Stop the ANT-Infestation!
What ANTs and negative thinking have in common
By Jennifer ‘Taz’ Vazquez
“Don’t believe everything you think.” - Robert Folghum
Three months into a house remodel, my dad and I were excited to finally begin painting the first floor in my house. A couple hours into the painting, we realized we had accidently mixed up wall and trim paint … OOPS! Feeling rather discouraged, we realized we had to start all over again the next day.
What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you catastrophize it, thinking it is the worst possible scenario? For example, “This is horrible, I can’t believe we made this mistake! I hate painting!” Or do you acknowledge it, practice self-care, and then ask, “Okay, now what?”
This experience got me thinking about ANTs. No, not the insect kind … those sneaky “automatic negative thoughts.” Our brain has up to 60,000 thoughts per day. Most of these thoughts are repetitive, negative and subconscious. Psychiatrist Aaron Beck labeled these as automatic negative thoughts.
Our ancestors survived because they were on the lookout for danger, fixing problems and learning from mistakes. These skills have helped us for thousands of years. Unfortunately, these same skills can work against us when we are not aware of them. ANTs can start small, yet, if left unchecked, can rapidly escalate into an ANT-infestation! Negative thoughts can skew our perspectives (via cognitive biases and distortions) and cause a host of negative effects.
For example, continually automatically assuming the worst can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. The more we repeatedly buy into the negative thinking, it even changes our brain forming “negative” neural pathways, which become an entrenched “negative thinking” habit.
So how can you learn to recognize, challenge and defeat these ANTs? Try these three tips: awareness (mindfulness), asking questions and reframing.
Mindfulness. Get curious and neutrally observe the negative thoughts without owning them.
Ask Questions. Is the thought true? Is there another explanation or perspective? How is this thought serving me? What advice would I give to a friend or family member?
Reframe. Be Brain Fit authors recommend naming our inner critic (our ANT source). Consider it to be a “really bad friend” you wouldn’t take advice from. Next, turn the ANTs into more neutral/factual and/or positive/empowering statements.
My dad and I chose to acknowledge how we felt and stepped away to do some activities we enjoyed. The next day, we were able to restart fresh, without the ANTs.
If you want to prevent an ANT-infestation, then catch them early and rob them of their power through mindfulness, questions and reframing.