Do you want to gain control over your mood and happiness, and become a positive person? You have to start killing the Automatic Negative Thoughts that hold you back. The term ANTs was coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, a well-known psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist, director of the Amen Clinics, coined the term ANTs. He describes them as “cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves”.
Dr. Amen’s book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems is a veritable handbook for taking control over your brain and change your life for the better. This is one of my top favorite books, a must-read for anybody who wants to become a better, happier person.
What are ANTs
Do you often find yourself having negative thoughts about you or about something you are about to do? For example:
“I’m not going to pass this exam”
“My presentation is going to suck big time”
“I’m not going to close this sale”
“This is not going to work. Something bad is going to happen. It always does.”
“She does not like me”
These negative thoughts are the ANTs we are going to talk about. Dr. Amen splits them into nine categories:
1. Focusing on the negative. These make you focus on the negative side of things, ignoring all the positive aspects. “I swam 30 pool lengths today, but I wanted to swim 35, I’m such a failure”. Focusing on the negative aspects will make you more inclined to give up your efforts. Focusing on the positive side – “Yey, I managed to reach 30 lengths, I’m so close to 35!” – encourages you to continue training and makes you feel good about yourself at the same time.
2. Always (or Never) thinking. This happens when you generalize something that happened once as something that always happens. For example, your kid is having a rebel day and ignores your request. You see it as “she never listens to me”, although she is a great kid and usually does what you ask her to. These thoughts make you feel sad and upset, and they happen pretty much every time you think with words like something like always, never, every time, everyone.
3. Fortune telling. These are the ones when you predict the worst possible outcome even though there’s no way to know what will happen. For example, you are going to the mountains for the weekend, and on the way there you think “oh, the hotel is going to be noisy and the bad will be totally uncomfortable”. By the time you get to the destination you are already in a very bad mood and every little detail will set you off.
4. Mind reading. These are the ones appearing when you think you know what other people are thinking. These are thoughts like “She does not like me”, “He hates me”. There is no way to know what other people are thinking.
5. Thinking with your feelings. These happen when you let your negative feelings take control without questioning them. These happen when you have thoughts like “I feel like you don’t trust me” or ” I feel like nobody will like me”. Check what are the reasons you feel that way.
6. Guilt beatings. These are thoughts like “I have to spend more time with my kid”, “I have to read more books”. Whenever we think that we must do something, we get to not want to do that thing. It is way better to avoid the guilt and replace these thoughts with positive ones like “I want to spend more time with my kid”, “I’d love to read more books”.
7. Labeling. Whenever you put negative labels on other persons or yourself. If you use them on yourself, like “I’m lazy”, you will have no reason to be otherwise, because you already know you are lazy. When you label others, for example, “He’s a jerk, there’s no way you interact properly with that person, as you know what you want to perceive from them already.
8. Personalization. These happen when you see unrelated events happening as having a personal meaning. For example, you meet a colleague while shopping and he barely salutes you and you think “He did not stop to talk to me, he is mad at me”. He might have had something on hi shad, he might have been in a hurry, there are so many reasons he could have done that for. Try not to personalize every situation.
9. Blame. When you start blaming others, you become a victim and feel there’s nothing you can do to change your situation. These are very dangerous thoughts, as they steal your power. Stay away from them and take responsibility for the problems you face.
Why Are They so Powerful?
Every thought you have actually sends electrical signals throughout your brain and the brain releases chemicals that influence your entire body. This means thoughts are real, and they actually influence every cell in your body. So if your mind is busy with ANTs, you actually see the world from a very negative and gloomy perspective and on top of that, you feel and behave accordingly. These negative thoughts activate your deep limbic system, which is responsible for processing emotions, motivation, mood, appetite, libido. Over-stimulated deep limbic system cause depression, anxiety, irritability.
Try to remember how your body felt last time you had an angry thought. Most likely you recall feeling your muscles tense, your pulse getting higher and even your hands getting sweatier. On the opposite side, recall last time you had a very happy thought: your body felt relaxed, your pulse lowers, your breath deepened and your hands got drier. These changes were triggered by your thoughts alone!
How Can You Stop ANTs?
You need to take control of your mind and get rid of these bad ANTs! Here are the main 3 steps you can take in order to get dir of them:
1. Become aware of them
Just try to be aware of your thoughts and detect the ANTs as they appear. You have the 9 types above, so try to recognize the ANTs as soon as they appear, and tell yourself that you have just found an ANT. The beginning might be tough, as you are so used to having these thoughts that you don’t even notice them. I found that writing them in a journal as soon as I detect them is a great helper. Just write down the ANT and the type you identified for it.
2. Challenge them
As soon as you detect an ANT, ask yourself what proof you have for it, or what made you get to that idea. Once you start questioning and talking back to them, the ANTs lose their power. ANTs are usually illogic and lack arguments, so they are easily challengeable once you recognize them. You will realize they simply don’t make sense, but it is important to challenge them as soon as you detect them because once your mind believes them they manifest and your body reacts to them.
3. Replace them with positive thoughts
After you fight the ANT, try to reformulate that thought as a positive, reaffirming one. It helps to write down also the positive thought you replaced the ANT with. In the beginning, it will be a bit difficult to find good alternatives, but with the time you will get better and better, and going over the written ones helps a lot in getting better at this.
Dr. Amens’ book changed my life, and that’s why it is a book I recommend to anybody with all my heart! You don’t need a lot of will power or hard work to accomplish great results. All you need to do persevere and follow the steps above.
Your thoughts are real! They have a direct impact on your mood and body and if you don’t pay attention to them they can bring a lot of bad days for you. Step up, take control, recognize and kill them as soon as they appear! You had some of them for such a long time that it will be difficult to identify and challenge them, but you will be surprised how irrational they appear once you do challenge them. Your life will drastically improve!