Have you ever had any automatic negative thoughts?
As a worst-case scenario thinker, I recently learned from my therapist that these are called automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). And that it’s actually quite common, so I’m not alone in these thoughts. However, if I let them persist, it can result in some not-so-pleasant effects.
Therefore, she said I need to recognize them in real-time and try to create strategies for my brain to stamp them out and get rid of them. I suppose it does feel good to know there is a name for these thoughts as they come into my head and I’m not the only one who has to deal with them.
My therapist used the analogy of these thoughts coming marching in like ants. If I let them take hold and build a nest, then more and more ants will join the group. However, if I see it and squish it before more join, then I can start to change some of my thought patterns for the positive.
It’s okay to have the ANTs, but the key is noticing it in time before it starts to cause more damage to confidence and create unnecessary worry and anxiety.
I immediately thought of the pink panther and had the “dead ant” dead ant” “dead ant” “dead ant” “dead ant” “dead ant” “dead ant” joke in my brain. And if you sang along to those words in quotation marks, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In case you don’t, check out the theme song and put the words dead ant to the beat.
So let’s stamp out those automatic negative thoughts from our thinking. Keep in mind that I am not a licensed therapist, just someone who tries to take my therapist’s advice and apply it in my own way to my own life.
Steps to get rid of automatic negative thoughts
When automatic negative thoughts come rolling in, notice them, acknowledge them, and then find a counter-narrative. For example, if I think that the outfit I’m wearing looks terrible, I might focus on the earrings or bracelets that look nice. Or, I might appreciate something about myself to give me more confidence.
Stop the spiral. So maybe you let in one negative thought by accident. When you get a second or a third, begin to take notice of how those thoughts are impacting your beliefs about yourself and even your actions. Change course and implement affirmations instead.
Be realistic. Start to ask yourself what the reality of the situation entails. What if? What if? What if? By putting things into perspective, you can tell which thoughts are not serving you well. Ask yourself detailed questions about the thoughts or situation.
If you’re having trouble breaking these negative thought patterns and stomping out the automatic negative thoughts, then try some stress-reducing techniques. It’s a process that might take a long time to work through. Trust me, I am deep in the process myself. However, I don’t want to get caught up in toxic positivity either where I’m so far removed from reality.
And if you genuinely find something about yourself that doesn’t feel right, then think about growing and changing, and recognize that that’s okay too. You don’t have to stay the same version of yourself forever.