ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts. We all have them at times. Sometimes we have so many they crowd out more balanced or realistic thoughts and overwhelm us with feelings of unworthiness, incompetence, hopelessness, or failure.
These thoughts are masters at appearing realistic and conning us into believing them. Then they do their damage of changing the way we see things and how we react to the world around us. They pretend they are trying to keep you safe and free from hurt, but all they do is to shrink your world.
Recognize Automatic Negative Thoughts When They Sneak In
Some common ANTs are:
- Oh, I can’t do that—it doesn’t even make sense to try.
- I’m just not good enough.
- I’d only end up failing again.
- I would make a fool of myself if I tried.
- Deep down inside I know there’s something wrong with me.
- _________________________ (What’s an ANT that hangs around you a lot?)
At first, it might be hard to see the influence these destructive critters exert over your feelings and moods. Being aware of them is the first step to developing some influence of your own. I’ve read estimates that a person has 12,000–50,000 thoughts per day! Many of those are not conscious, so the first thing to do is slow down and tune into the thoughts running through your mind.
Automatic Negative Thoughts Don’t Have to Make Your Life Miserable
Once you slow down and identify the ANTs, the next step is to put them to the test. A little logic, a little truth, and a measure of compassion readily shows their weakness. Challenge those limiting ANTs with these questions:
- Is that really so?
- How do I react when I believe that thought?
- What’s the supporting evidence?
- What’s the evidence against it?
- What are the exceptions to it?
Some additional, advanced-level questions:
- Is there a guarantee that it can’t be different?
- Where is the rule that I can’t try?
- Am I willing to take the risk of succeeding, learning something positive, or enjoying myself?
- Without that thought, who would I be?
- When, where, and how did I develop these thoughts?
- What good might happen if I chose to re-think them?
What’s one small, compelling thing you can do today to test out how the world can work differently from an ANT’s belief?