Squashing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)
What are ANTS?
I love this acronym! ANTS are “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” For example:
“You never listen to me.”
“They don’t like me.”
“This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.”
Consider this – if you aren’t thinking about your thoughts, (how often does this happen?) they’re automatic. You might be thinking, "So what?" Here's the challenge. Our brains are wired for survival so that means we instinctively focus on any possible danger or problem. We naturally dwell on past issues and dramas. The result is that we can spend a lot of time focused on the negative.
To make things worse, because we have these ANTS, we assume if we thought them, they must be true. This includes negative thoughts about ourselves, others, our work, our world, etc. ANTS cause us to look at the future with anxiety and pessimism. What if . . .? They cause us to regret our past, and be unsatisfied with the present. ANTS cause chemical changes in our brains and bodies that make us feel bad, impacting our relationships, our work, and ultimately our lives.
I’ve been enjoying reading some of Daniel Amen’s work. He’s an MD, physician, psychiatrist, best-selling author, and brain enhancement expert. I was really struck by his comment that “Every cell in your body is affected by every thought you have. That is why when people get emotionally upset, they actually develop physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, or worse. A negative thought is like pollution to your system.”
What I love about ANTS is that we can do something about them!
- Tune in and notice them.
- Write them down to gain clarity.
- Talk back. Consider why they might not be true. If you struggle with this part, it can be useful to recruit a trusted friend or family member to help you gain perspective.
Here are a couple of my favorite examples:
ANT = My boss doesn’t like me.
Response = I don’t know that. Maybe she’s just having a bad day. Bosses are people, too.
ANT = I’m stupid.
Response = Sometimes I do things that aren’t too smart, but I’m not stupid.
ANT = I’ll never be a success like ___________ (fill in the blank)
Response = We all have different talents and strengths. I may have different ones than __________ and need to learn the best ways to apply them. Or – They’ve been working at their career/goals much longer than me. It takes time.
Give it a try! See if you can squash a few of your ANTS.
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