packer said, “Prayer is your personal key to heaven” (Boyd K. Packer, “Prayer and Promptings,” Ensign, November 2009). Prayer will help focus your thoughts and give you extra assurance that the promptings you receive are from God and not just your own thinking.
7. Study it out in your mind.
We are all familiar with the verse in Doctrine and Covenants section 9, which teaches us that as we ponder decisions to make and questions we have, we should “study it out in [our] mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). Applying this verse in a practical way can make a big difference in helping you ponder more effectively.
Instead of just thinking and worrying, try to really study your problem or question. Search for insights in the scriptures, study by topic using lds.org or the topical guide, and keep a journal with notes about what you are learning. By making your pondering a bit more structured, you will be less likely to slide back into the cycle of overthinking. Knowledge and information does wonders for the worrying mind, where you can invent all kinds of scenarios that go against the impressions you receive while pondering.
8. Keep an eternal perspective.
As you ponder, it may be helpful to zoom out a bit. Instead of focusing on your fears, ponder about God’s plan for your life. Ponder about the experiences God has blessed you with so far and how they can help you as you move forward. Most of all, ponder your relationship with the Savior and how He can help you overcome the struggles you are facing.
When we ponder with an eternal perspective, we often realize that the things we are overthinking aren’t so important after all. For example, worrying about what others think about you isn’t something that will affect your eternal salvation—what really matters is what the Lord thinks of you! Determine what is worth worrying about and what isn’t. If it does hold eternal significance, trust that God will help you figure it out.
9. Take care of yourself.
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy once stated, “We may not know we are doing it, but occasionally we cut ourselves off from divine communication. … When we stay up too late and work too hard in order to meet our daily demands, fatigue sets in, we become overtired, and the world looks like a much gloomier place; things get out of perspective and out of proportion” (Patrick Kearon, “Opening Our Minds to Revelation,” Ensign, August 2013).
Sometimes when we are overwhelmed or stressed, we simply aren’t in a mental or emotional state to clearly receive the revelation God is trying to give us. And that’s OK! In these moments, what might help us most is giving ourselves some time to rest up, relax, and clear our minds. When we are physically, mentally, and emotionally well, we are in a better position to ponder and receive spiritual revelation instead of getting trapped in your own uncertain thoughts.
10. Remember that it’s OK to not know all the answers.
Pondering becomes more meaningful when we learn to be okay with not having all the answers. It takes faith to accept the fact that sometimes the knowledge we seek will not be revealed when we want it to be. Instead, we need to trust that although we don’t know everything, the Lord knows what we need, and He will bless us with understanding in His time and in His way. If we can recognize this, it may help us not be so worried about our decisions and allow us to let go of the habit of overthinking and talking ourselves out of the decisions and impressions that come to us.
Elder Neil L. Anderson taught, “We do not know everything in the beginning or along the way. … At times, the Lord’s answer will be, ‘You don’t know everything, but you know enough’—enough to keep the commandments and to do what is right” (Neil L. Anderson, "You Know Enough," Ensign, November 2009).
Editor's note: The article originally ran on LDS Living in August 2018.