Today I want to talk to you about ANTs. No, not the kind that crawl around on the ground. Not the ones that get in you picnic basket or even the kind that invade your kitchen. But I do want to talk about killing ANTs. You can stomp on them and they will look dead, but then start to move and then stagger off because they are just as tenacious as the insect. The ANTs I am talking about today are Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are the negative thoughts that come into your head every day and most of us let them crawl around and make us crazy without even paying them any attention.
The concept of ANTs was first popularized by Dr. Daniel Amen a dual board-certified psychiatrist, popular author, speaker, television personality and a hero of mine. Dr. Amen says that you need to question every ANT that you have. You need to question those thoughts because your brain lies to you. It may sound crazy, because it is, but not every thought you think is true. I have long said to other people that just because you think something does not make it true, but that is a topic for another blog post.
These ANTs are things that you wouldn’t likely say to anyone else because they are destructive and often down right mean. They also, if left unchecked, will snowball out of control and lead to serious issues like depression.
What I do that is different than Dr. Amen is to brainstorm what is just as true if not more so. In brainstorming you throw out ideas, not judging them, just getting them out on paper. Then you review the list. You know you have successfully killed an ANT when you can’t think the old way any longer. When you have a paradigm shift. If you can’t find one that is that good, you need to catch the ANT and counter it with the new thought that is just as true if not more so that you can feel good about. In general, you need to repeat the new thought ten times for every time you think that ANT. This is because research says that you must get 10 positive interactions for every negative interaction for someone to feel good about themselves. This is a pretty scary thought when you consider how many times you have likely already had the negative thought and in general how many times in a day you have negative thoughts. It is common in cognitive therapy to have people carry a note pad so that when they have a negative thought, they write it down which is a great idea. You won’t always be able to do this exercise in real time but have to come back when you do have time to do the work of killing the ANTs from the day.