ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves. Just think of that little voice inside your head that you can't seem to shut up. Mine says, “you are fat” or “your kids hate you” or “you didn't do it perfectly” and sometimes it says, “your life will never be the way you want it” and “why bother” or “I can't fix this.”
There have been times when the ANTs seemed to take over my thought life altogether; especially when my husband was concerned. I stopped having positive thoughts altogether and let the little voice repeat those ugly lies, “you're not good enough for him” or “he is so much more patient than you” and on and on it went.
ANTs can indeed limit your ability to enjoy your life to the fullest. The thoughts in your head “moment-by-moment” play a significant role in the way you feel. Negative thoughts create pain internally and also can cause you to behave in ways that create personal isolation. Trust me; I've been there. Unless you learn to stop these ANTs, they can impact your life! Boy howdy!
However, positive, inspiring, hopeful thoughts can influence positive behaviors and lead you to feel good about yourself and be more efficient in your daily life. Hopeful thoughts also are involved in helping you to connect with those around you.
This way of thinking takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, you will see how easy changing your ANTs can be! Here are a few ways I have taken control of my ANTs by unleashing my “Inner ANTeater” for you to try:
Whenever you think a negative thought, write it down. Then write down what the anteater would say to the ant. Like this:
Negative Thought: “I'm so fat, and there is nothing I can do about it!”
ANTeater response: “God created me in His image, and to Him I am beautiful! I can try to be more healthy and fit by remembering how much He loves me and that my body is His temple.”
ANTs love guilt and guilty feelings. ANTeaters eat up the words: should, must, ought to, have to and especially “my only choice” So let ANTeater banish these words. Question the validity of the word “should” and use it only when it is 100% accurate. Remember there is usually at least two choices, be acutely aware of the choices you are making and realize that you DO have a choice.
Catch yourself using words such as always, never, every time or everyone! ANTeaters EAT these words. Unleash your ANTeater. If you say to yourself, “I'll never be good enough” you are implying that you have no control over your actions, which of course is just an excuse not to keep trying.
Here's a funny one, I tell this to my children all the time when they have little ANTs. “Mom, she's looking at me!” Why do kids say this? Maybe we think they are thinking the worst of us. I know this sometimes happens in our big family, but guess what? You have no idea what people think when they look at you. A look does not necessarily mean they are judging you. I tell my children, “Maybe they are looking at you because they like the way you look today!” Hey, this goes for adults too! My father-in-law says, “what you think about me is none of my business.”
Focus on flipping negative thoughts
My ANTeater loves to put a spin on negative thoughts by turning them into positives.
“He left his lunchbox at home again? I always have to stop what I'm doing to bail him out.”
ANTeater spin “Left his lunchbox home today, he must have gotten distracted. How can I work on teaching him responsibility? Well, I can listen to my Mandarin lesson on the way to the school.”
ANTs assume every thought or feeling is automatically correct. ANTeaters think with logic, look for evidence and challenge the validity of the feeling.
Labeling myself or having a defeatist attitude. “I am a bad parent.” ANTeaters love to flip labels like this, “I am NOT a bad mother.” See how simple that was?
Predicting the future is a bad habit of most ANTs… there's no way I'm going to lose weight. Wait a minute! My ANTeater asks me “what right do you have to be a fortune-teller? You have no idea what the future holds, and you certainly do not have all the facts or know all of the possible outcomes. Let's see what happens, you never know, you might get a wonderful surprise!”
ANTs love to blame others for things that go wrong. ANTeaters take responsibility for their own lives knowing that their actions lead to their outcomes.
Sometimes our ANT infestation can get out of control! We might need to talk to a therapist or a counselor. There's no shame in that. I love my psychologist! If seeing a doctor is not an option here is another idea to try:
Write down your ANT. For example,” my face is so awful with this Rosacea, and it will never change” Then ask yourself these questions: Is this ANT accurate?
Answer: Yes, I have Rosacea. Then ask: Is there nothing I can do about it? For instance, can I prevent flare-ups or lessen it in any way? How does this ANT make you feel?
Answer: Old and ugly. Who would you be and how would you feel without this negative thought?
Answer: If my skin were perfect I would feel amazing! Now take your original negative thought and turn it around then ask yourself: is the opposite of my initial negative thought valid?
Answer: So there is something I can do to reduce the redness on my face. I can keep doing this liver cleanse, get light therapy, apply moisturizer before bedtime, etc.
We need to learn to SQUASH the infestation of negative thoughts that can make us hard on ourselves. Sometimes our girlfriends or spouse can help us work on this habit (but only if we ask!)
Getting quality sleep is yet another key to banish negative thought patterns.
Do you have a unique technique for banishing negative thought patterns?