Have you found yourself feeling depressed or anxious? Do you lack confidence? Do you find yourself thinking negatively the majority of the time? Do you find yourself thinking about the worst case scenario? Do these thoughts pop into your mind automatically?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. This is quite common, especially in today’s stress filled world. They are called “Automatic Negative Thoughts” or ANTs. Dr. Daniel Amen (renowned neuroscientist and psychiatrist) coined this term to describe the variety of negative thoughts that a person can have. “Negative thoughts can invade your mind like ants at a picnic.”
There are numerous chemicals in your body that regulate how you feel and how your body functions. When you have a thought, this activates your brain and a certain chemical is released. This chemical leads to a certain reaction from your brain and body. Your thoughts affect which chemical is released. This has been well documented.
If the thought is a happy thought, a chemical is released that causes you to feel good. Your body responds by having your muscles relax, your heart rate slows down, your breathing gets slower and deeper, and your mind is more clear. If the thought is negative than the chemical released causes you to feel unhappy or anxious. Your muscles tense up, your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes more shallow, your hands become sweaty, and your judgment and memory are decreased.
What you think about affects how you feel, both mentally and physically. The great thing about this is that we can change how we think, thus changing how we feel in our mind and our body. It is important to change our thinking because if left unchecked, these ANTs can become self fulfilling prophecies. If you are convinced of the outcome of certain things, you will subconsciously say and do things that lead to the outcome you expect.
Being ruled by ANTs can significantly and negatively impact the quality of your life. If you wish to enjoy your life more fully, it is important to be aware of the ANTs that you have and how to extinguish them. There are ten common ways that your thoughts can be ANTs causing you to feel unhappy, anxious, and/or stressed, and affecting how you feel physically.
Here are the common ANTs that I have seen when working with my clients:
1.) Over generalization: Coming to a conclusion quickly based on limited evidence.
This leads to thinking bad things and expecting them to happen again and again. If you catch
yourself saying “always” and “never” than this is an ANT that you have.
Examples: I forgot to complete the project, I never do things right. He did not call me back, I will always be lonely. They always ignore what I say, so why bother.
2.) Filtering (Selective Abstraction): Focusing only on the negative. This means that you see only the negative in a situation and ignore the positive.
Examples: I pulled the weeds but my roommate went back and pulled some that I missed, she must think that I am incompetent.
3.) All or Nothing Thinking (Dichotomous Reasoning) – Things are right or wrong, good or bad, there is no middle ground or grey areas.
Examples: It is not right so I am not going to start. If I cannot do it perfectly, I might as well not bother. He didn’t like the conclusion to my speech so he hates my whole speech.
4.) Personalizing: Taking responsibility for something that is not your fault.
Example: My sister is sick so I need to drop everything and take care of her, ignoring my health and well being.
5.) Catastrophizing: Overestimating the chances of disaster and expecting the worst to happen. Anything bad that can potentially happen, will happen within this ANT.
Example: There is a virus going around that a small percentage of people have died from, if I get the virus I will die.
6.) Emotional Reasoning: Mistaking feeling for facts. Believing negative feelings without questioning them.
Example: I feel like a failure, therefore I am a failure. I feel fat and ugly, so I must be.
7.) Mind Reading: Making assumptions about people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without truly knowing the facts.
Example: I could tell he thought I was stupid in the interview. She didn’t call me back so she must not like me or think I am important.
8.) Fortune Telling: Anticipating an outcome, expecting the worst possible outcome, and assuming your prediction is a fact.
Example: I have always been like this I will never be able to change. My wife is sick, she is going to die.
9.) Should Statements: These create feelings of guilt. I call it “Shoulding” all over yourself – saying things like “should”, “ought”, or “must” are a part of this ANT, there is no room for flexibility and there is a lot of shame built into these words.
Example: I should go visit my mom every weekend even though it takes time away from my own family and things I need to do in order to stay healthy. I must get this perfect or I could get fired.
10.) Blaming: Blaming someone else for your problems. If you have an ANT of blaming, you may find that it is never you that causes anything, it is always someone else.
Example: I dropped the milk and spilled it because my husband put the milk carton on the edge of the shelf. I was late to work today because someone drove too slow in front of me.
These are just some of the ANTs that people have. As you can see, they can create havoc in your thinking and the way that you live your life. Do not get mad at yourself for having these thoughts. Just recognize that they are there so that you can change them. The great thing is that you can stop these ANTs and change how you feel.
1. Write Down Your Automatic Negative Thoughts. Pay attention to the things that you say inside your mind to yourself, and out loud to other people. This will help you to discover the ones that you use on a regular basis. Write them down as you recognize them. Recognizing them is the first step to stopping them. Avoid shaming yourself for having these thoughts. Face them head on and know that you can change them.
2. Once you are aware of your ANTS, when you hear yourself thinking or saying aloud the ANTS, say STOP! Remind yourself that they are only thoughts, and thoughts are not truths.
3. Challenge your ANTS. Question them and evaluate them to see the untruths that they really are. Come up with opposing “arguments” or statements that make your ANTs untrue.
4. Turn Your ANTs into PETs. Positive Empowering Thoughts.
You can turn your ANTs into PETs by something that I call reframing.
Reframing involves changing the words that you think and say, giving it a new meaning. For example, the ANT may be: They never listen to me at work, so why bother giving good ideas.
The reframe, or PET, may be: I have great ideas and my coworkers appreciate them, they just can’t always implement them. Another ANT may be: I am going to get the virus and die.
The reframe, or PET, may be: I have a healthy immune system. Even if I get exposed to the virus, my body will fight it because I take care of my body. Another ANT may be: I am not good enough.
No one loves me. The reframe, or PET, may be: I am a unique and wonderful individual. I love me and I don’t need anyone else to love me in order to feel good about myself.
By reframing your negative thoughts and turning them into positive thoughts, you will find yourself feeling better both mentally and physically. It takes time and practice but it does work. Why not start reframing and start feeling better?
Reframing becomes automatic when we have high awareness of our ANTs and begin to understand and recognize patterns or programs that we run.
If you embrace being set in your ways this may not work until you encounter enough pain that you want to change.
It is common to need help in identifying your ANTS and in skillfully changing them to PETS. Reaching out for help is a smart thing to do if you are struggling with ANTs. Working with a Results Coach that is skilled in using exercises, recognizing language patterns, and using reframing language can assist you in more rapidly building new skills, habits, and abilities to transform ANTs to PETs.
Often past traumas and events have resulted in negative thought patterns and by a results coach asking open ended questions around the root cause of the event, trauma or thought patterns, a solution can be found from within that was not seen before.
All it takes is a commitment to getting better at awareness which drives the courage and willingness to do new things in order to have lasting change.
Finding your Unstoppable is a choice. If not now, When?
– John Grant, Results Coach
A Wellness Partner Of An Optimal You